SEMA News—December 2011

By Chad Simon

Up for the Challenge

Hot Rodders of Tomorrow: Helping to Bring New Blood into the Aftermarket

Sponsored teams compete for a chance to win the ultimate prize—a $10,000 scholarship, awarded to the winners of the “Showdown at SEMA.” 
Providing young automotive enthusiasts with an opportunity to develop and showcase their talents while being exposed to the automotive aftermarket industry, Hot Rodders of Tomorrow launched in 2008 at the Race & Performance Expo in St. Charles, Illinois, and has been invited to compete at the SEMA Show every year since its inception. The organization’s goal is to reach out to high-school students before they graduate in order to provide much-needed future talent for the automotive specialty-equipment market.
“My primary concern is that the people at the racetrack and in this industry as a whole are getting older,” said 40-year industry veteran Jim Bingham, chairman of Hot Rodders of Tomorrow and also president and CEO of Winner’s Circle Speed & Custom and a SEMA Board of Directors member. “You don’t see much young blood, and I wanted to create an avenue for bringing youth into the automotive aftermarket.”

The purpose of the competition, the finals of which are held annually at the SEMA Show, is to offer opportunities for students to build and develop teamwork, demonstrate their enthusiasm and ingenuity and build their confidence and commitment to excellence. Teams of five auto technology students and an instructor from invited high schools across the country compete to properly disassemble and reassemble a small-block Chevrolet engine with aftermarket components in the least amount of time. The team with the quickest total time, including added penalties, wins. The competition engines have been built to replicate the real-world, high-performance engines found in today’s musclecars and hot rods.

Qualifying teams typically finish the challenge in the 35-minute range. All teams are encouraged to finish the engine build, regardless of time.
The idea for the organization came to life during the first year of a local consumer show called the Race & Performance Expo. Tim Freeman, an area businessman, asked Bingham to help him put together an engine challenge for the show. So, after Freeman successfully recruited five local high schools for the engine challenge, Vic Edelbrock, with Bingham’s help, decided that he wanted to expand the concept across the country, starting with the first Hot Rodders of Tomorrow Engine Challenge held at the Race & Performance Expo in 2008.

A total of five teams competed during the 2008 season. The series has since grown to 70 teams in 2011, with six divisional winners and four wildcards that were invited to compete at the third annual “Showdown at SEMA” national championship in Las Vegas.

Edelbrock was initially responsible for getting the organization invited to the SEMA Show in 2009. Four teams were invited the first year. That grew to six in the second year, and Hot Rodders of Tomorrow came to the SEMA Show with 10 teams this year, the most ever.

Qualifying teams typically finish the challenge in the 35-minute time frame. All teams are encouraged to finish the engine build, regardless of time; however, once a team hits the 60-minute range, the instructor may help.

Time-added penalties are assessed when participants commit errors, which include dropping components, improper disassembly and poor sportsmanship. There are five judges, each following an individual student, and they score everything from the use of torque wrenches to proper assembly.

During the competition, Hot Rodders of Tomorrow judges score everything from the use of torque wrenching to proper assembly.
The ultimate prize for each member of the winning team is $10,000 in scholarship money provided by Ohio Technical College (OTC), the School of Automotive Machinists and the University of Northwest Ohio. A total of $975,000 has been posted for the 2011 SEMA Show, with the smallest amount being $5,000 per student for the sixth- through 10th-place finishers.

This was the first year that Hot Rodders of Tomorrow received funding. The sponsorship program was changed to provide for a $1,500 annual fee for all 23 manufacturing sponsors to become a part of the program. Prior to that, the money came from Bingham’s company and his own pocket. The funds are used to fly the judges to the competitions and to transport the equipment.

“Joliet Central High School, which won the competition the first year they went to the SEMA Show, only had one instructor at the time,” Bingham said. “Now they have two instructors and a waiting list of kids to get into the class. We’re changing attitudes; young kids want to get enrolled and have a chance to participate in this program.”


According to Bingham, there is still a shortage of young talent in the automotive aftermarket field. This program creates excitement and promotes competition. When events are held across the country, parents, siblings and friends show up to cheer the students on. In the future, Hot Rodders of Tomorrow will allow its sponsors and other SEMA-
member manufacturers to post jobs wanted on the organization’s website so they can funnel talented students into some of the openings.

To date, Hot Rodders of Tomorrow has fostered a total of 152 teams in eight divisions consisting of 1,064 students from across the country and has raised more than $3.5 million in scholarship money.

Belvidere North High School’s Success at the SEMA Show 


Hot Rodders of Tomorrow Sponsoring Companies

  • Accel
  • Aeroquip Performance Products
  • Airaid
  • A Plus Distributing
  • ARP Automotive Racing Products
  • Auto Meter
  • Be Cool
  • Begler’s Performance
  • Carlisle All-GM Nationals
  • COMP Cams
  • Dart
  • Dee Zee
  • Edelbrock
  • Edge
  • Energy Suspension
  • Fel-Pro Performance Gaskets
  • Hawk Performance
  • Hedman Hedders,
  • K&N
  • Moroso
  • Motive Gear
  • Motor State Distributing
  • Mr. Gasket Co.
  • MSD Ignition
  • Painless Performance Products
  • Parts Pro Performance Centers
  • Proform
  • PRW
  • Race & Performance Expo
  • Royal Purple
  • Russell
  • Speed Pro
  • Tennessee Speed Sport
  • Trans Dapt Performance Products
  • Winner’s Circle Speed & Custom

The Motive Gear-sponsored Belvidere North High School engine team, located in Belvidere, Illinois, put in more than 130 hours of dedication and made many sacrifices to participate in the Hot Rodders of Tomorrow Engine Challenge. Support at the school level was tremendous, and the principal himself attended after-school practices and traveled to regional competitions just to watch in amazement what five high-school students could do with an engine.

This year’s team consisted of five talented students who made it through demanding practices and pushed their way to the championship at the SEMA Show. Xander Welsh, now a graduate of Belvidere North High School, tore his rotator cuff last year. After a month of healing, he jumped back onto the team, fighting through the pain and postponing surgery to compete and help the group take first place.

“Hot Rodders of Tomorrow has given me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to compete against other schools across the nation at the SEMA Show and meet some of the most influential people in our industry,” Welsh said.

Jaysen Wagner, now a senior, made an enormous sacrifice as he withdrew from his enrollment in the National Guard to pursue his place on the engine team and help push the team to first place.

“Without Hot Rodders of Tomorrow, college would not have been possible for me,” Wagner said.

Dalton Annabel, also now a graduate, is currently pursuing his automotive passion by working in a local shop while earning his associate’s degree in automotive before transferring to Southern Illinois University for his bachelor’s degree.

“The experience of working with a team on a project like this, where everyone is focused on a common goal, has been a fun experience and one I will not forget,” Annabel said.

David Santoyo, currently a senior, joined the team halfway through four months of practice to fill in for Welsh while he was injured. Santoyo became a full-time team member upon Welsh’s return.

“Hot Rodders of Tomorrow has opened my eyes to the vast need and importance of everyday people coming together and achieving more than they ever thought they could,” Santoyo said.

Caitlyn Drake, also now a graduate, broke through the typical stereotype that women could not handle a field dominated by males and proved that she deserved her spot on the team. She has earned the Golden Apple scholarship and is currently studying to be a math teacher at Quincy College. Yet, she still helped her team push into the SEMA Show by traveling five hours home just to practice with them.

“Being on the team has not only taught me good skills so I can rely on myself, but also it has taught me a lot about teamwork and how well different people can work together on a common interest,” Drake said.

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