SEMA News—August 2012

By Mike Imlay and Carr Winn

Lifetime Achievers

SEMA Honors Nick Arias Jr., Bill France Sr., Mark Heffington and Bob Larivee Sr. With Hall of Fame Induction

For a chosen few, an obsession develops. Regardless of personal or professional success, this select group never stops raising the bar. Even when they take the checkered flag at the track or produce an event that attracts thousands of rabid fans or they literally break the mold when it comes to reinventing performance parts, it’s still not enough. There’s always room for improvement, and every person inducted into the SEMA Hall of Fame spends a lifetime trying to find it.


Nick Arias Jr.
Nick Arias Jr.


Bill France Sr.
Bill France Sr.


Mark Heffington
Mark Heffington


Bob Larivee Sr.
Bob Larivee Sr.

On behalf of the entire Industry, SEMA enthusiastically welcomes the class of 2012 into its prestigious Hall of Fame. Taking their places among fellow legends, luminaries and icons, this year’s inductees are Nick Arias Jr., Bill France Sr., Mark Heffington and Bob Larivee Sr.

Nick Arias Jr.



Each year, SEMA pays tribute to those special few whose contributions go above and beyond, impacting others across the nation and often around the globe. Criteria for Hall of Fame induction includes 10 years of industry experience and/or association, and nominees must show technical achievement, unquestioned integrity and extraordinary leadership in helping the industry thrive.

SEMA News has dedicated this special section to providing an overview of each of the newest Hall of Fame members in celebration of their induction. While their stories are unique, they have one thing in common: a lifetime of dedication to the automotive specialty-equipment industry. The association is grateful for their contributions and support. The industry wouldn’t be the same without them.

Nick Arias Jr., Founder of Arias Pistons

Nick Arias Jr.




Nick Arias Jr.




Nick Arias Jr.



In a recent interview with SEMA News, Carmen Arias, controller at Arias Pistons, talked about her father’s passion for his work. “Great creators, all they do is think,” she said. “Twenty-four hours a day, they’re thinking. It never stops.” She said that Nick Arias Jr. seemed puzzled—and maybe a little insulted—when recently asked about retirement. “Retire?” he replied.

To the entire Arias family, work is viewed as a privilege. In fact, family Patriarch Nick Arias Sr. attempted retirement in 1968, but he returned to work for his son’s company—Arias Pistons—when it opened in 1969. Nick Sr. was a blacksmith by trade and worked for Southern Pacific Railroad for 45 years. He then went on to run the shipping department at Arias Pistons for almost 20 years. With that kind of hardworking role model, it’s no surprise that Nick Arias Jr. has been so successful—and it’s equally clear why he has no intention of stopping any time soon.

On the wall at Arias Pistons is a diploma from Polytechnic High School in Los Angeles: ever since the counselors there suggested auto mechanics to him, Nick Arias Jr. has been in love with engines. In addition to his studies in the classroom, Arias Jr. and his neighborhood buddies Joe Pisano and Kenny Bigelow formed a car club while still in high school, the Photons. Named after a particle within the atom, photons travel at the speed of light—especially when driving down Sepulveda Boulevard, South Broadway and Main Street in Los Angeles. At least in part, it was this nighttime ritual that gave birth to what’s now referred to as the automotive specialty-equipment industry.

After graduation, Arias Jr. joined the 40th California National Guard, shipping out to the Kumsan Valley above Seoul, Korea, where he was assigned to work in the motor pool during the Korean War. Back home, however, fellow Photon club member Kenny Bigelow was attempting to get his name in the record books and was killed at the El Mirage speed trials.

El Mirage is a dry lakebed and was home to the 100 Mile-an-Hour Club of South Los Angeles, which Arias Jr. had been a member of for several years. In tribute to his friend Bigelow, Arias Jr. purchased the ill-fated ’37 Chevy coupe in a partnership with fellow veteran Bob Toros when he returned from Korea. As a team, the two salvaged the GMC engine from the wreck, transplanted it into another ’37 and ultimately used it to power their way to a championship as Russetta Timing Association’s most successful Class A and B Coupe. The two also advanced the existing record from 136 mph to 148 mph unblown on alcohol, winning the Kenny Bigelow trophy two years in a row.

With the success of the ’37 Chevy Coupe, Arias Jr. joined the Screwdrivers car club of Culver City, alongside members that included Craig Breedlove, Don Rackeman, Lou Baney and Joe Pisano. During the buildup of the GMC block, Arias Jr. was also offered a job at Wayne Manufacturing, purveyor of high-performance inline six-cylinder engine parts. This proved to be an ideal location, because Frank Venolia was making pistons next door and selling them to Arias Jr.’s boss, Harry Warner. Arias Jr. thereby had the chance to learn everything he could about designing heads and pistons at the same time.

A few years later, Arias Jr. was introduced to Louis Senter via fellow Screwdriver member Rackeman, who was working next door to Senter’s Ansen Automotive. It was rumored that Ansen’s piston division needed an overhaul, and knowing that there was a huge market potential for that type of performance part, Arias Jr. suggested that Senter sell him the piston business, including the machinery. One month later, Arias Jr. bought out the business from Senter, and he opened Arias Pistons in 1969.

Arias is a legend not just for his forged pistons, but also for his ’72 Hemi-head conversions for big-block Chevys that were known as “Hemi-Chevys,” as well as his complete 10L engine that dominated tractor pulls and drag boat races, an 8.3L powerplant for Top Fuel and Alcohol drag racing, the Arias four-cylinder for USAC midget circuits, the Arias V6 Hemi, A/R Boss 429, Howard 12-Port GMC…and more. On a personal note, he and his wife Carmen just celebrated 55 years of marriage that has resulted in five children and 13 grandchildren.

Carroll Shelby once said: “I’ve had more failures than successes in my lifetime, and some of the failures have been more fun than some of the successes.” Nick Arias Jr. has the same philosophy about life. And speaking of Shelby, it’s rumored that Arias Jr. is currently working on a hemispherical head for the small-block Ford and that it would fit nicely under the hood of one of those old AC roadsters, otherwise known as the Cobra.

SEMA is grateful to Nick Arias Jr. for his contributions to the specialty-equipment industry. We know just how busy he can be. He’s always thinking, and we hope he never stops.

Bill France Sr., Founder/Former President, NASCAR


Bill France Sr.




Bill France Sr. (left) and Wally Parks


Bill France Sr. (left) with Wally Parks.

Bill France Sr.




William Henry Getty France Sr. is remembered throughout the world as the founder of NASCAR, the most successful stock-car racing series on earth. Born in Washington, D.C., on September 26, 1909, France developed an interest in racing early on. As a teenager, he played hookie from school to take the family Ford Model T to a local board track near his Laurel, Maryland, home. Legend has it he would while the day away doing laps at the track until the last possible moment, then race home before his father could get there and discover what he had actually been up to.

As a young man, France found a job at a local car shop, and then operated his own service station before eventually working his way to Daytona Beach, Florida, opening an auto repair shop there in the early ’30s. By 1936, he was lending his compelling presence to efforts to lay out the locality’s first beach/road course and, as a racer, finished fifth in the course’s inaugural competition. Two years later, he was assisting with the promotion of the races on the sands.

France quickly became known as “Big Bill,” due as much to his 6-ft. 5-in. stature as the big thinking and unfaltering confidence that earned him a towering place in motorsports history. Throughout his early career as a racer and fledgling promoter, he experienced firsthand the challenges of the racing business, from recruiting drivers and spreading the word to creating tracks, hiring ticket-takers and generating profits.

Although World War II interrupted much of this work, he promptly resumed when peacetime returned. Along the way, he developed the conviction that if stock-car racing was ever to truly succeed, it needed a single, firmly governed sanctioning body.

In 1947, France gathered a group of race promoters, drivers and mechanics for a now-famous meeting at the Streamline Hotel on road A1A in Daytona Beach, a structure that stands to this day as a racing landmark. Together, the group established the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR), with France as president. They officially incorporated the organization within a year, and more than 14,000 fans attended the first NASCAR event on the Daytona Beach road/beach course in February of 1948.

Under Big Bill’s leadership NASCAR saw fast-paced development throughout the ’50s and ’60s. He built two superspeedways that came to personify the sport—the 2.5-mi. Daytona International and the 2.66-mi. Talladega (Alabama).

He also founded the International Speedway Corp. (ISC) to operate the two tracks plus others involved in NASCAR’s three national series, the NASCAR Sprint Cup, the NASCAR Nationwide Series and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. In 1972, he stepped down from his NASCAR presidency, handing the reins over to son William C. France. However, he continued for several years as a consultant and ISC chairman/president.

Throughout his career, the senior France also pioneered standards and practices in safety, organization, infrastructure, scoring and purses that elevated racing’s profile to new levels of respect within the realm of professional sports. In the words of noted motorsports journalist Larry Woody, “Big Bill France looked at an untamed diversion called stock-car racing and saw a promising future…. He founded NASCAR and, through sheer iron will, hammered it into shape.”

Not surprisingly, France achieved many lifetime honors, including induction into the Florida Sports Hall of Fame, the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame and the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcaster Association Hall of Fame.

Big Bill passed away from natural causes on June 7, 1992, leaving a larger-than-life legacy. In May of 2010, he was honored again posthumously as one of five initial NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees. His induction into SEMA’s Hall of Fame pays homage not only to his many accomplishments, but also to the racing heritage that continues to inspire and fuel the performance aftermarket.

Mark Heffington, Owner/President, Hypertech Inc.


Mark Heffington




Mark Heffington

Mark Heffington





Mark Heffington was born October 2, 1941, in his grandmother’s home in Memphis, Tennessee. As a fifth grader, he enjoyed helping out in the school library, where he became inspired by three car books, The Modern Racing Engine, a technical book published in late ’40s, and two fictitious novels, Hot Rod and Street Rod, both written by Henry Gregory Felsen. By the time he was 15, he had his mother taking him and friends to local drag races.

Hooked on cars, Heffington pursued a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Tennessee and then began his career in the aftermarket industry as the chief cam designer for Crane Cams. In 1972, he founded Cam Dynamics, a leading manufacturer of high-performance and racing camshafts. In the early ’80s, he sold the company and began consulting on camshaft design and engineering for United Technologies and General Motors.

In 1984, Buick called Heffington in for help with the cam and valve problems affecting its Indy V6 engines. While at the Speedway, he first encountered the emergence of computer-controlled engines on race cars. Told that the new cars could no longer be tuned by individuals, Heffington immediately realized how such a revolution could significantly impact, and even hinder, the performance industry by leaving tuning to factory engineers with proprietary information. Suddenly, an idea struck him.

“I felt like John Belushi at the Triple Rock Church when he had seen the light,” Heffington recalled. “In a matter of seconds, I knew exactly what I wanted to do and saw the opportunity. And then you just go and do it.”

Heffington poured himself into research and exploration. He founded Hypertech Inc. in 1985 in Bartlett, Tennessee, and engaged engineering consultants to help with computer programs and reverse engineering of codes to develop aftermarket onboard computer reprogramming devices. In 1986, he introduced the first Power Chip to recalibrate the early automotive computers that used replaceable PROMs or “chips” in their electronic control modules. In 1994, with later generations of electronic control units eliminating such chips, Hypertech kept pace, releasing another first, the Power Programmer to access and alter the “flash” programmable memory associated with the newer OBD-II technology. In fact, during Hypertech’s early years, the company cornered the market on such products, chiefly because few manufacturers understood the technology as Heffington did.

Heffington’s pioneering contributions to the aftermarket and racing communities brought him induction into the Hot Rod Hall of Fame in 1997. His company also became a five-time winner of SEMA Best New Performance-Street Product and Best Engineered Product awards and a two-time Popular Mechanics Editor’s Choice award winner for product innovation, among other industry accolades. In addition, he currently serves on the SEMA Political Action Committee, lending his considerable industry experience and expertise to the efforts to favorably shape public policy to the entire aftermarket’s benefit.

In fact, since his successes in the ’90s, Heffington has continued to demonstrate zeal and innovation for the industry. Heffington took an early stand with his company, creating only street-legal products that met emissions standards. In 2009, Hypertech introduced the Sport Power Programmer, the first street-legal line of tuners for imports.

“The reason I started Hypertech was for people just like me,” he explained. “People who like to drive a high-performance street car every day of their life.”

Over the years, onboard computer controllers have become more and more sophisticated, regulating fuel, spark, transmission and even radiator cooling fans. However, Heffington views that less as a challenge than an opportunity for even more performance gains. Now in its 27th year, Hypertech remains a leader of engine tuning products, and Heffington continues to look to the future, seeing better ways to control highly modified engines equipped with nitrous, cam changes or superchargers as well as the ever-changing production models.

Bob Larivee Sr., Founder of Promotions Inc.


Bob Larivee Sr.




Bob Larivee Sr.

Bob Larivee Sr.





A car show can be as simple as placing a few eye-catching vehicles on display and then selling tickets to local enthusiasts. In fact, when Bob Larivee Sr.’s car club, the Motor-city Modified Auto Club (MMAC) participated in the Michigan Hot Rod Association’s (MHRA) first Detroit Autorama in 1953, it featured only 45–50 vehicles parked at the University of Detroit Field House. While the event was modest in size, it was a hit with attendees and the first of many successful car shows for Larivee Sr.

Initiated as a fundraiser, that first Autorama was held to support construction of the New Baltimore Dragstrip. The annual show continued to grow in popularity and, thanks to the MHRA, Michigan’s first official dragstrip opened for business in the spring of 1957. Serving as the track’s inaugural manager, Larivee Sr. got a first-rate education on his two favorite subjects—show promotion and racing.

As a matter of fact, Larivee’s real racing interest was Circle Track. Taking the wheel in 1952, he continued to compete until 1977, tearing across tracks throughout Michigan, Ohio and Ontario.

Through his involvement with MHRA, Larivee Sr. met another local promoter, Don Ridler. Immediately impressed by Ridler’s ideas, the MHRA hired him to help expand the Autorama’s appeal to a larger audience. Before long, popular acts such as Little Anthony & the Imperials, the Big Bopper and the Kalin Twins were performing next to some of the best custom cars in Michigan. Ridler also encouraged Larivee to develop his own shows in other markets.

By 1959, Larivee Sr. had formed a partnership with his brother, Marvin Jr., calling the company Promotions Inc. He produced his first two shows in conjunction with Canadian car clubs, such as the Piston Pushers in Hamilton, Ontario, and the Tecumseh Hot Rod Association in Windsor, Ontario. Though he didn’t quite break even, the events were well received, and his reputation was building.

In 1960, Promotions Inc. hosted its third show, this time in Toronto. Taking advantage of local radio and print media as well as a sponsorship with the Corsairs Car Club, the third time was the charm. With a profit of $10,000, there was no longer any doubt about Larivee’s future or the success of Promotions Inc.

As Larivee Sr. sought new areas of opportunity, he looked to Southern California—home to some of the world’s best hot-rod builders and the magazines that covered their projects. In the summer of 1962, he headed west and began networking with the likes of Vic Edelbrock of Edelbrock Equipment Co., Ed Cholakian from Weiand Speed Equipment, “Outlaw” builder Ed Roth and Wally Parks over at the National Hot Rod Association. Promotions Inc. quickly grew to 15 shows, capitalizing on bringing together famous hot-rod creations as well as products from the country’s hottest manufacturers.

In 1963, Larivee Sr. realized that the judging criteria for competing vehicles needed a tune-up. In an effort to level the playing field for car owners and promote legitimate competition he formed the International Show Car Association (ISCA). The ISCA adopted a truly innovative system for scoring vehicles, and, to this day, the ISCA continues to be North America’s preeminent judging body.

Fast-forward 20 years, and Promotions Inc. was producing 100 shows annually, publishing books and souvenir programs and maintaining sponsorships with many of the most dominant specialty-equipment manufacturers in the world. As a promoter, Larivee Sr. continued to innovate, incorporating the biggest names in hot-rod building, music, TV and film under one roof. Detroit’s Big Three were also involved, opting to use Larivee Sr.’s stage to debut vehicles, such as the Mustang, and high-performance buildups, such as Chrysler Corporation’s Rapid Transit System line.

After 35 years, Promotions Inc. was sold to Larivee Sr.’s son, but his contribution to the specialty-equipment industry was far from over. Deeply involved in automotive art, he started a fine art exhibit at the SEMA Show, which will celebrate its 25th year on the Show floor this November. Eventually, he sold most of his huge collection of hot-rod art history to “Speedy” Bill Smith of Speedway Motors for his Museum of American Speed in Lincoln, Nebraska.

As an entrepreneur and a publisher, Larivee Sr. has literally written the book on car shows, titled simply Show Car Dreams. As readers turn each page, it’s apparent that Larivee Sr. was passionate about creating an opportunity for enthusiasts to come face to face with the greatest hot rods ever built.

SEMA is eternally grateful for Bob Larivee Sr.’s willingness to redefine car shows and for making them something that families, generation after generation, continue to enjoy. It may be hard to define a car guy, but you can start by studying SEMA Hall of Fame member Bob Larivee Sr.

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