By Mike Imlay
Highlights From SEMA’s Annual Installation Gala
SEMA members and industry leaders filled the ballroom of the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles for the recent SEMA Installation Gala, celebrating new Board of Directors and council members and Hall of Fame inductees.
Each year, the SEMA Installation Gala gathers the industry together to thank outgoing SEMA Board of Directors members, install newly elected leaders and celebrate the association’s latest Hall of Fame inductees. In addition, daytime events leading up to the banquet include high-level Board and council discussions along with a heavy dose of fundraising for SEMA Cares, the association’s charity initiative. This year, the historic Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles played host to the July 24 events, with the evening’s gala emceed by the legendary “Voice of the NHRA,” Dave McClelland.
With SEMA members representing every segment of the industry filling the banquet hall that night, SEMA President and CEO Chris Kersting took the stage to officially recognize outgoing and newly elected members of the SEMA Board of Directors. Susan Carpenter of JR Products, Laurel Dasher of Powerteq and Dan Kahn of Kahn Media Inc. are the newest members elected to the SEMA Board. In addition to the new volunteers, Jim Bingham of Winner’s Circle Speed & Custom Inc. and Nick Gramelspacher of Meyer Distributing were re-elected, and Wade Kawasaki of the Coker Group was chosen as SEMA’s chairman-elect. (Meet the entire SEMA Board on page 28 in this issue.)
“The SEMA Installation Gala is always a night filled with excitement for our industry and appreciation for the dedication, service and volunteerism of our association members who remain at the heart of its passion and drive,” said Kersting. “It’s a great celebration of leadership and, just as importantly, the enthusiasm we all share for the entire industry’s ongoing growth
Among the evening’s highlights, Joel Ayres, Jim Bingham and Dennis Gage received SEMA’s highest honor with their formal induction into the elite SEMA Hall of Fame. Truly accomplished professionals, each has helped to shape and inspire the $33-billion automotive specialty-equipment market in distinctive ways.
Leaders of SEMA’s industry councils gathered before the gala evening to network, identify common industry priorities and chart future initiatives.
(Left to right) SEMA President and CEO Chris Kersting with SEMA Chairman-Elect Wade Kawasaki, Immediate Past Chairman Nate Shelton and current Chairman of the Board Doug Evans.
Gala attendees cheered their favorite cars in the annual SEMA Cares Pinewood Drag Races, which raised much-appreciated funds for association-supported charities.
Jim Bingham, president and CEO, Winner’s Circle Speed and Custom.
Dennis Gage, host of “My Classic Car.”
Along with his contributions in the truck industry and the role he played in merging the Truck Cap Industry Association (now known as the Light Truck & Accessory Alliance, TORA) with SEMA, Ayres has long been committed to giving back to those in need, helping to found SEMA Cares nearly 10 years ago. The nonprofit group unites SEMA’s industry fundraising efforts and provides member businesses with a range of ways to give to charities.
To date, SEMA Cares has raised more than $1 million for a variety of causes. Most recently, Ayres was also named the first-ever executive director of the Aftermarket Foundation, where he plays a key role in assisting automotive aftermarket individuals who, because of catastrophic illness or accident, have fallen onto hard times.
Bingham began his career in 1968 at Lang Auto Parts. As a farm boy just breaking into business, he was the store’s youngest counter guy, but he proved to be a quick learner. After just two years, he founded Winner’s Circle Speed and Custom Inc., which has since grown to include three retail locations, wholesale distribution under the name 1st Performance Warehouse, and two major trade events.
In addition to serving on the SEMA Board of Directors, Bingham has been a board member for the Performance Warehouse Association and is an original owner of Route 66 Raceway. He has also been a major promoter of youth involvement in the aftermarket and motorsports through Hot Rodders of Tomorrow.
Though interested in cars at an early age, Gage’s career in the industry took a more circuitous route. After graduating college with degrees in physics and chemistry, he started a country rock band, touring for two years before returning to graduate school and later joining Proctor & Gamble, where he helped develop the Pringles potato chip. Next, he moved on to Bristol-Myers Squibb, leading the development of Boost energy drinks and undertaking a 20-city media tour to promote the brand. His unique personna caught on, and in the mid-’90s, he became the host of “My Classic Car.” Now in its 20th season, the TV program has reached nearly 90 million households.
Dedicated to the industry, Gage has served on several SEMA committees, including three terms on the Board of Directors and the select committee of the Automotive Restoration Market Organization.
Throughout the day of the gala, onlookers cheered their favorite racers in the annual SEMA Cares Pinewood Drag Races, which featured carefully crafted pinewood race cars competing in several classes, including Stock, Build-It-For-Me (BIFM) and Unlimited. In what has become a yearly tradition, children living at Childhelp facilities and campers attending Victory Junction built the vehicles for the BIFM class, and donors sponsored their race cars for $95, with proceeds going to SEMA Cares. Of course, there were also the traditional Hot Rod Industry Alliance Builder’s Challenge and SEMA Council Cup grudge matches, which were waged during Friday’s cocktail reception and into the gala itself.
When the dust finally settled, the leaderboard read as follows below:
- First Place, SEMA Builder’s Class, Unlimited: Mitch Williams, Restoration Parts Unlimited Inc.
- First Place, Stock: Kathryn Reinhardt, Magnaflow
- Second Place, Stock: Wade Kawasaki, Coker Group
- Third Place, Stock: Michael Timmons, BedRug Inc.
- First Place, Unlimited: Mitch Williams, Restoration Parts Unlimited Inc.
- Second Place, Unlimited: Mitch Williams, Restoration Parts Unlimited Inc.
- First Place, Sponsor a Child (BIFM): Kyle Tucker, Detroit Speed Inc.
- Second Place, Sponsor a Child (BIFM): Kevin McGowan, Auto Trim Restyling
- Third Place, Sponsor a Child (BIFM): Mike Spagnola, SEMA Garage
- People’s Choice Award: Mike Spagnola, SEMA Garage