SEMA News—December 2017


By Chad Simon

Mo’ Muscle Cars Three-Peats as 2017 as Pinewood Builders Challenge Champion

For the third consecutive year, the 2017 Pinewood Builders Challenge—previously held during SEMA’s Installation Gala—featured head-to-head racing last summer at the National Street Rod Association Street Rod Nationals in Louisville, Kentucky. In addition to the Builders Challenge, a Manufacturers’ Shootout was staged for the third time ever for participating members of the Hot Rod Industry Alliance (HRIA).

Blake Meaux
Blake Meaux, Mo’ Muscle Cars—Grand Champion.
Rod Turnbull
All American Street Rods, Rod Turnbull.

This year’s Builders Challenge winner and grand champion was Blake Meaux from Mo’ Muscle Cars, who successfully defended his 2015 and 2016 championships, winning back-to-back-to-back titles. John Hochgesang from RideTech was the Manufacturers’ Shootout champion; Craig Darpino from American Autowire won Best in Show; and Tom Farrell from Farrell Creations & Restorations repeated as Best Engineered winner.

“The Pinewood Drags is a great event for the most famous vehicle builders and manufacturers in the automotive aftermarket,” said HRIA Chair Tammy Holland of COMP Performance Group. “With any drag race, there is competition, and this year was no different, as everyone was after Mo’ Muscle Cars, the two-time champion. Everyone brought their A-game, and you could see it in the craftsmanship of each vehicle.

Craig Darpino
American Autowire, Craig Darpino—Best in Show.
Brad Starks
Brad Starks Rod and Custom, Brad Starks.

The miniature hot rods were displayed in the Hot Rod Industry Alliance (HRIA) booth at the 2017 SEMA Show before the winning cars of the Builders Challenge, Best Engineered and Best in Show were auctioned live during the HRIA reception. A People’s Choice award was decided via a Facebook poll, and a silent auction was held for the rest of the Pinewood cars. Proceeds benefitted the SEMA Cares children’s charities.

“It feels good to win three times in a row,” Meaux said. “Every year we do this, we want to push ourselves to make a better, faster car. We ended up doing something different this year in building a fully functional display box for the car. There was a lot of competition, so it was nice to walk away with the win for the third year.”

John Mcleod
Classic Instruments, John McLeod.
Tom Farrell
Farrell Creations, Tom Farrell—Best Engineered.

Meaux said he spent 80 hours building the car, which he named “Split Decision.” As with last year’s car, it was made of an exotic wood—this time, amboyna burl from Thailand. The display box was made of a solid block of ironwood burl. Both were harder than the Asian satinwood burl Meaux used last year and offered more stability.

To make the amboyna burl look slick without staining it, Meaux sanded it down, added five coats of BASF clear, sanded it down again and re-cleared it. The ironwood burl was milled so that the car could fit inside. It was then sanded, rubbed with Tung oil and finished off with brass hardware and two nameplates. Meaux used race-inspired wheels, which he sanded and painted with a candy-red tri-coat.

Jesse Greening
Greening Auto Co., Jesse Greening.
Mike GoldmanMike Mike Goldman Customs, Mike Goldman

“I used some of the same techniques as before, but as far as speed, every little thing counts,” Meaux said. “This year’s car weighed in at 20.5 oz., but I don’t think weight has as much bearing as people think, because last year’s car weighed only 16 oz. Not only were we going to win the race, but we also had to build something that would ‘pop’ at the auction. Typically, the cars that look the coolest are going to get the most money. We wanted something that would look expensive and stand out but would also get the job done.”

In addition to supporting the charities, the builders showcased their creations throughout the year to children interested in cars, providing an opportunity to promote the hot-rod hobby and custom-car industry to the next generation of car builders. The Builders Challenge moved to Louisville three years ago to provide a more central location for many of the builders and also to gain additional exposure.

Ride Tech
Jeff Wehr, RideTech.
Ride Tech
John Hochgesang, RideTech—Manufacturers’ Shootout Champion.

The race came to fruition at the 2009 SEMA Show when former HRIA Chairman Rick Love of Vintage Air and HRIA members Eric Saltrick of Steele Rubber Products and the late John Menzler of COMP Cams decided to walk the Show floor and ask every well-known hot-rod builder to participate.

The idea behind the first Challenge was simply to see what top-notch hot-rod builders could do with a block of wood, and they have pushed the boundaries every year.

The rules are simple and subject to interpretation. Each builder is given four months to complete a car, with no design limitations imposed except that the car has to fit the track’s dimensions and no propulsion systems are allowed.

Each builder must use at least one piece of the pinewood block that SEMA provides. Over the years, builders have not only used the wood for their cars but also aluminum, fiberglass and chrome. They have fabricated custom wheels, suspensions and chassis parts in miniature formats.

Participating builders this year included: Craig Darpino, American AutoWire; Jeff Wehr, RideTech; Tom Farrell, Farrell Creations & Restorations; Mike Goldman, Mike Goldman Customs; Jesse Greening, Greening Auto Co.; John McLeod, Classic Instruments Inc.; Blake Meaux, Mo’ Muscle Cars; Brad Starks, Brad Starks Rod & Custom; Rod Turnbull, All American Street Rods; and John Hochgesang, RideTech.

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