A Trip Down Memory Lane

California Congresswoman Tours SEMA Garage
Mike Spagnola
Mike Spagnola (right), SEMA’s vice president of OEM and product development programs, provides Rep. Norma Torres (D-CA) a tour of the SEMA Garage.

U.S. Representative Norma Torres (D-CA) knows a thing or two about cars and the importance of manufacturing. When given the opportunity, she’ll proudly mention that she enjoys driving a ’66 Ford Mustang that her husband Louis restored. With that in mind, it was only a matter of time before she made her way to the SEMA Garage in Diamond Bar, California.

The SEMA Garage provides association members with access to the special high-tech tools and equipment they need to get their products off the drawing board and into customer hands. Spanning more than 15,000 sq. ft., the SEMA Garage is filled with nearly $2 million of equipment, including two vehicle lifts, a portable coordinate measuring machine for 3-D scanning, a 3-D printer for fast prototyping, digital race car scales for the most precise vehicle weight measurements, a dynamometer for power output measurements and more. It also features an emissions lab that makes it easier and more affordable for SEMA-member companies to ensure that their products comply with emissions requirements. The SEMA Garage is the only known facility of its kind in the United States.

“It was a pleasure to host Representative Torres at SEMA’s headquarters and provide a tour of the SEMA Garage, said Chris Kersting, SEMA’s President and CEO. “We enjoyed hearing about the congresswoman’s efforts to advance policies in Washington, D.C., that help manufacturers. The visit was also an opportunity to help Rep. Torres understand that SEMA members don’t just market exciting products, they are an economic driver in communities across the country.”

SEMA Garage
From left: Dan Ingber, SEMA managing director of government and legal affairs; Rep. Torres; Chris Kersting, SEMA president and CEO; and Spagnola.

Congresswoman Torres represents California’s 35th Congressional District, which is home to more than 70 SEMA-member companies, including those based in Bloomington, Chino, Fontana, Montclair, Ontario, Pomona and Rialto. While SEMA has more than 7,100 member companies around the world, more than 1,500 members are based in California, with a particularly dense concentration in Southern California. With SEMA’s headquarters bordering her district, Rep. Torres represents the heart of car country.

Prior to being elected to Congress in 2014, Rep. Torres spent most of her career in public service. The congresswoman worked as a 911 dispatcher for the Los Angeles Police Department for nearly 20 years before deciding to run for elected office. She served on the Pomona City Council from 2001–2006 and as mayor from 2006–2008. Rep. Torres went on to serve in the California State Assembly from 2008–2013 before winning a special election to the State Senate in 2013.

SEMA Garage
Rep. Torres poses for a photo with SEMA staff.

During her time in Sacramento, Torres proved herself to be an accomplished legislator, authoring bills to help prevent metal theft, keep drivers under the influence of drugs off the road, and raise fines on individuals who illegally tamper with online data. Rep. Torres was also a leading voice behind anti-corruption laws that made it easier for California prosecutors to convict government officials who take bribes or engage in other acts of public corruption.

Since her election to Congress in 2014, Rep. Torres has demonstrated a strong commitment to the communities in her district. The congresswoman embarked on a job-creation listening tour during her first year in office, meeting with more than 200 business owners, employ­ees, education professionals and local eco­nomic leaders in an effort to identify best practices for growing the economy and jobs. Congresswoman Torres released a report at the conclusion of the tour titled “A Roadmap to Economic Resilience in the Inland Empire,” which was the basis for legislation she’s introduced to amend federal job training laws to direct the U.S. Department of Labor to make grants or enter into contracts with eligible entities to carry out demonstration and pilot projects that provide education and training programs for jobs in advanced manufacturing. Rep. Torres’s bill, the JOBS Act, would connect educational institutions with manufacturers to give workers the training and skills they need to find jobs in growing industries—a top SEMA priority.

Sung Kang
During the SEMA Garage tour, U.S. Rep. Norma Torres learned about Project Underdog’s customization of a ’72 Maverick by three local high schoolers with the help of Sung Kang, Steve Strope and the SEMA Garage staff. The car was displayed at the 2016 SEMA Show.

During the SEMA Garage tour, Rep. Torres was especially interested to hear about Project Underdog, a youth-engagement venture created by The Fast and the Furious franchise star Sung Kang to work with local youth to customize a ’72 Maverick at the garage. The Project Underdog team included three aspiring car enthusiasts from Alhambra High School along with the actor, award-winning vehicle builder Steve Strope and the SEMA Garage team. They transformed a modest ’72 Maverick into a unique showcase performer that was unveiled at 50th-anniversary SEMA Show in 2016. For Rep. Torres, Project Underdog brought her back to the days when she drove a ’74 Maverick with a 302 engine.

“Visiting the SEMA headquarters in Diamond Bar was like taking a trip down memory lane,” she said. “It was great to be around people who have the same passion, love and enthusiasm for hot rods that the greater Inland Empire and I share. More importantly, it was encouraging to learn how SEMA supports local jobs in the 35th District. From partnering with manufacturers in the region to hiring local engineering grads from Cal Poly Pomona, SEMA’s long-standing commitment to our community has garnered it the appreciation it deserves.”

For more information on hosting your member of Congress through the SEMA Congressional District Site Visit Program, contact Christian Robinson, SEMA director of state government affairs and SEMA PAC, at 202-794-8279 or christianr@

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