SEMA Person of the Year
By Mike Imlay
A tireless industry volunteer, Morosan accepted SEMA Person of the Year honors at the 2021 SEMA Industry Awards Banquet.
The return of the SEMA Show to Las Vegas this past November was historic in so many ways. One of the week’s high points was the renewed gathering of 2,500 industry professionals at the in-person SEMA Industry Awards Banquet on Thursday evening, November 4. The event featured award presentations for SEMA Manufacturer of the Year, Warehouse Distributor of the Year, Gen-III Innovator of the Year, and accolades for the 2021 inductees to the SEMA Hall of Fame. But the capstone to the annual ceremony is always the SEMA Person of the Year Award, and for 2021, that honor went to Sara Morosan of LGE-CTS Motorsports.
The Person of the Year Award is one of the association’s most prestigious recognitions. Beyond any personal or professional achievements, the award celebrates an individual who embodies service and dedication to the automotive specialty-equipment industry for the benefit of SEMA-member companies and the entire aftermarket.
“SEMA is proud to recognize Sara Morosan as our 2021 Person of the Year,” said SEMA President and CEO Chris Kersting. “The goal of our association is to ensure that all our businesses succeed and prosper, and Sara’s spirit of volunteerism on behalf of SEMA and the industry is truly exceptional. Sara’s service on several SEMA councils and initiatives, including SEMA Cares, has touched so many people, businesses and industry sectors. She exemplifies the passion and leadership that SEMA stands for.”
During a post-banquet interview, Morosan was still trying to take it all in.
“Person of the Year,” she said with disbelief. “When I first started volunteering and going to the banquets, I would see that person up there and think to myself, ‘I want to be that person; I want to be Person of the Year; I want to be in the Hall of Fame.’ I put it on my vision board, not because I wanted the award, but because I wanted to be like the people making an impact in our industry.”
Morosan’s industry roots run deep.
“I’m second generation in our family business,” she explained. “My mom and dad [Gerry and Louie Morosan] started the company in 1982 after my dad got laid off from a Ford dealership. They were worried. They were already building cars and doing stuff on the side, so at that point my mom said, ‘Let’s just start our own company.’ In 1992 they moved [the business] to San Dimas to the building we used to be at. And in 1996, I came aboard.”
Today Morosan co-owns LGE-CTS with her sister Theresa Contreras. The business encompasses custom builds, sales of off-road and overlanding products, and the manufacturing of bumpers, roof racks and other off-road products under the Baja Forged brand. Their award-winning project vehicles have been showcased at the SEMA Show, the Los Angeles and New York Auto Shows, and even at New York Fashion Week.
Morosan loves building vehicles that enable customers to take the road less traveled, explore magnificent landscapes, and access historic places that few ever get
Morosan organized the first TORA council trail run at Moab. She is a frequent instructor for such events, and enjoys introducing newcomers to off-roading—not to mention helping them bring their dream vehicles to life.
“My family has always been into off-roading, and it’s been a huge part of our life. Honestly, it’s what grew my passion,” she said, recounting childhood experiences filled with Jeeping, quads and dirt bikes. She still marvels at the sights she has been privileged to see, from forgotten ghost towns and mines to unspoiled deserts and mountains and star-filled night skies.
“We get a lot of people into our shop saying off-roading is something they’ve always wanted to do, but they’ve never had a purpose-built vehicle,” she said. “Now they’re finally able to do it, and we’re able to help their dream come true. I think sometimes we take for granted that we all have these lifted trucks, but for some, it’s pushing outside their comfort zone to actually go off-roading.”
Morosan takes additional pride in encouraging beginners, especially women. She has assisted with instruction at many trail rides and local all-girl Jeep clubs.
An avid off-roader, Morosan can often be found with her Jeep Wrangler rig at Moab, Utah, and other trail destinations.
“It’s amazing to see how many women come out and say, ‘I just went through a divorce’ or ‘I just beat cancer, and this is something I want to do on my own,’” she explained. “They never thought they could do it, and now they are. They just needed someone to say, ‘Hey, I’m right here next to you.’”
Morosan can identify because her development into a SEMA volunteer and leader involved similar self-discovery. Like many, she first knew SEMA only for its trade show, but then she learned of the association’s many councils, programs and initiatives designed to help members grow both personally and in their businesses.
“I discovered that there’s a whole other SEMA world out there that makes an impact,” she said. “SEMA works with so many different things that are going on in the industry. I was intrigued to find out more.”
After working with SEMA Cares, the association’s charity program, with different WD-40 vehicle builds for auction (some designed by Chip Foose), Morosan got involved first with the Truck & Accessory Alliance (now the Truck & Off-Road Alliance or TORA) and then the SEMA Businesswomen’s Network (SBN). She has served several terms on the select committee for both councils and was just named SBN chair-elect.
Known as a ready volunteer for every sort of project, she has also served on multiple SEMA task forces and helped helm SEMA Cares. Additionally, she has hosted an SBN Facebook Live Chat with her sister Theresa; presented several SEMA Education videos; and is a popular go-to interviewee for industry-related podcasts. When not representing SEMA per se, she regularly organizes and takes part in trail cleanups at Johnson Valley, California.
Morosan and off-road racer Tom Wayes take a break from filming an ICON product spot with Kahn Media. Morosan avidly supports other SEMA-member companies.
“I always tell people that without being a SEMA volunteer, I would never have left our little storefront on our street,” she said. “But once I started volunteering and meeting other volunteers, it helped me grow personally because I never went to college or did other things. I’ve had the same job since I was 16.”
Having found a fulfilling career, Morosan is equally passionate about sharing it with others—especially young people and women. She’s active with technical learning centers such as the Alex Xydias Center for Automotive Arts in Pomona, California.
“My sister Theresa also has a 501(c)(3) called Real Deal, which is changing the perception of skilled trades and women’s roles in them,” she added. “I want people to understand that these jobs are real and matter. They make an impact and a difference, and you can have a good career in the automotive industry.”
Ultimately, Morosan believes deeper involvement in SEMA energizes both the industry and the volunteer.
“Maybe you’re new to the industry and you don’t really know what path you want yet,” she said. “Or maybe you do know your path but you haven’t gotten there. Volunteering is great because you’re going to meet tons of people who can guide you—and having other people in the industry as friends and mentors is huge.”
Along those lines, Morosan expressed appreciation to numerous people in the industry, starting with “everyone with whom I’ve had the pleasure of volunteering with and sitting with on a council or task force. My fellow SEMA Cares committee members have all been some of my biggest supporters and friends, including Rich Barsamian, Melanie White, Kathryn Reinhardt and Jenna Jefferies. Then there are also my other business partners from OLAF Events, Rory Connell and Jeremy Headlee.”
Morosan also thanked the SEMA staff—especially SEMA Vice President of OEM and Product Development Programs Mike Spagnola at the SEMA Garage, who first encouraged her to become a SEMA volunteer and who has been a mentor and friend for more than a decade.
A second-generation business owner, Morosan manages the LGE-CTS shop in Upland, California.
Most of all, Morosan is grateful to her mother, father, sister and brother-in-law Jason Contreras, along with her grandparents, who taught her the importance of giving back.
“They are the ones who allowed me to follow my passion for the industry and SEMA,” she said.
Asked to sum up her feelings when her name was announced at the SEMA Industry Awards Banquet, Morosan recalled the experience as “super emotional.”
“When I was walking up [to the stage], I was thanking God because, obviously, I can’t do anything without my faith, and that’s huge for me,” she reflected. “When I finally [got on stage] and looked out into the audience, I realized how many of the people who were standing, clapping and cheering were friends or had made huge impacts on my life. I realized that God put every single one of those people in my life for a reason. It was very emotional to see them all standing up for me when I’ve been such a huge cheerleader for them.”