SEMA News—March 2023
By Douglas McColloch
10 Questions for Larry Chen
As an automotive writer, photographer, videographer, racer and builder, few in the specialty-equipment industry can rival Larry Chen for versatility. Best known for his work with Hoonigan, he is also the official series photographer for the Formula Drift racing series and the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. You can find his automotive vlog at Hoonigan, where he hosts a web series called "AutoFocus," or at YouTube, where his channel lists more than 440,000 subscribers. To recognize his contributions to the industry across a variety of media, he was named SEMA's first-ever Influencer of the Year at the 2022 SEMA Show Industry Awards Banquet.
Recently we spent some time with Chen to learn more about this uniquely talented individual.
SEMA News: What's your latest project? What's in your garage/driveway/studio, etc.?
Larry Chen: My latest project is my 2022 SEMA Show build. I built a GR86 for the Toyota booth. It’s a simple drift and street car. It pretty much has every single bolt-on that exists for that car, including an HKS Supercharger.
Over the years I’ve just been collecting cars that I love to drive. For off-road, I have a stick-shift supercharged FJ Cruiser, and a wide-body Toyota Tundra. I have a 350z that I built into a drift car so I could learn how to drift. I have an A90 Toyota Supra that I use as a camera chase vehicle. I have a 170 SR20DET-powered 240z as well as a ’90 Nissan Skyline GTR. I have a 996 turbo as well for a fun street car.
SN: What was your first job, and what did you learn from it?
LC: My first job was fixing computers and networks. I did house calls, and I went to businesses to work on their computers. I learned how hard it was to earn money as an entrepreneur.
SN: Besides your photographic work, you’re now a builder. How did that come about?
LC: This all came from a love for cars. I initially got into the hobby from tinkering on my car and driving at the local race tracks with friends. I got into taking photos because it was my way of being around car culture, even though I was not a mechanic or professional driver.
SN: Talk about your SEMA Show build. What kind of statement did you want to make, and how well do you think it came out?
LC: I think it came out great. To prove to everyone that it was a functional drift car, I actually took it to the track to burn some rubber three days before the Show. I was pretty careful, so I didn’t break anything. I just wanted to build something within my skill level. It’s not the craziest car as it only makes 300 hp, but it’s very special to me as my third SEMA build.
SN: What have you learned from your years in the industry that you didn’t know at the start of your career?
LC: I’ve learned so much over the years. I’ve been shooting cars for 17 years now. The most important thing is to maintain and build relationships with people in the industry. There are folks that I’ve been working with since I first picked up a camera, and it’s incredible to have those people you can rely on.
SN: Describe your first SEMA Show. What do you remember most about it?
LC: My first SEMA Show was in 2006. I remember I bummed a ride from a few friends and I actually slept on the floor of a hotel room the entire week. I was so blown away by the cars that were there at the Show. It was eye-opening to see as a car photographer and since then I have not missed a single Show.
SN: What’s your daily driver, and what do you like most about it?
LC: My daily driver is an LC200 Lexus Land Cruiser. I love it because it’s like driving a couch. It’s also very capable as a production vehicle and it’s great off-road. I actually took it on some nice trails in Moab.
SN: Say you’re shooting a cover for Hot Rod. How do you prepare, what kind of gear do you bring, and how much time does it take?
LC: It depends on what we are shooting and where, but generally speaking I have a pretty standard kit for car photography. I’ve only used Canon cameras, and that has certainly paid off for me as I am the only car photographer on their team of professional photographers, also known as “Explorers of Light.”
SN: For someone looking to break into the business, what advice would you give them?
LC: I would say to find an internship to learn as you go. There is a huge shortage of passionate people in the industry. It seems like so many people see what we do from the outside, but they don’t want to put in the hard work.
SN: When you’re not working, where will we find you, and what will you be doing?
LC: You will probably find me hanging out with my family. Or at the track driving my cars or tinkering with them in my shop.