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SEMA Hall of Fame to Induct Four Industry Icons
|Last year's SEMA Hall of Fame class included Van Woodell (above), Chuck Schwartz (below) and Richard "Dick" McMullen (not pictured).
Gray Baskerville, Art Chrisman, Chris Economaki and John Towle will be inducted into the SEMA Hall of Fame, an honor that recognizes an elite group of individuals for raising the stature or growth of the automotive specialty-equipment industry.
“We’re fortunate to have an amazing group of leaders and innovators in the automotive specialty-equipment industry,” said Hall of Fame Committee Chairman Jeep Worthan. “This year’s SEMA Hall of Fame inductees exemplify the industry’s remarkable talent and diversity. It’s an honor and a privilege to recognize these four deserving men by inducting them into the SEMA Hall of Fame.”
Industry professionals will gather and pay tribute to the new SEMA Hall of Fame members at the SEMA Installation Banquet & Gala Fundraiser in Long Beach, California, on Friday, July 29, 2011. The annual gala marks the first time that the inductees will join together and be officially introduced as SEMA Hall of Fame members.
Gray Baskerville – As long-time editor of one of the most popular and successful automotive magazines, Baskerville’s contribution and influence on the industry are widespread. But holding the senior editor title at Hot Rod magazine for about 30 years isn’t the reason that he’s being inducted into the SEMA Hall of Fame. Rather, it’s the passion and sincerity that transcended from Baskerville’s writing and his ability to captivate readers that earned him the honor. Like most, if not all, other SEMA Hall of Famers, Baskerville has a deep-seated love for cars that clearly manifests itself in all that he did.
He drove his beloved ’32 Ford roadster on a daily basis, racking up about 250,000 miles on it before he passed away in 2002. Not one to adapt to corporate rules or aspire for the corner office, Baskerville is equally well remembered for wearing flip-flops and shorts in the office, as he is for his ability to captivate readers in ways that no one else could. His writing style was so full of life and excitement that his text was rarely changed by editors—even when he invented words that did not exist in the dictionary. Even after he retired, Baskerville kept his office and continued to write for both Hot Rod magazine and Rod & Custom.
Art Chrisman – Pinpointing a single reason as to why Art Chrisman is being inducted into the SEMA Hall of Fame is difficult. Yet, for many, it’s unlikely that a reason is even needed.
Chrisman played such a key role in the hot-rod movement that his contributions are well known by most enthusiasts. His story is so significant that it’s resulted in The Chrisman Legacy: Always Faster, a 224-page book that chronicles the lives of the Chrismans and their undisputable contribution to the world of motorsports. Working at his father’s Southern California auto shop in the ’50s, Art knew or raced against many of the big-name legends: Ed Iskenderian, Vic Edelbrock, Wally Parks, Pete Petersen, Mickey Thompson, C.J. Hart, Lou Baney and many others. Among Chrisman’s many accomplishments is that he was the first drag racer to exceed 140 and 180 mph. He was also the first to make a pass in NHRA’s first national event in 1955.
Today, the legacy continues. Art and his son Mike work side by side at their shop, C.A.R.S. (Chrisman Auto Rod Shop), serving as a mentor and an inspiration to today’s, and tomorrow’s, hot rodder.
Chris Economaki – Go to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and you’ll find the Economaki Press Conference Room. At the New Jersey Motorsports Park, you’ll find The Chris Economaki Media Center. And each year on the day of the Daytona 500, thousands celebrate Chris Economaki Day.
Having served as a motorsports commentator, pit road reporter and journalist for more than 70 years, Economaki is described as the founding father of the American motorsports media. Many credit him for bringing auto racing to the media forefront. Those not familiar with his name are likely to instantly recognize his voice and the face with the horn-rimmed glasses.
Throughout his career, he never veered away from National Speed Sport News, the weekly newsletter that he bought and began publishing in 1950 when he was just 20 years old. Referred by some as “the Bible of Motorsports” and by others as “America’s Weekly Motorsports Authority,” National Speed Sport News reports on races throughout the country, regardless of the series or the track. The publication ceased printing in March 2011, but, with Economaki still intimately involved with the publication and contributing on a daily basis, its online news will continue to be read religiously by race fans everywhere.
John Towle – Having started his career at Edelbrock nearly 50 years ago, John Towle knows and understands the industry like very few. As the current executive director for the Performance Warehouse Association (PWA), Towle has played a major part in advancing the industry. He is often credited with bringing the PWA and SEMA closer together, as well as for making the annual PWA Conference a huge success.
His dedication is undisputed, having served as a member of the SEMA Board of Directors, as well as on countless SEMA committees. Recognizing the importance of fostering new talent in to the industry, Towle initiated the PWA’s annual $2,000 donation to the SEMA Scholarship Foundation.
Perhaps most noteworthy is the impact that Towle’s commitment has had on the industry. His commitment doesn’t just lead to hard work and progress. As someone who is constantly seeking ways to improve the professionalism of the industry, he tends to influence policy and create new programs. Under his direction, PWA created PWA University, which provides education to any person or company in the industry, regardless of membership. Also under his direction, PWA created an online website to help direct customers to retailers’ sites sponsored by PWA WDs and manufacturers.
The four newest SEMA Hall of Fame members will be officially introduced for the first time at the SEMA Installation Banquet & Gala Fundraiser, Friday, July 29, 2011, at Renaissance Hotel in Long Beach, California. All industry professionals are invited to take part in the event, which is part of SEMA’s Leadership Days program and includes a sit-down dinner.
To get tickets for the SEMA Installation Banquet & Gala Fundraiser, visit www.sema.org/GalaTix.
More details are available at www.sema.org/gala.