SEMA News—December 2012
By Chad Simon
Hot Rodders of Tomorrow Strives to Develop Young Talent
Providing young automotive enthusiasts with an opportunity to develop and showcase their talents while being exposed to the automotive aftermarket industry, Hot Rodders of Tomorrow was launched in 2008 at the Race & Performance Expo in St. Charles, Illinois, and has been invited to compete at the SEMA Show every year since its inception. The organization’s goal is to reach out to high-school students before they graduate in order to provide much-needed future talent for the automotive specialty-equipment market.
“The shortage of young talent in this industry that we’ve been experiencing is slowly getting better,” said Jim Bingham, chairman of Hot Rodders of Tomorrow and president/CEO of Winner’s Circle Speed & Custom. “But there’s still a shortage of not only young talent, but also skilled workers across the country; we still have to work to solve the problem, and this program helps.”
The purpose of the competition is to offer opportunities for students to build and develop teamwork, demonstrate their enthusiasm and ingenuity and build their confidence and commitment to excellence. The Showdown at SEMA national championship was held October 30–November 2, 2012, at the SEMA Show in Las Vegas.
“I absolutely love this event,” said Chris Kersting, SEMA president and CEO. “It is amazing to me that Jim’s activity has impacted so many members of our industry over the years. We’re pleased to be a part of the event and to support this effort.”
Teams of five automotive technology students and an instructor from invited high schools across the country compete to properly disassemble and reassemble small-block Chevrolet engines with aftermarket components in the least amount of time. The winner is the team with the quickest total time, including added penalties. The competition engines are built to replicate the real-world, high-performance engines found in today’s musclecars and hot rods.
The idea for the organization came to life during the first year of a local St. Charles consumer show called the Race & Performance Expo. Tim Freeman, an area businessman, asked Bingham to help him put together an engine challenge for the show, and Freeman successfully recruited five local high schools for the engine challenge. With Bingham’s help, Vic Edelbrock, chairman of Edelbrock Corp., decided that he wanted to expand the concept across the country, starting with the first Hot Rodders of Tomorrow Engine Challenge held at the Race & Performance Expo in 2008.
“My motive for launching this program at the time was Vic Edelbrock,” Bingham said. “He told me that we needed to do this, and so I set out to help Vic. Other hosts started to come forward and I saw the need, so I just kept after it.”
The series grew from its inaugural competition between five teams to 70 last year, with six divisional winners and four wildcards being invited to compete at the third-annual Showdown at SEMA national championship. By the end of the 2012 season, 112 teams and 560 students will have competed.
Edelbrock, in partnership with Kersting, was initially responsible for getting the organization invited to the SEMA Show in 2009. Four teams competed there the first year. That grew to six in the second year, and Hot Rodders of Tomorrow came to the SEMA Show with 10 teams in 2011. This year, 13 teams competed at the SEMA Show for $2.5 million in scholarships.
“This is just what our industry needed,” said Edelbrock. “It involves our youth and gives them a focus that will help prepare them for careers in the performance automotive aftermarket.”
Qualifying teams typically finish the challenge in the 35-minute timeframe. All teams are encouraged to finish the engine build, regardless of time; however, once a team hits the 60-minute range, the instructor may help.
Time-added penalties are assessed when participants commit errors, which include dropping components, improper disassembly and poor sportsmanship. There are five judges, each following an individual student, and they score everything from the use of torque wrenches to proper assembly.
The ultimate prize for each member of the winning team is $10,000 in scholarship money provided by Ohio Technical College, the School of Automotive Machinists and the University of Northwest Ohio. A total of $975,000 was posted for the 2011 SEMA Show, with the smallest amount being $5,000 per student for the sixth- through 10th-place finishers.
“Sometimes we impact young people in ways we may never know, and I think that is the case with this contest,” said Chris Overfelt, a team instructor. “We hear stories about kids going to college from the scholarships, but this contest impacts them in ways we may never know.”
Hot Rodders of Tomorrow first received funding three years ago. The sponsorship program was changed to provide for a $1,500 annual fee for all 39 manufacturing sponsors to become a part of the program. Five new sponsors were added for 2012. The money came from Bingham’s company and his own pocket in previous years. The funds are used to house and fly judges to the dozen or so regional competitions held throughout the country each year and to buy and transport equipment.
“We want the best and fastest teams at the SEMA Show,” Bingham said. “So next year, if a host does not have 15 teams at each regional event, the winners will be judged by their times. But if there are 15, the winning team will automatically go.”
The 2011 Showdown at SEMA champion was Team Moroso from Loara High School in Anaheim, California, with a record-breaking time of 21:08. Two of the winners from last year’s team will compete on this year’s Motive Gear team.
“The 2011 Showdown at SEMA was very successful,” Bingham said. “We had people lined up in the lobby, all the way up the escalator and on the second floor watching from the top.”
In 2013, the national championship will move to the 26th Annual Performance Racing Industry Show in Orlando. Additional contests will be featured, including a ring-and-pinion challenge, a cylinder-head challenge and a carburetor-rebuild competition.
To date, Hot Rodders of Tomorrow has been seen by more than 760,000 people, fostered a total of 328 teams in eight divisions consisting of 1,675 students from across the country, and has raised more than $6 million in scholarship money.
2012 Hot Rodders of Tomorrow Sponsors
Where They Are Now
In November 2009, Joliet Central High School, sponsored by Fel-Pro, became the first Showdown at SEMA winner. James Seeley was on that team.
“Winning the challenge was awesome; I can’t even describe it in words,” Seeley said. “It was one of the coolest moments of my life. We worked so hard to get there, and it all paid off in the end.”
Through the scholarship money he earned, Seeley went on to study in the high-performance and racing department at Ohio Technical College. While in school, he started working part-time as a race car mechanic for the Rusty Wallace Racing Experience. After graduating, he went to work for Wallace full-time, traveling to NASCAR tracks throughout the United States.
“All my life I’ve been interested in anything that’s engine operated,” Seeley said. “I’ve always felt comfortable around engines in cars. There’s so much new technology being brought into the automotive industry, and young kids can hold so much more knowledge, so it’s important for them to become more involved in
In the future, Seeley plans to continue working for Wallace, possibly getting off the road, settling down and running a shop. He says he could see himself staying there for a while.