Hot Rodders of Tomorrow
Inspiring the Industry’s Future With Guidance and Motivation Today
The dual championship for the Hot Rodders of Tomorrow competition took place at the SEMA Show and will conclude at the PRI Trade Show later this December.
In 2008, Hot Rodders of Tomorrow (HROT) first received funding as an educational competition for high-school students across the country. The motivation remains just as relevant today: provide a platform for students to gain interest and access into the automotive industry through a team-building challenge. SEMA News spoke with Rodney Bingham, HROT president, among others, to learn more about how the program has grown over the last eight years and how it remains a key point for youth engagement in the automotive industry.
The broad purpose of HROT is easy to grasp, and the specifics are comparable to those of any major competition. The structure is as follows: Teams of five students—four working on an engine and one calling the shots from behind a counter—compete by starting with a fully assembled Chevrolet small-block engine. The team must disassemble the engine down to its camshaft for a judge to examine. Once the judge determines that everything is correct, the team begins to reassemble the engine back to its original completed state. This entire process is timed, with the faster teams advancing to the next round. Judges observe to see that the engine assembly is correct in all aspects, with proper use of tools and correct torque specs.
For the 2016 competition, 160 teams entered, with roughly 800 total students participating. The teams first entered 11 regional qualifying events spread across the country. Those teams were then whittled down to 43 qualifying teams that participated in the dual championship finals, which took place at the SEMA Show and will conclude at the Performance Racing Industry (PRI) Trade Show.
John Rickerson’s Peach County team ranked first leading into the dual championship.
While the competition itself is fun and exciting for both competitors and spectators, the positive impact of HROT expands far beyond the competition stage. In more ways than one, this competition serves as a platform for students in their high-school years to jump into the automotive industry with confidence and assistance. John Rickerson, instructor for the Peach County team out of Georgia, applauded HROT’s ability to lead the students in the right direction.
“Most of the guys didn’t have a clue what they wanted to do in life,” he said. “Through HROT and their sponsors, the kids started finding themselves and discovered their strengths. Without this program, some of the kids would have never been able to go to any type of secondary education.”
The process of immersion into the automotive industry is something continually on Rodney Bingham’s mind as he manages the program.
“Our main goal has and will always be to encourage students to get into the automotive industry,” he said. Bingham referenced numerous students who were once in the competition and have since entered the industry. Thanks to a supportive environment, HROT continues to succeed, and experience is not the only thing the students receive.
Haydn Cooper became her team’s captain and led them to consecutive finals appearances. She is now a volunteer for the program.
The final teams—all 43 of them—receive substantial scholarships for every participating student. Bingham explained that in 2015 alone, more than $4.5 million was given in scholarship money to students. In total, $15 million has been given to HROT students since the inception of the program, with more opportunities in place for the coming years.
Rickerson explained regarding his team: “Most of the current team members are in school now because of this program. It has helped all of them in their own way by not forcing them into any particular school but giving them a choice to go to several different schools.”
In fact, Rickerson believes that HROT is the catalyst for students making strides in the industry.
“This program has opened doors for these kids that otherwise would not have been available,” he said.
Funding for the program comes from an extensive list of sponsors, many of which are SEMA-member companies. The generous donations from these companies are the sole reason why HROT is able to not only survive but also thrive and expand each year. However, the charitable spirit does not end there; Bingham’s staff is entirely volunteer-based and works tirelessly to handle the logistics of a multi-stage event each year.
Growth Leads to Results
“Our program has been around long enough now that we are starting to see an exciting return of former participants wanting to help and share their own experiences,” said Bingham.
One notable example of this commitment to pay it forward is Haydn Cooper, a former student competitor turned engineering student and current volunteer for HROT. Cooper began as a freshman at Calabasas High School with what she called “a very small, unaccomplished team.” After two years of refinement and practice, Cooper became the team captain, taking her school to consecutive final competitions, which ended up being fruitful for several reasons.
“Going to the finals at the SEMA Show truly opened my eyes to what an amazing industry I was involved in,” she said. “It was there that I realized this is my passion and I want to pursue it.”
Cooper is now a fulltime student at Cal Poly Pomona, where she studies electromechanical engineering. It’s a topic she first viewed through the lens of HROT. When she is not spending her time in the classroom preparing for her automotive future, Cooper volunteers as a judge for the competition, hoping to help current participating students down the same path.
Major Work Lies Ahead
Bingham is the first to admit that the hard work is not behind the program but rather is a constant as the program continues to build. Expansion and improvement are always the two biggest goals each year—which is absolutely the case for the upcoming 2017 competition. It includes three more regional events on the calendar and roughly 40 new teams entering the competition.
The automotive industry—especially the specialty-equipment sector—will always be powered by passion and excitement. Youth involvement is a crucial part of that recipe, ensuring participation and success for generations to come. Initiatives such as HROT serve as a gateway for youth education. For students such as Haydn Cooper, it sparks internal passion to become the future of the automotive industry.
HROT began with a simple goal. Now, eight years later and thanks to the dedication of the Bingham family as well as the team of volunteers and the program’s sponsors, the event has blossomed into a genuine showcase of the Hot Rodders of Tomorrow.