35 Under 35
Compiled by SEMA News Editors
Who’s up and coming in the automotive aftermarket? Which young business leaders of tomorrow are already making their marks today? How do they envision the future? What new ideas and innovations might we expect from them, and most importantly, what direction will they take our industry?
In the following pages, SEMA News is pleased to present 35 young trendsetters, all age 35 or younger, bringing exciting new concepts and fresh enthusiasm to every segment of the automotive specialty-equipment industry.
In order to make our “35 Under 35” list, honorees must first be nominated by one or more industry peers. Pouring through the nominations, SEMA News looks for candidates drawn from diverse industry segments who are already making a significant impact through their leadership within their organizations or businesses. Entrepreneurship, commitment, insight, innovation, integrity, responsibility, demonstrated skill, involvement and success within the marketplace weigh heavily in our decision-making.
The selection process is never easy. In one way or another, every nominee is a winner. Ultimately, however, only 35 can make our special feature.
We hope you enjoy meeting the 2018 class of honorees as much as we have. Reading on, you’ll learn about the passion and interests that drive them, along with their many accomplishments to date. In the end, we think you’ll agree that our industry still has the power to attract the best and the brightest, and that its future rests in extremely capable hands.
Jeffrey Banyas, 33
Patent and Trademark Attorney
Edwin A. Sisson, Attorney at Law LLC
Intellectual property rights (IPR) attorney and former race-car driver Jeffrey Banyas said that he was born with auto racing in his blood.
“I grew up in a motorsports family,” he explained. “After stepping away from the driver’s seat, I knew I’d come back to connect my professional career to my motorsports passion. It’s very natural for me to protect the rights of the manufacturers in an industry that has been such a huge part of my life.”
With patience, diligence and compassion, Banyas has channeled his enthusiasm into serving as a legal counselor to many SEMA members, penning IPR advice pieces for industry publications, scoring multiple e-commerce counterfeiting “takedowns,” and wining global victories for the valued customers who turn to him for help.
“The most exciting part of my job is working with inventors,” he said. “I love seeing their passion. Our customers are primarily small- and mid-sized manufacturers. They are highly innovative and come to us to protect their inventions and brands against counterfeits and knock-offs. Those threats keep them up at night. We help them sleep easier.”
In his briefcase: A laptop, a pen, paper and an iPhone that has his wife Julianne (“my biggest supporter”) on speed dial.
Favorite pizza topping: Pepperoni.
Matthew Butts, 27
Detroit Speed Inc.
Drifting fans are no doubt familiar with Matthew Butts’ work. He assisted in the design and fabrication of a refueling system that allowed BMW to refuel its stunt car mid-drift, securing the Guinness World Record for longest continuous drift in January 2018. Butts himself was the refueler for the stunt and considers the project one of his greatest career accomplishments.
Butts was introduced to the automotive lifestyle by his father, who owned several musclecars and worked on projects for other people as well. After high school, Butts knew that an automotive career was for him, so he attended NASCAR Technical Institute. Afterward, he launched into his career at Detroit Speed Shop as a test-car foreman, where his talent and work ethic spoke for themselves. Now a project fabricator, Butts handles many R&D projects with the engineering team.
“Being able to build and be involved in high-end Pro-Touring projects is pretty awesome,” Butts said. “People expect extremely high-quality work from our shop, so you have to work daily to maintain that level and attention to detail.”
In his briefcase: “A tape measure and Sharpie—the first two things I grab out of my toolbox daily.”
Favorite pizza topping: Pepperoni.
Anthony Bowe, 31
Digital Content Editor
The Shop Magazine
A five-year industry media pro, journalist Anthony Bowe was a staffer on RV and restyling publications before becoming The Shop’s digital content editor.
“The key attraction to this position is the opportunity to retell the American story of entrepreneurship almost every day through the eyes of shop owners and product manufacturers alike,” Bowe said.
A B2B publication, The Shop covers all segments of the specialty-equipment market—something Bowe says is both the most challenging and exciting part of the job. The Shop’s audience is largely small- and medium-size businesses, and Bowe’s job includes arranging and writing content for the daily e-newsletter with the aim of helping industry members grow their businesses. In that role, he has worked closely with SEMA, manufacturers, warehouse distributors and shops to ensure that the industry receives in-depth coverage of the news that’s important to them.
“Hearing directly from readers that I’m meeting and sometimes exceeding their expectations for daily content is the type of accomplishment I hope to achieve every day,” he said.
In his briefcase: A Nikon DSLR camera, a reporter’s notebook, a laptop, a digital recorder, pens, notebooks, batteries and the Trello app.
Favorite pizza topping: Sausage.
Tommy Lee Byrd
Tommy Lee Byrd, 32
Marketing & PR Coordinator
Coker Tire Co. Inc.
Tommy Lee Byrd completed vocational training in high school and college, but his career took a different turn when he was hired as an associate editor for Buckaroo Communications at age 20.
“I had no experience but a friend put in a good word,” he said, adding that his editorial director told him a car guy can be trained to write more easily than a writer can become a car guy.
That proved true for Byrd, who caught on quickly and soon saw his articles and photos getting ink in national publications.
Early in his career, Byrd considered it a great success to land a magazine cover shot. While seeing his work on newsstands still gives him a thrill, he has also written three CarTech books—one of which earned a nod from the International Automotive Media Awards as one of the “Best Books of 2013.”
Now marketing and PR coordinator for Coker Tire, Byrd handles media relations, photography and copy writing, and he also organizes the company’s annual Chattanooga Cruise-In event. He is also a freelance writer and photographer and enjoys taking his wife and five-year-old daughter along to events when he can.
In his briefcase: “My iPhone is always with me, and I typically carry my camera gear in case I have a photo shoot after work.”
Favorite pizza topping: “Anything with meat.”
Nick Caloroso, 27
With five years’ experience in the lighting segment of the automotive aftermarket industry, Nick Caloroso’s greatest professional achievement was building Diode Dynamics’ wholesale program from the beginning to now having more than 1,000 authorized dealers.
“Working alongside brands I’ve admired from childhood—including Shelby American, CJ Pony Parts and the best builders in the country—brings me a great deal of pride,” he said.
Diode Dynamics’ greatest challenge is to combat misinformation spread online by educating customers so that they can make intelligent purchasing decisions and scaling the company’s St. Louis-based production capabilities to meet high customer demand for its lighting products.
Serving on SEMA’s Young Executives Network (YEN) select committee, Caloroso sees himself assisting others in the aftermarket and working with OEMs to incorporate the company’s products into the latest vehicle designs in the next five to 10 years.
In his briefcase: “Like so many industry professionals, I’m always carrying my phone. I keep a handful of my Diode Dynamics business cards alongside my SEMA YEN business cards to hand to SEMA members under 40. I also keep a portable battery charger, my Ducati keys and a pack of gum.”
Favorite pizza topping: Italian sausage.
Alex Geho, 28
Assistant Product Manager
TMG Performance Products
Alex Geho has drive. Since joining TMG Performance Products six years ago, she has helped to rebuild its Corsa- and Volant-branded retail websites, streamline Volant’s CARB EO request procedures, revamp product launches through social media, and develop unique social sponsorship programs. Amid those achievements, she also found time to improve customer and tech service processes to increase response times and make ordering and support requests easier for customers.
“I came to Corsa to devote my artistic talents as a graphic designer, but I’ve stayed for the consumers,” she said. “In our industry, they truly embody passion, and their enthusiasm is infectious. When I think about the future, I picture myself growing and changing with the automotive aftermarket.”
Geho expects business and communications to evolve rapidly in the coming decade and is eager to embrace the challenge.
“Car communities will be more digitally connected but crave more personal interaction as vehicle ownership grows within my generation,” she said. “I love jumping into each consumer’s mind and pivoting as vehicles and consumer behaviors shift.”
In her briefcase: Cloud-based programs such as Smartsheets and extra Corsa keyloops to give away.
Favorite pizza topping: Banana pepper rings.
Trent Goodwin, 34
Trent Goodwin showed an interest in cars at an early age, which prompted his father to buy him a ’79 Camaro for restoration at age 13.
After 11 years with COMP Cams, Goodwin plays an integral role in the company’s marketing department. His role allows him to work with well-known media representatives and prestigious car builders in the industry, helping with product placement for all brands under the COMP Performance Group umbrella. Goodwin also assists with ad creations, merchandise, trailer inventory, display creations, trade show coordination, sponsorship and event promotions in addition to day-to-day marketing tasks.
Goodwin was named the SEMA Young Executive of the Year in 2017, and serves on the YEN select committee. In the next five to 10 years, he hopes to continue moving up the corporate ladder at COMP Cams.
In his briefcase: “If I used a briefcase, I would definitely need my phone, address book and computer for emails and note taking. I work with so many great people in this industry that it’s sometimes hard to keep up. I am always taking notes based on conversations with media representatives, TV show hosts and customer car builders. Each day starts with a new slate of inquiries on brand and product information to sponsorship requests and technical assistance.”
Favorite pizza topping: Bacon
Dylan Coleman, 23
Last year, car builder Dylan Coleman made the Top 10 Young Guns in the annual SEMA Battle of the Builders (BOTB) contest, an honor he considers his greatest accomplishment to date. It’s his latest achievement in an incredible list of building awards garnered the past three years since he co-founded StreetFighter LA, a high-performance custom shop with a line of body kits and parts already finding a place in global markets. Moreover, the 23-year-old has a clear vision for the future.
“In five to 10 years, I want to expand StreetFighter LA with distribution around the world,” Coleman said. “I want to continue car builds and develop new body kits and parts for a wider variety of models and makes. Hopefully, one day I’ll win the whole SEMA BOTB competition.”
Coleman also wants his brand to keep its grassroots appeal.
“Our customers are very diverse,” he explained. “I love when other young builders share how they have saved up for years to do their projects with us. It reminds me of how I saved every dollar to get the next part I wanted.”
In his briefcase: An iPhone X, a MacBook, an angle grinder, a welding machine, fiberglass, carbon fiber and resin, a body kit and hardware.
Favorite pizza topping: Hawaiian.
Jacob Griffin, 24
Metal Fabricator and Hot-Rod Builder
A third-generation hot-rod builder, Jacob Griffin is having a blast following in his father’s footsteps. It didn’t take long for him to discover that he loved the feeling of making something with his hands.
“The most exciting and challenging part of the job is when you bring an old rusty bucket in and figure out what’s missing and how you will bring it back to life with a little extra flair,” he said. “The best part is seeing the end result and knowing you built it from nothing.”
After graduating from Wyotech, Griffin began collecting accolades and awards for his first project, a ’27 Ford roadster dubbed “Shoe This.” The rod cruised the car-show circuit picking up nominations and awards, including first place in the Radical Altered Rod—Pre-’35 category at the 2018 Grand National Roadster Show.
Griffin is currently working on a ’31 Ford five-window coupe that he plans to display at the 2018 SEMA Show. Other projects in his portfolio include a ’50 Ford convertible and a custom GMC school bus.
In his briefcase: “My briefcase is not like everyone else’s. I just have my hand tools to do metal work.”
Favorite pizza topping: Pineapple.
Franco Gutierrez, 31
Vice President, Creative
Kahn Media Inc.
When Franco Gutierrez joined Kahn Media six years ago, the creative department consisted of himself and an art director. Under his guidance, it has grown into a highly talented staff of six who deliver advanced cinematic, virtual reality and high-concept 360 techniques to aftermarket communications. He also produced and directed an award-winning independent documentary, 8 Meters, about the controversial 1966 24 Hours of Le Mans finish. (An L.A. Film Festival selection.)
“My job is to tell stories,” Gutierrez said. “Many of those stories are about people who have achieved great things or businesses that have been real innovators in their markets.”
Although a futurist, Gutierrez was enamored with car culture from an early age. He grew up within walking distance of the California Speedway, where he later started shooting cars.
“When I got my first car in high school, I wanted to make it faster, and handle and look better,” he said. “Now, working in the aftermarket has opened my eyes to new ideas and more ways to do the things I want to do.”
In his briefcase: Extensive camera and video equipment, recorders, a laptop and a drone.
Favorite pizza topping: Canadian bacon, pineapple and jalapenos.
Alex Gutica, 35
Stratified Automotive Controls
A former controls engineer for an OEM supplier, Alex Gutica identified an opportunity to serve customers directly and founded Stratified Automotive Controls in 2006 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Specializing in tuning, engine management, turbocharging and direct injection, the company’s customer base includes young enthusiasts and professionals from all over the world.
“Because we focus on the calibration of modern vehicles, I have to stay current with the latest technologies and their implementations in vehicles at a very technical level,” Gutica said. “The control systems and electronics in modern vehicles are both complex and powerful. I really enjoy the opportunities they provide for refinement, efficiency and performance—all while I am challenged by this fast-evolving landscape and technology.”
Gutica is most proud of the company’s growth and its current status as a leader and educator in the market. In the future, he anticipates the implementation of hybridization and electrification on a much larger scale in the industry, providing new opportunities for the company.
In his briefcase: “A change of clothes for the gym. You need some balance in your life.”
Favorite pizza topping: “Keep it simple: cheese and chicken.”
Dustin Hacker, 32
Nostalgia Hot Rods LLC
Dustin Hacker took on his first vehicle build at age 12. The car was a gift from his father, and he took it apart and rebuilt it himself. The project sparked his love of classic cars.
Completely self-taught, Hacker started a shop in his garage 11 years ago. Nostalgia Hot Rods is now one of the largest hot-rod and restoration shops in Nevada, employing a team of 10 that does every part of its builds in-house, from fabrication and interior to body and paint.
The shop has earned a bevy of nods from the Goodguys Rod & Custom Association, including an All Ways Builders Choice Award at the ninth Spring Nationals for a ’57 Chevy pickup. In the future, Hacker is focused on continuing to grow the business, with the goal of becoming a top, trend-setting builder in the industry.
In his briefcase: “I rely heavily on my iPhone and an old-fashioned pen and paper. There’s so much you can do with both. I have customers out of state who aren’t able to travel to Vegas and see the progress of the build as often as a local customer would. That’s where my iPhone comes in handy. I’ve FaceTimed customers before.”
Favorite pizza topping: Ham and pineapple.
Collin Hadley, 34
Vice President of Business Development
Almost 15 years ago, Collin Hadley was a Mercedes-Benz technician intrigued by the off-road potential of the marque’s G-wagon—so he tried his luck customizing it.
“Although that market never took off, it led me to start my own off-road accessory and installation center,” he said.
That in turn led to recruitment by Bodyguard Bumpers, where his top-selling talent quickly advanced him to his current position. Now his passion and leadership skills are taking the company’s brand and wholesale development to new levels.
“I hope in the next five to 10 years to develop Bodyguard into a brand everyone in the industry recognizes, increasing our facility size and production on a truly large scale,” Hadley said. “The most challenging part is keeping up with the times. Whether it be a new social-media trend or a product, the technology evolves so fast that it can be overwhelming to stay on top of the latest and greatest.”
In his briefcase: “The one tool I need daily is my cell phone, with a picture of my family that motivates me to be the best I can be.”
Favorite pizza topping: Canadian bacon and pineapple.
Jake Krapes, 27
Performance Parts Design Release Engineer
Jake Krapes’ introduction to racing was in the form of go-karting with his grandparents and cousins. He later developed mechanical engineering skills in his grandfather’s auto repair shop. As a student at the Colorado School of Mines, Krapes resurrected the Formula SAE program.
“I loved being in that type of environment—working on vehicles in a fast-paced setting,” he said.
At GM, Krapes designs performance parts, upholding the automaker’s exacting standards. Krapes said that his greatest career accomplishment to date was working with his team to develop a complete strategy for the future of exhaust tips—an accessory that leads the portfolio in sales. Krapes was also the designer for the 2016/2017 SEMA Chevrolet Performance Parts boards.
In his free time, Krapes participates in autocross events with his ’08 Saturn Sky Redline, and he hopes to branch out into racing program management in the future.
In his briefcase: “I always have my computer on me. You never know when you’re going to need to send a detailed emergency email. My Camaro ZL1 mouse isn’t far behind, along with a pair of solid headphones to get in the zone and do some quality work.”
Favorite pizza topping: Italian sausage.
Joel Hitchen, 26
A recent graduate of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Joel Hitchen has always loved the outdoors and motorsports. Naturally, his career took him into the off-road segment. As co-founder of Mob Armor, Hitchen launched a “ruggedized” mobile device mount and spent the better part of five years creating an iPad hardware bundle designed for desert-racing navigation.
“Mob Armor was first to market with the idea, during which time the company also released an off-road GPS app,” Hitchen said. “The product line has been used in Baja 1000 events and also by first responders, commercial truckers and agriculturists. Part of our day-to-day tasks are just keeping up with the pace of technology, so we are always looking forward to what is next and learning about advancements. That same excitement is also our challenge. We have to stay nimble in our manufacturing and are always looking to get ahead of market trends. It is all about turnaround time for new products. If we can beat a lot of the competition to market, we have a major advantage.”
In his briefcase: “The most powerful tool in my briefcase is a pencil and a pad of paper. I can draw, explain, calculate or design anything with my pencil and paper.”
Favorite pizza topping: “Pepperoni, hands down.”
Steve Kurzman, 31
The Custom Stitching Co.
“It’s a very exciting time to be in the custom interior field,” said Steve Kurzman of his work at The Custom Stitching Co. “It’s almost like a renaissance. The OEs are giving so much attention to the interiors of present and future cars. That is bringing a fresh light to a typically overshadowed art. The combination of public interest and demand coupled with the increasing use of technology is really making this a special time to be an auto upholsterer.”
Kurzman was born and raised in the automotive industry. He attended Wyotech after high school and went on to start his career at a production repair shop, later transitioning into custom and restoration work. Five years ago, Kurzman took the leap into business for himself when he started The Custom Stitching Co. The company’s portfolio includes a variety of automotive interiors as well as motorcycle seats.
Kurzman’s work has been featured in various magazines, TV segments and at local and national car shows. Looking ahead, his goal is to continue growing his business and his team.
In his briefcase: A current Samsung Note, a measuring tape, a fresh Sharpie marker, a pair of shears, a good pair of headphones and an extra 10mm socket.
Favorite pizza topping: Meatballs.
Christian Landel, 32
Advanced Flow Engineering (aFe Power)
Christian Landel created the aFe Power Momentum cold-air intake line by employing innovative design contours that not only eliminated more than half the parts but also took on a revolutionary, sculpted look, integrating features and elements of the vehicles they modify. His design received several patents for applications on a wide variety of vehicle types—quite impressive for an engineer who didn’t begin with a background in the car industry.
“The most challenging aspect is the race to always come up with something better, new and innovative, but that’s what makes it exciting,” he said. “Technology is always evolving, and we have to keep up to stay competitive. I like trying new designs and technologies and trying to stay ahead of the car manufacturers themselves. My passion and dedication to my designs caused me to become a car enthusiast. I began at aFe Power with an internship while attending engineering school, and I discovered that my passion for design could open doors for my career.”
In his briefcase: An old-school planner, a laptop, an iPad, an iPhone, a 4G router and an external battery. “I’ve had the opportunity to travel these past few years and learned to carry all I need in my backpack to connect anywhere in the world.”
Favorite pizza topping: Mushrooms.
Jacki Lutz, 30
Head of Global Marketing and Communications
Schrader Performance Sensors
Already in a leadership position at age 30 with Schrader Performance Sensors, an international supplier of TPMS safety products and solutions, Jacki Lutz has involved herself in every aspect of her field. In addition to her degrees in business and corporate communications, Lutz serves as president of the Automotive Communications Council, is a certified instructor for the Tire Industry Association, and is an active participant in the Auto Care Association.
She earned her MBA abroad, living and working in London and Thailand. At Schrader, she has worked to build a regionalized marketing team into a global entity, built a European marketing team from scratch, introduced a new corporate website, and was instrumental in the company’s global rebranding. Her enthusiasm is no doubt a factor in her success.
“I never know what I am going to wake up to each day and what new challenges it will bring,” she said. “It never gets old, and it will never get boring!”
In her briefcase: “I have an intense relationship with my Mac. I always carry my favorite matcha tea heading to the office or traveling the globe. Google Translate = Coolest. App. Ever.
Favorite pizza topping: “I love all pizza equally, but in respect to the interview: pepperoni.”
Tym Lochrie, 34
Regional Sales Representative
Truck Hero (Undercover, N-Fab and BedRug)
Tym Lochrie has been working in the automotive aftermarket for the past 15 years. He was promoted early and often while he worked for Performance Warehouse, moving up from parts picker at age 18 to shift lead within six months. He continued up the chain until he became assistant operations manager in year five. More recently, Lochrie has spent the last seven years working for auto parts manufacturers, including NGK, Tenneco and currently Truck Hero.
“The most exciting aspect of my business segment is the relationship building,” he said. “I continually challenge myself to fine-tune my consultative sales approach and really enjoy creating long-term relationships with all areas of the supply chain.”
Lochrie sees himself managing a sales team within the next few years, utilizing his personnel management and sales experience to coach and mentor future automotive aftermarket sales professionals like past managers have done for him.
In his briefcase: “My iPhone is my briefcase. It contains my customer relationship management tool, my Truck Hero brand’s websites, an Amazon audible app, where I listen to business development and sales management books during those long stretches of ‘windshield time.’ And, of course, pen and paper.”
Favorite pizza topping: Pepperoni.
Kevin Martin, 26
Product Data Manager
COMP Performance Group
As product data manager, Kevin Martin supports COMP Performance Group’s (CPG) e-commerce efforts and works to raise product-data quality and marketability. Within a year of taking on the role—to which he was promoted from tech support—he took CPG’s brands to SEMA Data Co-op Platinum status for data excellence. Martin oversees the data of more than 18,000 SKUs as well as all the data for CPG’s Amazon accounts.
“I find the most rewarding work to be putting quality and much-needed technical information in the hands of our technicians,” Martin said. “CPG techs solve a myriad of customers’ technical concerns, and since I started out in the tech office, I understand the demand for quality information.”
Martin credits his dad with piquing his early interest in classic cars.
“Once I understood why my dad’s ’70 Charger was always a conversation piece at gas stations and grocery stores, I had to have my own,” he said, adding that his is a ’78 Firebird Formula, which he’s prepared in Pro-Touring style.
In his briefcase: “While some COMP employees call me ‘Powerpoint M.D.,’ Excel is the real hero (dual monitors required).”
Favorite pizza topping: “The Mellow Mushroom Thai Dye is hard to beat: curry chicken, olive oil/garlic base with mozzarella, tomatoes, onions, basil, cucumbers and Thai chili sauce.”
Jordan Muhlbauer, 28
Truck Fever LLC
Three years after founding the Daytona Truck Meet in 2014 to provide a venue for custom-truck owners to get together to show off their vehicles, Jordan Muhlbauer has built the family-friendly show into a nationally recognized event welcoming more than 25,000 spectators and 90 vendors. His success is based at least in part on his ability to be an ambassador for truck enthusiasts and the truck industry via well-developed social-media and personal communications skills.
“I was introverted in my high-school days,” he noted. “But this industry forces you out of comfort zones to work right alongside multi-million-dollar company owners and turn right around and have a personal relationship with the direct consumer.”
Muhlbauer has made his event in Daytona, Florida, attractive to sponsors, and it boasts hundreds of attending truck owners. In five years, he said, he’ll continue to build on his promotional talents, creating truck meets and seeing how big he can grow them.
Muhlbauer is a truck owner and builder himself, showcasing his custom creations at events that include the SEMA Show.
In his briefcase: “I’m armed with my iPhone for my Instagram and a good sense of humor. Also a little bottle of beard oil.”
Favorite pizza topping: Pepperoni and mushroom.
Joshua Nahm, 34
Import Image Racing
Growing up a gearhead, Joshua Nahm has 13 years’ experience in aftermarket retail and wholesale distribution and is now owner of Import Image Racing.
Nahm’s greatest accomplishments include securing exclusive distribution of Cosmis Racing Wheels for North America and taking his company from a townhouse in 2005 to the warehouse it is now outgrowing. The brands he and his team secured were picked up by major distributors (including Turn14 Distribution and RallySport Direct) just a week after their first display at the 2017 SEMA Show. Under Nahm’s guidance, the company has doubled in revenue for the past three years and is on track for more than $15 million this year.
In the future, Nahm sees himself running a large retail and wholesale distribution warehouse full of brands such as Cosmis Racing Wheels, Silver’s Suspension, Varrix Wheels and Noble Performance, and he hopes to get his daughter involved in the business.
“It seems as if businesses are not passed on,” Nahm said. “I’d like to create something that goes on past the gasoline engine. Focusing on suspension and wheels ensures longevity in our changing marketplace.”
In his briefcase: “A laptop with a remote connection, an iPhone, hand braces and black coffee.”
Favorite pizza topping: Onions.
Jason Mulligan, 35
Jason Mulligan is an old-school media person who created new opportunities through innovation, persistence and professional flexibility. An accomplished truck-mag photojournalist, he made the transition from years as a print-magazine editor to streaming digital content on Amazon Video, reaching viewers all over the world. In the process, he developed his talents as a videographer, graphic designer, web designer and social-media expert. As producer at Auto Revolution, he continues to push the boundaries of digital press and online marketing and has been quick to understand how to exploit emerging communications platforms.
His goals for the future are to tell the stories of those who build and customize cars and to continue building a network of automotive filmmakers to help share their stories.
“Finding the balance between education, entertainment and promotion of the products and builders in the industry through real-world storytelling is what we strive for,” he said.
In his briefcase: “No briefcase, but a camera backpack with all the tools of the trade. One of the most important is my iPhone for emails, social media and having a camera always there when you need it. And many notepads for video ideas and editing notes.”
Favorite pizza topping: “Pepperoni. Keep it classic.”
Andy Nephew, 31
Vice President of Sales
With nine years’ experience in the light-duty truck market, Andy Nephew was introduced to the automotive aftermarket industry during his senior year at the University of North Dakota when he interned in the marketing department at Retrax. His proudest career accomplishment to date is expanding his role within the company, starting as marketing director straight out of college and overseeing sales soon after.
When Truck Hero acquired Retrax in 2013, Nephew was chosen to lead the sales and marketing team into the future. He is currently the youngest vice president of sales on the Truck Hero team, directing seasoned veterans—many of whom are 10 to 15 years his senior. He hopes to continue his progression with Retrax and Truck Hero.
“This is a competitive industry, and I enjoy taking on new challenges because it makes each day different from the last,” Nephew said.
In five to 10 years, Nephew hopes to continue his progression with Retrax and Truck Hero, taking on new roles and challenges.
In his briefcase: “I travel quite a bit, and to stay on top of work, I carry my laptop, a notebook, an iPad and noise-cancelling headphones in my backpack.”
Favorite pizza topping: Pepperoni.
Ricky Nietubicz, 32
Senior Public Relations Coordinator
While he was always an automotive enthusiast, Ricky Nietubicz began his career in local government. In college, he joined the Formula SAE team, and he’s built a variety of project vehicles that include a turbo Miata and a 1-ton diesel truck. When the opportunity came for a career move into the automotive sphere, he leapt at the chance. As Mishimoto’s senior public relations coordinator, he represents the brand at events and has nearly tripled the sponsorship program in two years.
“It’s great to be able to turn a hobby into a career and to work every day in the industry that I absolutely love,” he said, adding that he enjoys working across so many industry segments.
“No matter what you’re powering, you need reliable cooling solutions,” he said. “I love the variety and working with drivers at all levels in all formats of motorsports, from drifting and truck pulling to overlanding and time attack. Of course, covering so many different segments is a challenge as well, since each presents unique needs. That’s what keeps the job the most fun—always learning more about the needs of different customers.”
In his briefcase: “I try to travel light (I drive a Miata after all), but my pockets generally contain my iPhone, a Sharpie, a pen, a pocket knife and a ChapStick at all times.”
Favorite pizza topping: Anything from Mellow Mushroom.
Christopher Pearson, 34
Senior Marketing Manager
At 34, Christopher Pearson has already spent more than half his life working in the automotive industry. He completed a bachelor’s degree in physics while maintaining a fulltime career and is now halfway through the University of Southern California’s MBA program.
Pearson worked his way up through several departments at Directed, gaining experience in installations, tech support and training, engineering, product development and the marketing of automotive electronic tech. Now, as the company’s senior marketing manager, he develops and manages digital marketing plans for the company’s connected-car, remote-start, security and ignition interlock products. His role includes supervising B2B and B2C outreach, branding and corporate development, and trend analysis.
“The most exciting thing about my part of the industry is riding the wave of consumer electronics technology,” Pearson reflected. “I remember using FM modulators to port the sound from CD Walkmans into OEM systems before CD players were standard. Now we’re at a point where CD is almost archaic—and we’re seeing major movements in things such as driver safety, autonomous and V2x communication. That’s the stuff that keeps my interest!”
In his briefcase: A quality notebook and pen, iPhone, Definitive Technology headphones, Google Adwords and a Fluke multimeter.
Favorite pizza topping: Pepperoni.
Joe Opperman, 33
PR & Marketing Director
Iola Car Show
The youngest executive director ever to serve at the 46-years-and-counting Iola Car Show, Joe Opperman is credited with being a catalyst for modernizing and rejuvenating the historic show. The Iola Car Show is a small-budget, nonprofit car show hosted in Iola, Wisconsin, and it reached new heights last year with attendance above 100,000 over three days.
“We’re a historically classic car show and swap meet in an environment that’s been drastically changed with the internet age,” he said. “We also need to blend much of the old and new school to ensure that we’re reaching the next generation in the industry.”
Known for his volunteer work and youth coaching, Opperman has a knack for connecting good people with good products.
“We’ve got a responsibility to serve both the buyers and sellers, now and into the future,” he said.
Opperman is quick to credit his team with the show’s successes: “When you know you can depend on those around you through thick and thin, there’s no limit to what you can accomplish.”
In his briefcase: A phone, a computer, pen and paper, and aerial maps for planning purposes. “The most important thing in my briefcase, though, is people—including contacts through the SEMA Young Executives Network to bounce around ideas.”
Favorite pizza topping: “Never met a bad pizza.”
Samantha Rady, 34
Head of U.S. Sales
After starting her career in the fashion, travel and technology sectors, Samantha Rady transitioned to automotive at Car and Driver and Road & Track magazines. She then became the first U.S.-based employee at Car Throttle, a U.K.-based enthusiast internet community. In this role, Rady works with OE and aftermarket partners to share their stories with a 200-million-plus global audience.
“I love that the automotive industry is one of the fastest-moving industries—always evolving and influenced directly by new technologies,” she said. “We have seen the growing focus on electric and autonomous vehicles as well as new tech concepts, such as ride sharing and shared ownership.”
Rady is working to perfect her manual-transmission driving technique and sees many opportunities ahead.
“I think there’s a lot of work to be done in the automotive industry, educating companies about the fundamental change in how their customer lives digitally,” she said. “I’d like to be responsible for bringing in this new era.”
In her briefcase: “My iPhone, a charger, a hot spot, a set of perfectly manicured nails, my heart-rate monitor (keeping those stress levels at zero!) and Nike sneakers. The best way to balance work while traveling is a quick workout to jumpstart the brain.”
Favorite pizza topping: Pineapple.
Zachary Santner, 26
Sunoco Race Fuels
Zachary Santner grew up working in his father’s classic-car restoration shop in southeastern Pennsylvania, where he learned the basics of automobile maintenance and developed a passion for restoring late-’60s cars. Becoming involved in an industry he cares about at an early age has given him a sense of accomplishment. He was the lead engineer on Sunoco Surge—a fuel that is formulated to satisfy all the needs of stock and lightly modified ’60s musclecars—and going forward hopes to learn more about business management within the performance industry.
“Studying chemical engineering in college provided me with a variety of possible industries to work for. I have worked other jobs that are just that: only a job, not a career,” Santner said. “My career has just started, but I am already part of something that I want to work hard for, and I think I will have fun doing it. The ingenuity of racers amazes me.”
In his briefcase: “My essential tools are a phone and my Excel spreadsheets. I answer many calls from customers asking about what fuel is best for them. After finding out more about their specific applications, I can inform them of our best products. Excel is my tool of choice to organize the hundreds of fuels that our customers may ask me about.”
Favorite pizza topping: Ham and pineapple.
Pawel Tokarz, 32
Sales & Customer-Service Manager
Fifteen years ago, Pawel Tokarz started his career at Motovicity as a part-time warehouse worker and quickly jumped to new accounts coordinator, award-winning salesperson and, ultimately, sales and customer-service manager. Along the way, he has remained an elemental part of the brand’s growing race series and frequently is the go-to representative for the industry-renowned distributor. He is known within the company for his strong work ethic, candor and respect toward co-workers and customers alike.
“In this industry, knowledge is the biggest challenge,” Tokarz said. “Our customers are the shops and racers who have fuel in their veins. Their stories, successes and struggles become so ingrained in the relationships that we build with them that they become an extension of our families. Keeping up with every changing vehicle lineup, technologies and trends in order to maintain a competitive advantage and be a resource to them is an exciting, ongoing learning opportunity for us.”
In his briefcase: “A phone is an extremely powerful tool, and
I rely on it to keep me on track, set goals, review metrics and communicate with customers.”
Favorite pizza topping: “I hate to sound boring, but nothing beats a classic pepperoni.”
Natalie Tempel, 31
Director of Marketing
Although Natalie Tempel grew up helping her father in the shop and attending car shows, she never expected to build her own career in the automotive world. Nonetheless, she became a marketing assistant at Meyer Distributing during school breaks 12 years ago. After graduation and a brief stint in the clothing industry, Tempel started full time at Meyer in graphic design, moved up the ranks to art director, and became director of marketing two years ago—an accomplishment she is quite proud of.
“I love the fast-paced atmosphere and the creativity in the automotive industry: new products, builds, and so on,” she said. “The constant change with being in multiple markets energizes me and makes every day exciting and challenging.”
Tempel always has her hands in eight to 10 segments in the distributing world, which keeps her work new and different all the time. She manages a team of 12 and oversees the company’s full gamut of marketing programs. This year, she is also heading up the company’s efforts as a first-time SEMA Show exhibitor.
In her briefcase: “My planner, full of daily to-dos and areas for note taking; my iWatch to help find my buried phone that keeps me connected; and a bold-colored Papermate Flair It pen go with me everywhere.”
Favorite pizza topping: Banana peppers.
Dom Tucci, 25
Tucci Hot Rods
A recent graduate of Syracuse University with a degree in industrial design, Dom Tucci has already been recognized for his creative and technical ability, having won two “Excellence in Design” awards from Ford and “Top 10 Shine” recognition from Mothers Polish, among others. Tucci grew up in his father’s hot-rod shop in Marcy, New York, so cars were in his blood.
“When I graduated in 2015, I tossed around the idea of working for a design firm—the route that many students took,” he said. “I couldn’t shake the feeling that I belonged in the automotive industry. That’s when I decided to take the opportunity that my father presented to use the skills I learned in design school and apply them to the custom-car industry.”
Tucci formed Dom Tucci Design to handle industrial design jobs, branding and automotive design work. In the future, he would like to explore small-scale manufacturing. He’s already begun prototyping tools and parts.
In his briefcase: “On my Mac, the tools I use daily are Rhino, Keyshot, Photoshop and Illustrator. For physical tools, I can’t do without my two Ultimaker 3-D printers. They have completely changed the way we go about designing and fabricating.”
Favorite pizza topping: “Good pizza doesn’t need a topping.”
Jason Wieczorek, 34
Beginning as a top sales rep and now as purchasing manager, Jason Wieczorek has distinguished himself as a mover and shaker at Motovicity Distribution for 11 years. He is credited with onboarding numerous top-selling brands, implementing game-changing purchasing software, and completely reorganizing and revitalizing the award-winning company’s purchasing department.
“I remember playing with Hot Wheels as a kid,” he said. “As I got older, I wanted to drive anything with wheels and an engine. The cars got me here, but the people solidified my home in the performance aftermarket.”
In fact, he finds that the thrills and demands of his work are one and the same.
“The ever-changing market segments, trends and growth fuel the excitement but can be a challenge as well,” he said. “Our manufacturers and customers include constantly evolving family-owned and -operated one-bay shops to world-record-setting performance shops and race teams. Our inventory, programs and marketing must stay in sync with them all at the same time.”
In his briefcase: “My iPhone. My teachers always told me that I wouldn’t be able to walk around with a calculator or computer in my pocket. I really showed them!”
Favorite pizza topping: Mushrooms.
Tommy Williams, 26
Tommy Williams has college degrees in neuroscience and chemistry, but his true passion is fabricating hot rods and their parts. Just three years ago, he started Justified Performance in his garage. Now he has two state-of-the-art shops with a reputation for show-quality builds. He has yet to draw a paycheck, instead reinvesting his profits in his personnel, expansion and a charity project or two.
“What first attracted me to this industry was its combination of creativity and engineering,” he said. “A custom ride or new aftermarket product may look good, but it really comes down to how it’s manufactured and functions. Being a young company, it’s often challenging to get your foot in the door. However, our team continues to make a name for Justified Performance, helping us grow.”
In the coming year, Williams plans to further expand his brand and customer base with high-quality performance parts for musclecars and street and classic rods. (And he won’t complain if he secures a spot in the SEMA Show’s Battle of the Builders while doing it.)
In his briefcase: “I am a combination of new and old school. I always carry a laptop loaded with SolidWorks designs, an iPhone, a pen and a notepad.”
Favorite pizza topping: Pineapple.
Andrew Zimmer, 34
Some of Andrew Zimmer’s earliest memories are automotive. It wasn’t just the business his father was in; he loved the thrill of the racing world. After launching a management career with UPS and Costco, Zimmer decided to return to his automotive roots.
“Performance vehicles filled so much of my time growing up, so a profession that involved them just came naturally,” he said.
Zimmer worked for a supercharger manufacturer for four years, where he oversaw tuning and emissions calibration. When the opportunity arose, he took over his father’s company, Z-Industries, which was a pioneer in advanced engineering and tuning. Over the years, the company has supported several SEMA-member manufacturers in achieving CARB compliance, offering consulting services and emissions testing.
Zimmer also invented Griptec micro machining and welding technologies for superchargers, pulleys and wheel applications to support high horsepower while eliminating slipping and vibration. To date, he has secured four patents (with several more in process) and looks forward to developing and manufacturing more new, capable products for performance cars in the future.
In his briefcase: A good computer, clear phone line and stable version of CAD/CAM software.
Favorite pizza topping: Onions.
Do you know a rising star within the specialty-equipment industry, age 35 or younger? To nominate them for future 35 Under 35 recognition, visit www.sema.org/35-under-35.