35 Under 35

SEMA News—September 2019

PEOPLE

Compiled by SEMA News Editors

35 Under 35

Lately, the aftermarket has been asking a lot of questions surrounding youth engagement. Is the upcoming generation still interested in the automotive lifestyle? Is the industry doing enough to attract young people and set them on career paths? And, perhaps most importantly, what new ideas do they bring to the table? In what directions might they take the industry?

Each year, our highly popular “35 Under 35” feature celebrates youth engagement while offering some reassuring answers to those questions. Yes, the automotive lifestyle still captivates young people. Yes, they’re bringing fresh talent and ideas to both traditional and novel career paths within the industry. And yes, many are even entrepreneurs already taking the specialty-equipment market to new places through highly creative thinking.

In the following pages, we are again pleased to present 35 young trendsetters, all age 35 or younger, representing diverse industry segments. 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 from a wide variety of backgrounds who are making significant contributions through their leadership within their organization or business. Entrepreneurship, commitment, insight, innovation, integrity, responsibility and demonstrated skill as well as 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 that you enjoy meeting the 2019 class of honorees as much as we have. As you read about them, you’ll learn about the passion and ideas that drive them, along with their accomplishments to date. Just for fun, we’ve also thrown them some curve-ball questions about pizza choices and briefcase essentials.

All in all, our 35 Under 35 roster shows that the industry still excites the best and the brightest and that its future rests in extremely capable hands.

Abigail BeckertAbigail Beckert, 25
Account Executive, Kahn Media

An account executive at Kahn Media, Abigail Beckert is relatively new to the aftermarket industry.

“I had been working in politics and was burnt out, in search of a change,” she said. “When I stepped onto the floor of my first SEMA Show, I could feel that I’d made the right decision.”

In fact, she dove right in, making strides in her public-relations role while earning a place on the select committee of SEMA’s Young Executives Network in just two years. From the start, Beckert proved her PR mettle by creating a Nitto Tire event for media and influencers that showcased the brand’s strength and performance in a unique experiential fashion.

“The biggest challenge was that I had only a month from go-date to execution,” she recalled. “My job and clients keep things fresh, exciting and new, which makes for a really enjoyable career.”

In her briefcase: “I never leave home without my laptop, headphones and hot sauce. I would feel helpless without my array of apps to edit content on the fly.”

Favorite pizza topping: “Forever and always pepperoni.”

Joshua BoucherJoshua Boucher, 33
Owner/Founder, Ingenuity Fab & Speed LLC

For 15 years, Joshua Boucher has demonstrated innovation in reinventing processes and approaches to vehicle design and construction. In 2016, his wheel/tire backspace-measuring tool won him a SEMA Automotive Restoration Market Organization new-product award, followed by another in 2017 for his LS motor mount swap kit.

Boucher said that being creative while finishing within budget and under tight deadlines are business challenges that he embraces with open arms. He sees the future as a continued drive to stay on top of technology and design trends while remaining true to the traditional stylings and legacies of hot rods and musclecars.

“Our customers are enthusiasts who are looking for a particular look or style in pursuit of the car they have always dreamed about,” he said. “At a young age, I’m excited by the fact that I can change a vehicle’s look and performance, design new products, and contribute to the aftermarket worldwide. It’s what attracted me to this industry.”

In his briefcase: A vintage hammer and dolly set.

Favorite pizza topping: Sausage and extra black olives.

Patrick BreenPatrick Breen, 28
President, PMB Agency

An avid motorsports enthusiast and entrepreneur, Patrick Breen launched his first successful business on eBay at age 14. Now he operates the PMB LLC, a marketing services agency with expertise in the aftermarket. Add to that ownership of a wholesale print company and partnership in a forged-wheel branding venture.

In fact, Breen has owned, operated and partnered in more than 17 businesses over the past decade—including the Daytona Truck Meet, a once small truck show that’s now among the nation’s largest, boasting thousands of vehicles, hundreds of vendors and tens of thousands of spectators.

“I enjoy helping businesses and individuals make their dreams come true,” he explained. “My family has always tinkered with vehicles, so I grew up building cars, trucks and motorcycles. Among my favorite challenges are events like the truck meet. I spend countless hours laying it out and making sure vendors and vehicle owners have the best experience possible.”

In his briefcase: “I carry my MacBook, iPad and iPhone daily. Without email, Adobe Creative Suite and the internet, I’d be lost.”

Favorite pizza topping: Bacon.

Kris BluntzwerKris Bluntzer, 30
Founder and President, Empire Garage LLC

Kris Bluntzer, founder of Empire Garage LLC, feels that one of his top career accomplishments so far was handpicking a team of talented workers.

“My team is the main reason we’ve been successful at operating our two locations,” he said. “Without them, Empire Garage could not have established a great reputation in the industry and put out the finished work for which we are known.”

Growing up, Bluntzer inherited his love for vehicles from his father, who had a passion for musclecars. As he got older, he was inspired by earlier car and truck styles. In due time, hot rods became his hobby, and today Bluntzer’s clients readily trust his instincts.

“Most customers describe to me the idea of the vehicle they want but feel comfortable relying on my styling choices,” he explained.

For the future, Bluntzer wants to open more locations and keep creating vehicles with a signature style.

“I want Empire Garage to be recognized for quality, craftsmanship and appearance, which is somewhere between traditional and radical hot rods,” he said.

In his briefcase: Just his iPhone.

Favorite pizza topping: Cheese.

Doug BroadhurstDoug Broadhurst, 34
Senior Director of Marketing, Battery-Biz

When he was 10 years old, Doug Broadhurst was helping rebuild the engine in his dad’s ’72 Pantera. Fast forward a couple decades and Broadhurst is the senior director of marketing for Battery-Biz Inc.

After getting the Pantera buttoned-up, Broadhurst tried building sound systems, and a love of mobile electronics began. Now the most exciting part of his day is destructive testing on competitors’ products—that includes catching footage of sparks, fires and the occasional explosion of Li-ion jump-starters in slow motion.

In the world of online video, views remain king, and Broadhurst managed to take a new-product video and attract more than 250,000 views overnight.

“I had people messaging me on my personal Facebook asking how they could buy the product, it was a total home run. By the end of the week the video had more than a million views and made waves in the industry,” said Broadhurst.

With all his successful direct-to-consumer and B2B marketing campaigns, Broadhurst will continue to be a name to watch.

In his briefcase: “Microsoft Teams App, Company Scorecard/Financial documents, catalogs, business cards, Duracell Li-Ion Jump-Starter & Power Bank, ‘The Great Game of Business’ book, Air Pods, guitar pick and a golf ball.”

Favorite pizza topping: Pineapple and jalapeños.

Anthony CaputoAnthony Caputo, 34
Co-founder, BOOSTane LLC

Anthony Caputo originally started in real estate before entering the aftermarket’s fuel technology segment as a BOOSTane co-founder five years ago.

“An automotive startup company was a completely different business realm for me,” he said. “Fast cars, exotic locations, global customers and an ever-changing business environment presented an attractive opportunity to try something new.”

BOOSTane may have begun in Florida, but Caputo’s efforts helped take it international. Now the brand does business in more than 30 countries, each with its own regulations, refinery techniques and needs, making product customization an exciting challenge.

“Our customers are gearheads to the bone,” Caputo explained. “They want the best products for all their engines, whether they’re automotive, marine, diesel or small machinery. I hope to continue building our international distributor networks for as long as I can. It’s something I enjoy going into the office every day for.”

In his briefcase: “Most people think I exaggerate, but my briefcase consists of an iPhone in my pocket and a portable battery charger. I travel often and keep things digital.”

Favorite pizza topping: Extra cheese.

Trevor CarlsonTrevor Carlson, 23
Director, Rek Gen/Pinnacle Products

Like most automotive enthusiasts, Trevor Carlson’s love of vehicles started when he was in elementary school. He recalls watching and recording the automotive-related programs that aired Saturday mornings on Spike TV. By the time he reached middle school, Carlson knew he wanted to design and create products for the automotive industry.

During his first three years in the industry, Carlson started the RekGen division at Pinnacle Products and also invented the RekMesh mud flap.

Carlson says that he works with mainly two customer types: rally car enthusiasts looking for a mud flap that has an aggressive style and off-roaders who want mud flaps to protect what they are towing and their truck’s paint job from road debris.

Carlson’s goals for the next five years are to grow the Rek Gen product line, and to develop a team of product designers and engineers to improve and push the standards for a variety of aftermarket segments.

In his briefcase: His laptop, a Sony a6300 camera, a yellow notepad and the book that he is currently reading.

Favorite pizza topping: Sausage and olives.

Will BrownWill Brown, 28
Account Manager, eTool Developers LLC

When he was young, Will Brown’s mother “dragged him” to all sorts of automotive events. After graduating college and working in enterprise IT, he developed a nostalgia for those early experiences and returned to his automotive roots. Now he’s making his mark in the family business at eTool Developers and gaining industry recognition as an active participant in several SEMA councils, along with the association’s annual rally in Washington, D.C.

“I applied the skills I learned to my current role at eTools right away,” he said. “In my first year, I led a project team of eight developers to successfully build 10 websites on a very strict timeline. The organic reaction that we get from our clients when a project is completed is the best feeling in the world. It’s my goal to follow in my mother’s footsteps and lead our company into exciting new ventures.”

In his briefcase: An iPhone, Outlook and Slack apps, and “my dog Robbie, an 85-lb. boxer hard to fit in my briefcase who helps me proofread quotes.”

Favorite pizza topping: “Old World Pepperoni from Buddy’s Pizza in Detroit.”

Ted ChenTed Chen, 33
CEO, Trailer Valet

Whether you’re hauling a boat, or tightly parking an RV, Ted Chen and Trailer Valet are here to help. Attending its first SEMA Show in 2012, the company displayed a single product and caught the attention of Popular Mechanics, which awarded the company with “Best Car Tech of SEMA.” Since then, the company has returned every year with a bigger booth, making the Show one of its main events.

“The most exciting aspect of the trailer segment is the room for growth, which is also part of the challenge because it depends on your capacity to grow. It requires a creative mind for R&D, the right marketing message, and a healthy cash flow,” said Chen.

Rising to those challenges is rewarding. In fact, Chen said his greatest career accomplishment to date was launching the Trailer Valet XL, which helped the company double its market. Now his plans include offering young people opportunities he didn’t have.

“I didn’t get to travel much as a kid so it would be amazing to be part of programs where kids can go on RV trips to explore the open road and boat tours to explore our vast oceans,” said Chen.

In his briefcase: A phone armed with Spotify and lots of podcasts, including “How I Built This” and “Business Wars;” a notebook; laptop; and a tumbler.

Favorite pizza topping: Mushrooms.

Christopher CyrChristopher Cyr, 32
CEO, Team O’Neil Rally School

As a Colorado teenager, Christopher Cyr was interested in rally racing.

“A friend introduced me to the Cog Stage Rally, and I was hooked,” he said. “With no means to afford racing, I focused on learning, building and coaching businesses with the hopes of someday going rally racing. At 26, after I’d developed multiple successful businesses, Tim O’Neil gave me the opportunity to manage the best rally school in the world.”

At 31, Cyr became a co-owner and CEO of Team O’Neil.

“We have a range of customers, but ultimately they come to us to learn how to drive production-based cars as fast as possible from A to B on dirt and snow-covered roads without breaking the vehicle,” he said.

Cyr sees his challenge as constantly reviewing programs and techniques to continue growing the O’Neil brand while staying on top of ever-changing vehicle and driving trends. He believes that the school’s staff is its key to success.

In his briefcase: “For me, the most important thing I use every day is my Leatherman tool.”

Favorite pizza topping: BBQ chicken.

Allison Chisenhall Harding, 25
Senior Chemical Process Engineer, Vintage Air

Allison Chisenhall HardingBefore Vintage Air installed an automated phone-answering system, it’s likely you talked to Allison if you called. She would have been five years old at the time.

“Some kids went with their dad to the movies,” she said. “We went to car shows.”

After completing her degree in chemical engineering from Johns Hopkins, she worked at BAE Systems, where she gained experience in process design, troubleshooting, and lean manufacturing. Since joining Vintage Air in 2018, she has worked on new-product releases, manufacturing process optimization, environmental/safety compliance programs, and meeting the new Proposition 65 standards.

“We had to categorize every product we sell,” she said. “By the end, I definitely had a new understanding of all the components we offer.”

Since then, she has been instrumental in developing a new in-house powdercoating process and facility expansion at Vintage Air, set to begin operating later this year, which she considers “my biggest accomplishment so far.”

In her briefcase: “The only way I can balance myself between about 50 projects is through a detailed calendar with Post-Its.”

Favorite pizza topping: Basil.

Anthony DonnoAnthony Donno, 17
Metal Artist, Xtreme Auto Works AZ

It’s not every day that you run into someone who has already spent six years in the industry at age 17. Anthony Donno, a native of Chandler, Arizona, puts his heart into unique, customized tailgate benches, having developed a style that preserves rather than changes the tailgates he uses. Still a full-time high school student, the self-taught young man is known for his very grounded work ethic and passion for his art.

Besides doing custom creations for individual clientele, his work has been featured in a Scottsdale art gallery and gained recognition with celebrity car buffs and TV personalities from shows such as “Counting Cars” and “Bitchin’ Rides.”

“Growing up in an auto-body shop really influenced me,” he said, referring to the fact that his dad, Chris, founded Xtreme Auto Works, where he still works. “In five to 10 years I see myself sticking to my roots, building cars and having fun.”

In his briefcase: “My ‘briefcase’ is packed with loads of tools. The most important would be my welder and my hood.”

Favorite pizza topping: Pepperoni.

Kolby HuneycuttKolby Huneycutt, 22
Owner, DB Custom Offroad

Kolby Huneycutt started customizing trucks at age 16 and opened his own shop at age 20 after gaining an AA degree in automotive technology.

“Ever since I was a kid, I have always been fascinated with trucks,” he said.

Today, he aspires to be one of the top builders in the industry and already has a reputation for workmanship, customer service and an innovative approach to design.

“The most exciting aspect of my business is when I get to be a part of a customer’s dream for customizing a vehicle,” he said.
“I get to turn their vision into a reality.”

He also finds time to help support a variety of causes, most recently partnering with the Make-A-Wish foundation to refurbish a Dodge truck for a 16-year-old boy. His priorities for the future include expanding his shop. He has already added CNC capability and a variety of welders, and will eventually add powdercoat capabilities as he moves toward a one-stop operation.

In his briefcase: “Cell phone, business cards and snacks, since I don’t ever stop long enough to eat.”

Favorite pizza topping: Pepperoni.

Jason HaskellJason Haskell, 34
Owner, Show Me Restoration

Owning and successfully operating his own business for more than five years has taught Jason Haskell that there is more to restoration than just a pretty paint job.

“One of the most challenging aspects of restoration is being able to find or recreate needed parts and pieces,” he said. “One day you may be using a sheer and brake, while the next you are 3-D printing an essential missing piece.”

The native of Hays, Kansas, has been recognized with numerous awards already, and he has gained a reputation over the years for being thoughtful, honest and trustworthy, with the ability to guide customers through considerations such as budget and feasibility.

“Staying up-to-date with new products and technologies goes hand in hand with the necessary research of older makes and models,” he said. “I learn something new every day.”

In his briefcase: “My secret weapon is my wife—who keeps the day-to-day operations running smoothly—in addition to my Iwata paint guns, Miller welders, MAC tools and Dr. Pepper.”

Favorite pizza topping: Classic pepperoni.

Jason HaynesJason Haynes, 35
EFI Calibration Program Director, SAM Tech

Every day, Jason Haynes does “the two things that I love—teach and calibrate.” As SAM Tech’s EFI calibration program director he teaches classes on EFI calibration, working on anything from OEM-level systems to aftermarket racing standalone systems.

As a senior calibration engineer, he has been a part of many successful teams including the Hennessey Venom GT program and multiple COPO and Cobra Jet programs. As an instructor, he feels accomplished when his students succeed.

“The most exciting part of my work is impacting the minds and lives of my students and helping them realize their dreams and careers.”

His future goals include finishing his Mechanical Engineering degree and using his experience to expand his consulting network, authoring more technical training guides and possibly broadening into calibrations for Formula 1, Indy Car or factory racing teams.

In his briefcase: “I carry and teach my students to carry a calibrator’s backpack. It has everything needed for a calibrator to be successful in the field… A great list of contacts and supportive minds also helps.”

Favorite pizza topping: Canadian bacon and pineapple.

Ashot IskandarianAshot Iskandarian, 34
CEO, Shopmonkey Inc.

Ashot Iskandarian is a gearhead in the Silicon Valley. He was developing software for big companies and lost time to wrench when his second of four children was born. Interacting with local repair shops and witnessing shop owners fight with the clunky, antiquated software is what ultimately birthed the idea to create cloud-based software to help them run their businesses better.

“Though it didn’t feel like it at the time, in hindsight, the greatest accomplishment of my career was jumping ship to start Shopmonkey full-time with only four months of runway and a family to feed,” said Iskandarian. “Looking back, it was the best career decision I’ve ever made.”

Iskandarian admitted that designing and developing easy-to-use, aesthetically pleasing while fully functioning software is extremely difficult and takes an army. He also stated what makes it all worth it—customers complimenting the user experience and ease of use.

In his briefcase: A black 8x10 softback-lined Moleskin that records prayers, fears, financial plans, wins and aspirations.

Favorite pizza topping: “I don’t discriminate.”

Gregory JonesGregory Jones, 32
Editor, Babcox Media/Engine Builder

Greg Jones is one of those journalists who has successfully navigated the challenges that come with rapidly evolving communications channels.

“Print media is still a big part of what we do at Babcox Media,” he said. “However, I need to ensure that our content reaches folks in print, on our website, via email, on social media, through video, podcasts and more.”

As a result, he has improved the reach of Engine Builder substantially. Three years ago, he came up with the “Engine of the Week” program, which profiles builders and their engines. It was an instant success, and now 130 articles later, it’s a story that reaches a still growing audience in print, across social-media platforms and on video.

“Our industry has changed so much in a short time already,” he said. “I’m sure five to 10 years from now, it will have changed even more. I’m excited to see where it goes.”

In his briefcase: “I’d be lost without my MacBook Pro, but I also at all times have my iPhone, a digital recorder, headphones, and pen and paper.”

Favorite pizza topping: Banana peppers.

Ross LogsdonRoss Logsdon, 30
Builder/Fabricator, Premier Street Rod Parts & Manufacturing Corp.

Ross Logsdon has been involved with the hot-rod/street-rod scene since childhood, and has played a key role in the family business, which has produced GM-licensed truck cabs for ’47–’53 and ’55–’59 Chevys under the Premier name since 2010. There he not only manages the manufacturing facility, but has also gained acclaim for award-winning builds, including a 2018 Chevrolet SEMA Truck of the Year Design Award.

“It’s exciting to lay design plans out and see how the customer will use their project. It is fun and challenging at times to educate customers, but when the project is done, I know that I and the team have done everything we can to bring the customer’s dream to reality,” he said.

Going forward, he added, “My parents are grooming me and my brother in the business for more responsibilities as they exit. But I’ll always have the passion to build and wrench trucks, cars and anything on wheels.”

In his briefcase: Phone, wallet and keys.

Favorite pizza topping: Jalapeños.

Kyle KuhnhausenKyle Kuhnhausen, 28
Kuhnhausen Metal Concepts, Owner/Operator/Fabricator

Kyle Kuhnhausen built a ’72 Datsun 240Z dubbed “InZanity” and was crowned a regional winner in SEMA’s Young Guns program, which included an invite to bring InZanity to the 2018 SEMA Show.

When asked about why he had invested five years in the build, Kuhnhausen grinned, “I wanted to bring a Tomahawk missile to a knife fight, not a fist.”

At the SEMA Show he quickly established himself as an up-and-coming builder, winning multiple awards, including the Gran Turismo Best Asian Import, the Syracuse Nationals Showstopper, the Top SEMA Young Gun and a Top 4 finish in the overall Battle of the Builders Competition.

With all the success, is Kuhnhausen ready to just kick back and relax? Not a chance.

“InZanity, was the tip of the iceberg and only made me hunger for another shot at the Battle of the Builders competition,” said Kuhnhausen. “I’m grinding every day and making all the necessary moves to return to that stage and give them hell.”

In his briefcase: “I’m quicker to grab a TIG torch than a pen, and I have a prototype 3-D printed part on me at all times.”

Favorite pizza topping: Jalapeño peppers.

Dalton LovejoyDalton Lovejoy, 20
Owner/Fabricator, Dude’s Fab Shop

At 15, Dalton Lovejoy wanted to be the first person his age to own and build a mega mud truck. He was inspired by the action at his local mud park, where monstrous mud machines dominated the terrain. Since then, Lovejoy has been crafting nontraditional rides that impress even the most veteran builders, and he can quickly sum up his passion: “I am hooked on the thrill of success.”

Lovejoy recalls as a teenager viewing SEMA Show builds online and soaking in the detail of each vehicle, hoping to one day create a standout himself. At 19, Lovejoy’s hope became reality when his ’69 Dodge D200 Crew Cab was the highlight of the Hostile Wheels’ SEMA Show booth.

As the owner of Dude’s Fab Shop, Lovejoy uses CAD software to develop custom parts that he cuts on a plasma table, and he applies the one-off creations to 4x4 lifts, frames, chassis components and more.

Lovejoy says that his customers are like him: “They’re motivated by creating unique vehicles with one-of-a-kind parts.”

In his briefcase: His iPhone, a Sharpie and a tape measure.

Favorite pizza topping: Sausage.

Ryan MartinRyan Martin, 27
Foreman, Johnny’s Auto Trim & Rod Shop

Raised in his family’s trim shop, Ryan Martin is doing big things from his small town of Alamosa, Colorado. Not only does he bring a high degree of craftsmanship to classic builds but he also works with the nonprofit Early Iron Club, helping to organize and serve as head judge for an annual car show that boasts 700-plus entries while infusing over $500,000 into the local community.

“Having a hand in multiple high-end vehicles, I know it takes research and attentiveness to new products—who’s doing what, current trends and studying other industries for inspiration,” he noted.

Most of all, he values working with his Johnny’s shop team.

“Our latest accomplishment is a 2018 Detroit Autorama Don Ridler Memorial winner that has toured all year, visiting more than 15 shows in numerous states,” he said.

In his briefcase: “My crucial tool is an iPad to keep a photo/video log of each vehicle’s progress and the owner excited about the build and comfortable with billing. It’s also useful for collaboration, keeping contacts and researching parts.”

Favorite pizza topping: Green chili.

Brett McClellandBrett McClelland, 23
Director of Instruction, The Tuning School

At 23, Brett McClellan is both passionate and prolific. The Tuning School is well known for its EFI tuning education, and McClelland has already helped write multiple courses in OE logic systems and tuning while amassing more than 2 million combined YouTube views for the school’s “Tech Tuesday” series for tuners across the United States.

“As a kid, I loved working with my hands and had a lot of mechanical aptitude,” he said. “As I got older, I knew that I wanted to do something in this industry, and my search to find my niche led to The Tuning School. My ‘customers’ are the guys who love making slow cars fast and fast cars faster. It’s exciting and rewarding teaching people skills to better their lives. Every student is different, so you’re constantly evolving your teaching style on the fly to meet their needs.”

In his briefcase: “My laptop. Some days it helps me teach class; others it helps me tune 700hp cars; and still others, it’s booking my travel or outlining ideas.”

Favorite pizza topping: “Cheese. I have plain tastes.”

Brian MassingillBrian Massingill, 35
Vice President, Business Development, School of Automotive Machinists & Technology

Raised in the machinist and racing family that founded SAM Tech, Brian Massingill first took the family Suburban down the dragstrip at 16 and then bought a ’98 Z28 to race. Now he makes his mark recruiting and working with SAM Tech’s partners to help educate the next generation of the performance racing industry. He’s also responsible for adding an EFI calibration program to the school’s curriculum; finding jobs for SAM Tech graduates; and coordinating the NHRA SAMTech.edu Factory Stock Showdown, working closely with the NHRA, Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford and more than 40 racers and teams.

“Our students come from all walks of life. Some are recent high school graduates. Others are veterans returning stateside or working professionals seeking a career change. We even have retirees honing their skills to work on their own projects. Looking to the future, we are always eyeing emerging technologies to incorporate into our curriculum. The ultimate gratification is when our graduates land great jobs.”

In his briefcase: iPhone, Outlook, Excel, Notes and Calendar apps.

Favorite pizza topping: Pepperoni and jalapeños.

Luke MerrillLuke Merrill, 27
Owner, Tinman 2 Kustoms

With some 60,000 subscribers and 31 million YouTube views already under his belt, Luke Merrill has garnered quite a following of car enthusiasts, and for good reason: In both 2017 and 2018, he proved his building skills with Top 10 Young Guns and Top 40 overall honors in the SEMA Battle of the Builders competitions. Meanwhile, he has amassed an extensive sponsorship and social-media advertising network that has helped propel his custom business to dizzying success. His skills are mostly self-taught.

“My most influential career accomplishment to date has, by far, been being involved with the SEMA Young Guns program,” Merrill said. “The opportunity has changed my life and has been a huge motivation for me professionally and personally. The most challenging and exciting aspect of business is the never-ending work I take on. If I’m not building something, I am working on video editing or writing tech and inspiration-based magazine articles.”

In his briefcase: An unparallel drive, his Crocs, hospital socks that he can’t do without, and those who support him, especially his family.

Favorite pizza topping: Pepperoni and green olives.

Jessica MoralesJessica Morales, 29
Events Manager, Pilot Automotive

Jessica Morales is a seven-year industry veteran and no stranger to the SEMA Show. In fact, she manages 67 different events for Pilot Automotive annually, across five brands—DC Sports, ROVI, RBP, LUNNA and Voodoo Ride.

Morales joined Pilot Automotive in 2012 and was introduced to the “marketing world and all things automotive” while on the job.

“Once I got more involved, I realized this wasn’t just another job; it was a career I wanted to pursue,” explained Morales.

Starting as an assistant, she has climbed the corporate ladder by trying to make a difference everyday.

“Hard work, dedication and passion got me to where I am today and I know it will help me reach my long-term goals that I have set for myself,” said Morales.

In the next five to 10 years, she hopes to bring together her skills and knowledge about events and marketing to benefit not just her but the business and the brand(s) as well.

In her briefcase: If it’s a Monday? A fresh cup of coffee. Also a notebook and pen for meeting notes, reminders and doodle ideas that she continually reviews. She has notebooks dating back to 2012 and the collection continues to grow.

Favorite pizza topping: Keeping it classic—pepperoni.

Chelsea PhillipsChelsea Phillips, 33
Marketing Operations Coordinator, Air Lift Co.

In a day when data reigns supreme, Chelsea Phillips is raising the bar, developing data processes and managing exports for Air Lift Co.’s many product lines. Her greatest career accomplishment to date is a company database that she created by gathering product information, assets and vehicle fitments from different sources and bringing them all into one central location. Her work helped win a Platinum data score from the SEMA Data Co-op from 2016–2019 and an inaugural Data Quality Award for the quality and completeness of product data from The AAM Group.

Phillips has now taken on the role of marketing operations coordinator for Air Lift to implement new technologies and processes for the company’s customer relationship management (CRM) system. In five to 10 years, she sees herself managing an entire team of data and CRM specialists.

In her briefcase: “Coffee, sticky notes and gel pens. I still use a pen and paper to get my ideas out and visualize concepts. I use Excel frequently as well as PartsHub as my database for storing and exporting product information.”

Favorite pizza topping: Bacon.

Jason NaefJason Naef, 35
Shop Foreman/Lead Technician, Wilhelm Automotive

A Wyotech graduate, Jason Naef likes to keep busy. He’s the owner/operator of 777 Customs in Arizona, where he consults on, fabricates and designs numerous automotive, motorcycle and equipment innovations. Plus, he’s shop foreman/lead technician of a Wilhelm Automotive location and a specialist in diagnostics. He’s also developed and taught high-school and college curricula in automotive repair, collision/refinishing and diesel technology.

“Every time I’m able to train, teach or help any of my former students or my technicians, I feel that I’m making a difference in their careers and lives,” he said. “Hopefully, they can pass that forward as well.”

Naef also enjoys doing challenging and wide-ranging builds, but his proudest work to date was on a car similar to what his older client had once owned “back in the day.”

“After an extensive build and the addition of a burnout button, the client was absolutely in love with the car,” he said. “It was like watching the teenager in his eyes coming back out again.”

In his briefcase: A pen, notepad and music. “Google is my friend.”

Favorite pizza topping: Meat.

Cody SlackCody Slack, 32
Marketing Manager, BC Racing North America

Cody Slack picked up his first project car—a ’02 Subaru Impreza—when he was 19. From that moment, the aftermarket became his passion. In his eight years at BC Racing, he has played a major role in building the company into one of the largest suspension names in the United States. His key projects include developing the marketing department, spearheading a total rebrand and solidifying a unique content-creation strategy.

“I have put my blood, sweat and tears into our efforts to build a brand image that sticks out from the pack,” Slack said. “I thrive on helping everyday car guys to understand their vehicle dynamics and set things up for their needs, whether it’s faster lap times, comfortable driving or drifting. No matter the discipline, they want to push the limits and win, and it’s my personal mission to get them there.”

In his briefcase: iPhone, Formula Drift media vest, MacBook Pro, Bowie knife, Boring Co. Not a Flamethrower, GoPro field kit, Dippin Dots, cheap sunglasses, SPF 55 sunscreen, earplugs, etc.

Favorite pizza topping: Bacon.

Brad SpearingBrad Spearing, 33
Senior Representative, Southeast Region, Fox Factory/BDS Suspension

Brad Spearing made his industry start as an installation technician at age 16, going on to build and display six SEMA Show vehicles and taking on stints in sales, operations and new-store development. Now he reps BDS Suspension’s southeast territory, not only making sales calls but also going beyond his job description to help customers restyle their showrooms.

“From the time I was a young boy, I had a love for lifted trucks and Jeeps, starting with a Jeep Power Wheels Golden Eagle that I received around age six,” he said. “The most exciting aspect of my business segment is participating in special events and situations many people only dream of. My customers are enthusiasts who are highly motivated in business by the same passions that made them enthusiasts in the first place.”

For his future, Spearing has set his sights on “a high management role within the Fox Factory family or following my entrepreneurial drive to wherever it may lead me.”

In his briefcase: A laptop, two cellphones, Google and Instagram.

Favorite pizza topping: Sausage.

Ryan TruaxRyan Truax, 34
President, Advanced Fuel Dynamics

It all started with a go kart. Ryan Truax was just as happy to work on it as he was riding it. Then he moved on to tinkering with a motorcycle that didn’t run. Bringing it back to life taught Truax the basics of mechanical concepts, and started a love for how things “work.”

Fast-forward a few years and Truax founded Advanced Fuel Dynamics, helping customers achieve higher performance and increased efficiency with their vehicles.

“Giving people the ability to make more power and drastically reduce emissions at the same time is really rewarding, but also challenging,” said Truax. “Our pioneering technology has redefined the E85 segment of the industry, but getting people to trust our hard data over all the armchair tuners on the internet and in local shops is tough.”

The data doesn’t lie, however, and when customers see the numbers they become true believers in Truax and his company.

In his briefcase: “I always have my laptop, phone, headset and a power block. As far as apps go, PROFLEX Connect and YouTube. And finally, a silver or gold Sharpie because they will write on anything, and I tend to write on every kind of surface when I am under a hood or running the dyno.”

Favorite pizza topping: Pepperoni.

Jonathan ThomasJonathan Thomas, 34
Lead Engineer, Magnuson Superchargers

As Magnuson’s lead engineer, Jonathan Thomas has spearheaded an engineering team that has developed a unique, high-performing inlet porting design. His work has allowed Magnuson to bring several new supercharging product solutions to market, notably for Hellcat, Camaro and COPO Camaro applications.

“I grew up with friends and family who enjoyed classic cars,” he said. “Between going to car shows any chance I could get and taking a night auto-shop class in high school, I was hooked. Once I started working in the industry, I learned early on that the aftermarket moves at a very fast pace.”

With automakers bringing out so many new models each year—not to mention the competition from other aftermarket companies—Thomas finds the pace challenging but exciting.

“I like to think our customers are just like us, if not even more passionate about horsepower,” he said. “I will love to see what we can come up with in the next 10 years to change the industry.”

In his briefcase: CAD software, 3-D printer, pen and notebook, and a flow bench and supercharger performance stand.

Favorite pizza topping: Canadian bacon.

Luke WalshLuke Walsh, 28
Account Supervisor, Kahn Media

Luke Walsh has been a truck and off-road guy since he was young. He joined the industry straight out of school at age 22 and is currently an account supervisor for Kahn Media, where he has developed and delivered marketing messages for some of the industry’s most prolific companies.

Walsh recalls that he once walked the Petersen Museum as a child, soaking up the industry history. Working alongside companies that he admired for so long keeps him creatively engaged.

“I’ve had the opportunity to work on some exceptional marketing campaigns, but the most rewarding was producing the ‘8 Meters’ documentary with the Petersen Automotive Museum and Superformance,” Walsh said.

When he’s not working, Walsh’s true colors as a passionate enthusiast are revealed, such as taking his rig camping in the great outdoors and prerunning the Baja 1000, which he did in 2016. In five years, Walsh wants to continue working in the industry that he loves and hopefully start a family.

In his briefcase: Laptop, iPhone, headphones, note pad and pen.

Favorite pizza topping: Jalapeños.

Anthony YoohannaAnthony Yoohanna, 33
Industrial Engineer, Weistec Engineering

Anthony Yoohanna got his driver’s license and stared at his ’97 Toyota Celica. There had to be a way to raise the horsepower above 105. The answer? He designed a custom turbo kit, doubling the power. Working on this application introduced Yoohanna to the art of computer “tuning” and soon he was behind the wheel of a ’04 WRX data logging and adjusting parameters. Now he’s an engineering manager for Weistec Engineering, and is regularly developing and tuning OEM control modules for luxury brands such as Mercedes, BMW, McLaren and Pagani.

“We have customers around the world setting and breaking records with Weistec products and countless luxury performance sedans making 700+hp with one of the 50-state-legal tunes I developed and tested,” said Yoohanna.

That kind of performance is an amazing accomplishment, but it doesn’t sound like he’s satisfied. When asked about the future, Yoohanna can’t wait to tune a new class of vehicles in the expansive performance EV market.

In his briefcase: Primary laptop and its charger, iPhone XR, 7-in. Windows tablet for simple data logging, Bluetooth OBD-II adapter for iPhone, Bench and OBD-II flashing equipment, power brick, ear buds and plugs, gloves and a T15 screwdriver.

Favorite pizza topping: Meat.

Luke ZimbelmanLuke Zimbelman, 34
Marketing Manager, Performance Division, Air Lift Co.

Luke Zimbelman considers Air Lift’s #LifeOnAir program his greatest professional accomplishment.

“Six years ago, we sat around a table brainstorming how to elevate our customers’ stories to show off the passion, dedication and ingenuity of the individuals who are this scene,” he said. “We started telling stories about high-profile builds and kids around the block alike. It resonated in a way that outpaced our highest expectations. Fast forward to today, and we tell hundreds of #LifeOnAir stories every year through our blog and video series, from Japan to Joburg and Boise to Birmingham.”

In the next five to 10 years, Zimbelman hopes to establish new best B2B2C benchmarks for the automotive industry while growing Air Lift’s internal team and guiding the way for more people than ever to live their #LifeOnAir.

In his briefcase: “The Google ecosystem is fantastic, from apps to analytics. Facebook’s ads manager is incredibly important; however, the most impactful elements are the personal development tools that allow me and my team to continually perform at such a high level.”

Favorite pizza topping: Salami.  

Mark ZeszutMark Zeszut, 29
Segment Manager, Auto, Mishimoto Automotive

Growing up, Mark Zeszut was always passionate about cars. As time progressed, he became particularly fascinated with the internal-combustion engine, which was the driving force behind earning his mechanical engineering degree.

He cites his greatest professional accomplishment as the role he played in developing the global FK8 Civic Type R product line for Mishimoto. Although that line has been financially successful, he is most proud of the top-notch quality and performance of each product and the outstanding feedback the company has received from customers.

In five years, Zeszut hopes to help Mishimoto grow further with new product and category opportunities that will materialize in parallel with the way automotive design and technology is evolving.

In his briefcase: “Coffee—with enough of it, anything can be accomplished. As for my professional toolbox—my backpack—
I always have my laptop, headphones, and my favorite pen locked and loaded.”

Favorite pizza topping: Buffalo chicken.

The Nominations Continue…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.

 


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