Never Lift: SEMA, The Board Of Directors, And Our Youth

I’ve been a big fan of Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), and have come to cherish the people that helped found the organization. As a writer, my position allowed me to come into contact and hear the stories of how the organization originated, and I heard them from the people that were involved.

You can’t hear a Prius start.              – James Lawrence

The story they tell isn’t always how the narrative is retold now, but the spirit is the same. The organization was founded mainly to formulate safety standards and organize the manufacturers for representation in Washington, D.C. This helped to keep SEMA members informed about legislation being introduced that might affect the industry, which has become increasingly more important. Every year, and every election cycle, this has become a larger issue.

It was an honor to know one of the most significant but unsung heroes in the aftermarket automotive world. Louie Senter was the real heart and soul of the SEMA organization, and as most of the older insiders are aware, Senter was the driving force behind the start of the organization.

It was my pleasure to know Louie Senter, a man that rarely gets credit for all the things he accomplished during his lifetime. Louie passed away last year, and a group of the automotive industry legends got together to remember his life. As it turns out, Louie was one of the key people that founded SEMA. Louie’s wife Betty had founded the Credit Manager’s Association along with Joan Weiand, the wife of another aftermarket automotive legend, Phil Weiand. This small program was designed to identify manufacturers and customers that passed bad checks to protect the other members of the group. This program was incorporated into the High-Performance/Hot Rod Manufacturer’s Industry, the precursor to the SEMA organization.

As the industry started to explode with a new generation of high performance enthusiasts, it was clear that the organization needed to expand and include some loftier goals. This prompted Senter to get other industry leaders like Roy Richter (Bell Helmets), Willie Garner (Trans-Dapt), Bob Hedman (Hedman Hedders), Robert E. Wyman, John Bartlett (Grant Piston Rings), Phil Weiand (Weiand Automotive Industries), Al Segal, Dean Moon (Moon Speed Equipment), Ed Iskenderian (Isky Cams), and Vic Edelbrock Jr. (Edelbrock Performance), to evolve the organization into what was then called the Speed Equipment Manufacturers Association, which became the original SEMA organization.

Vic Edelbrock Jr. guided SEMA during some of the most difficult days when the federal government began to legislate environmental controls in the auto industry.

Unfortunately I’ve only been able to speak with a few of these legends, like Senter, Edelbrock, and Iskenderian. Most of the others are gone now, and their friends have been left to tell the story of their lives. The one thing that I have noticed when talking with these industry leaders about their SEMA roots is the pride in what they put together. I can only image that it is similar to our founding father’s pride in the Constitution of the United States.

The late Nick Arias Jr. spoke at Louie Senter’s celebration of life, explaining how Senter always stressed integrity in the profession.

SEMA’s role in helping to prevent governmental over-reach and over-regulation has been huge in allowing the rest of us to enjoy the automobile. What makes this even more amazing, is that the organization is very fluid, changing the members of it’s Board of Directors regularly. Through all of the years from 1963 until now, the organization, throughout all of the routine board member changes, have held onto their founding principals, and continues to fight for every enthusiast, manufacturer, and media person in the hobby.

Ed Iskenderian, the first president of SEMA, also spoke of Senter’s guidance to the industry over the years.

This year’s voting for the open seats in the SEMA Board of Directors has a special meaning for me, and my co-workers at Power Automedia. Our company’s founder and President, James Lawrence, has been nominated to run for the open seat in the manufacturer’s category. One may feel that having your company’s owner and founder run for a high profile position is simply a political move to help the company’s business – which has probably been true and a motivation for many in the past.

Knowing James Lawrence for the past decade, I feel m ore than qualified to say that James is not what anyone would call a politician. He is motivated by doing what he considers to be the “right thing” to do. Many times his “right thing” has caused some anxiety for the people that work with him, especially when doing the right thing has not been the popular thing.

If we expect the hobby to stay alive, and grow, we have to reach the youth.

There have been times that Lawrence has stood up for the SEMA organization when it wasn’t always politically correct or easy, but because it was the right thing to do. It often takes great courage to do the right thing, especially when it requires more effort. I’ve always had more respect for the people that are willing to put forth the extra effort to make sure the correct result was reached.

I know that James has a personal agenda to achieve, whether he is elected to the SEMA Board of Directors or not. That agenda includes a hefty dose of getting youth involved in our sport. Finding and funding programs that bring our kids into the hobby and helping them realize that it is cool to sit in the seat of a classic car – hopefully one that they built with their hands – turning the key and hearing a monster 454 big-block Chevy rumble to life.

Taking children to a car museum, race event, or car show is one way to get the kids involved.

The day that there are no more V8 engines left on the road will be the saddest day in the history of the automobile. If we do nothing to involve our youth, this will be the path that we are on. I think that we all need to support people that feel the need to educate and involve our youth. No … I think we need to demand that our industry leaders put programs in place to ensure that our youth are given the opportunity to experience automobiles the same way that we did. To emphasize the point, I will leave you with this James Lawrence quote; “You can’t hear a Prius start.”

It will be a sad day when our kids will only be able to see these great racing machines in a museum and not on the track.

My friend Louie Senter always stressed integrity in the profession, and he chose to provide that route through SEMA. My boss and friend James Lawrence shares that same principle. Keep your fingers crossed that he wins the open seat on the SEMA Board of Directors for our industry and our youth. For those wanting to know more about Lawrence’s platform and agenda, please visit the James Lawrence For SEMA Board Of Directors Facebook page.

James Lawrence, Founder and CEO of Power Automedia

About the author

Bobby Kimbrough

Bobby grew up in the heart of Illinois, becoming an avid dirt track race fan which has developed into a life long passion. Taking a break from the Midwest dirt tracks to fight evil doers in the world, he completed a full 21 year career in the Marine Corps.
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