SEMA Scene: My almost-marathon meander among some of the coolest cars on the planet

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Sometimes it's difficult to see the cars, and car parts, at the SEMA Show for all the other people who also want to see them | Larry Edsall photos

Editor’s note: Get more news from the 2018 SEMA Show in Las Vegas by checking out our dedicated page.

21.0 miles. 

That’s not quite the distance of a marathon run, but it is how far you would travel from Battery Park on the southern tip of Manhattan, proceeding past Central Park, and beyond the Bronx Zoo, and on up to Yonkers Raceway. 

It’s also how far an app on my iPhone says I walked this past week while at 2018 SEMA Show. 

Yes, the Specialty Equipment Market Association’s trade show of automotive aftermarket products is staged within — and without — the Las Vegas Convention Center, but that simply means there are three ginormous exhibition buildings — one of them with two full floors of display space — and all of it filled with rows and rows of product displays and demonstration booths. 

Oh, and customized vehicles also fill the adjacent sidewalks and driveways, and in a good portion of an adjacent hotel’s own convention space. And there’s more of the same within three huge, building-sized tents in one of the parking lots.

The parking lot in front of the Las Vegas Convention Center become a thrill-ride venue — complete with a jump — surrounded by yet more vehicle displays

Speaking of parking lots, some of them are converted into tire-smoking, engine-screaming, thrill-ride venues throughout the show.

I’ve been coming to the SEMA Show in behalf of the readers of various magazines, newspapers and websites for nearly 30 years. Each year the show seems to get bigger, with more people, more automotive celebrities, and more stuff to see and with more auxiliary events. In addition to all the things to see, there are all sorts of educational seminars and business meetings taking place.

Once upon a time, the original-equipment automakers had disdain for those who might alter the products they’d worked for so many years to develop. But they’ve come to embrace the aftermarket industry and thus Ford, Chrysler/Jeep, Chevrolet, Toyota, Honda, Lexus, Kia, Hyundai and Nissan had their auto show-style displays alongside those of the companies that make everything from new bodies for old cars to everything it takes to turn that bare sheetmetal into a customized car. 

The 2018 SEMA Show ended Friday with SEMA Ignited, the big post-show party celebration. And now I’m going to put my aching feet up and sort through the hundreds of photos I took, photos that hopefully will give you at least a taste of the SEMA Show, and without making you walk those miles in my shoes.

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A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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