Editor’s note: Get more news from the 2018 SEMA Show in Las Vegas by checking out our dedicated page.
The annual SEMA Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center was everything I was told it would be: “Awesome,” “insane,” “overwhelming,” “huge,” “hectic,” “crowded,” “crazy.”
Every single one of those people were right and I was still unprepared.
I’ve covered huge events in my career, ranging from playoff sports games to a presidential convention. But it’s not possible to mentally prepare for more than 1 million square feet of automotive trade show glory (not including the surrounding parking lots) and about 150,000 people pouring into the Las Vegas area, eager to buy, sell or report on the latest and greatest in the car world.
Walking into the convention center last Monday, fewer than 24 hours before the show opened, I didn’t think it was going to go smoothly. Boxes and shopping crates were strewn about as crews scurried about trying to get their booths ready in time and, like me, I thought they would lack a little polish when the doors opened for the official Tuesday morning start.
Boy, was I wrong. Every sign was perfectly placed, goodies were ready to hand out, and cars were gleaming as buyers, exhibitors and media – the three primary badge types at the show – walked through the doors.
If a car lover died and went to heaven, there’s a good chance they would end up at something like SEMA. What began as a few people gathering to exchange parts has erupted into a show that fills every nook and cranny of the convention center.
There’s every kind of part, accessory, kit and whatever else you could need to customize your car. Full sections of the show are dedicated to hot rods, while others focus on trucks and still more on tuners. The floor is positively littered with display booths, which are separated by thin, crowded lanes of attendees that ebb and flow as someone stops to chat or take a photo of a custom car.
And the cars. Oh, the cars. I saw everything under the sun, from imports to exotics to muscle and vintage. SEMA is a show about creativity and customization. The message was clearly taken to heart by some of the nation’s best car guys.
I’ve been asked a few times what my favorite car I was at the show. That’s impossible to answer. I would have just as happily driven away in Noah Alexander’s 1971 Chevrolet Chevelle build or Jeff Allen’s rad-yet-weird Volvo-Corvette mashup as I would have in a glorious, all-original and non-customized Volkswagen Beetle I came across in North Hall.
Now that I’m home and writing this, it’s safe to say my favorite part of the experience was the people. Having covered huge events before, the media is typically allowed a handful of quick questions before being moved on. At SEMA, each and every person I talked to — people like Alan Taylor, who interviewed ClassicCars.com CEO Roger Falcione on a few occasions — gave me a full 30 minutes of their time, sometimes more, which is a lot, considering how busy most of them were.
I lost count of the number of hands I shook. I ran out of business cards by Thursday afternoon. But there was a common bond shared by everyone that always began with, “Is this your first time at SEMA?” Those who had been before would offer tips and those, like me, who were there for the first time would talk about where and how many times we got lost.
By the time Friday rolls around, everyone at the show is spent. Three full days of walking the floor takes its toll, as, for some, does the Las Vegas nightlife. Before I left for home, I walked the floor one last time. The crowds had thinned and the shipping crates had begun popping up as companies anticipated a long breakdown (a friend exhibiting didn’t finish until 4:30 a.m. Saturday) and most of what I saw were connections – new and old – stopping by booths to wish everyone safe travels.
As I left the glitz and glam of Las Vegas in the rearview mirror, I knew this was going to be tricky to write. After miles of walking, meeting with some top car builders, taking way too many photos and even drifting in a Roush Mustang, I wondered how to sum it all up.
So here, as a now former first-timer at SEMA, is my advice to you: Carry snacks with you, drink more water than you think you need, and get to bed on time. Talk to the people you’re around. If you can, jump in the passenger seat for a ridealong.
And, most importantly, wear comfortable shoes.