Last year I didn’t go to SEMA due to a combination of work constraints and a general sense of exhaustion with the pageantry of trade shows and Vegas in general. This year I plan on going back, but I’m going to be prepared mentally for it all. I think these are helpful enough that I’d like to share them as an addition to the typical “Rules of SEMA” articles you see for first timers. This is more for fifth, sixth and seventh timers.
I’m going to try to avoid the obvious things like “wear comfortable shoes” and “be sure to pack snacks”. These are amateur rules and I’d like to focus more on things to keep someone from slipping into a malaise when you find yourself away from home carrying phones, backpacks and cameras and also trying to dig out the morsels of interesting new things hidden between drab booths of everything that has been done before. The only burn-outs I expect to experience are going to be where the rubber meets the road.
1. Find a good restroom and remember how to get there.
“This restroom located above the ballroom in a nearby hotel is still within show grounds, but recieves a lot less foot traffic and has plenty of seating and power accomodations.”
This probably qualifies as a “snack & shoes” rule but if you really have to go you don’t want to use the obvious restrooms that collect a line. If you can find secondary restrooms near a back-of-house area or something very close to the trade show itself, you’re going to make up for the time spent walking by not having to wait in line. This should at least free up time to search for interesting things at the show.
2. Don’t expect to see much that is “old school hotrod” other than sheetmetal.
“This W-engine Big Block in this bubble top wagon is a rare-but-welcome exception to the rule.”
“Dual Quads on this Gasser Shoebox always look better than plastic COP covers that say ‘Corvette’.”
“Usually it’s going to be SBC and SBF in most Model-T based cars which in itself is becoming a breath of fresh air.”
Despite Edelbrock likely having an entire top-end kit available for every engine under the sun, don’t expect to see anything other than engines manufactured after the year 2000 under the hood of any classic car. Chances are whether it’s domestic or foreign it’s going to have something that was at some point designed to be computer-controlled.
3. The most interesting vehicles in the show are going to be parked in the self-parking area away from the show.
“This Rotary-powered Mazda jet ski truck has undergone some light modifications since it’s glory days, but it’s still a stunner.”
“I think this Ford speaks for itself.”
Something about SEMA brings cars that may have graced it’s carpet once upon a time. A 6-door VW Jetta stretch limosine. Perhaps a Hypermiler hardbody Nissan. The sky is the limit parked next to Toyota Camrys and Chevy Cobalts.
4. A car will never look as cool as it did in bare metal, so take a picture before it shows up next year with the loudest paint job the builder’s budget could afford.
“This charger was intended to be in-the-buff but it’s among other cars that are best qualified as a work-in-progress.”
Some would say that the work that has gone into the car is so noteworthy that it deserves to be seen unfinished so that it can be appreciated. I would posit that the builder is going to ruin it with a tasteless paint job eventually. A custom car doesn’t deserve a custom paint job solely on the basis that they’re both custom. Dial back the paint job so that the rest of the car can be appreciated.
5. Retro is still in. Just keep walking.
“Not to be confused with ‘vintage’. This vintage Mustang stands out in a sea of Modern and Pro-Touring ponies.”
“This modern Chevy truck sports a Jimmy Carter-era livery… and 800hp”
This look is just an appeal to nostalgia, but the good news is that I think we might actually be nearing the end of this repackaging of everything you seen before. Try not to get too jaded passing by the booths of new dressed up as old.
6. Look for the one sensational ride and get pictures of it while you can.
“This GM Futurliner is one big chunk of hot steel. The Mach-40 Mustang was another crowd-pleaser that I can’t currently find the pictures I took of it.”
Every year there’s one car that steals the show. Seek it out, get your pictures and then you can rest and enjoy the rest of the Convention Center.
7. Visit the Carroll Shelby museum in Las Vegas.
“This Cobra is a piece of Racing and Hot Rod history.”
“One of the few times a FWD Chrysler can grab my attention.”
This isn’t necessarily SEMA-related but you’re already here and this place is a nice, short crowd pleaser. A small tour that has a decently sized modern museum as well as an automotive shop, it really covers all the bases for someone that’s looking for something more than what is coming out next year for K&N.
8. If you’re going to stick around for the cruise, find a good spot on the indoor bridge.
“Don’t be like this guy in the tree.”
“Avoid the afternoon sun and the crowds and still see every car in the cruise.”
At the end of the show all of the cars “cruise” out of Las Vegas Convention Center. The path they take seems to change every year and the crowds are bolstered by all of the people that can walk around outside the show to see what was inside all week. Save yourself some trouble and get an early perch up above.
9. Cars are a hobby for everyone, don’t be a jerk off.
“These gentlemen enjoy cars.”
“Even this guy likes cars.”
I guess I’ll bookend this with another “snacks & shoes” rule. There is so many people inside the convention center that you’re usually butt-to-belly throughout. Everyone there has a job to do, so don’t be an asshole.