Almost lost among the thousands of chrome parts, neon lights, candy apple paints and mega-dollar tradeshow displays was one nondescript little 10×x10× booth tucked away next to a fire department standpipe.
No thumping audio system, no gorgeous booth babe, custom car, just three chairs, a small table and copies of the latest issue of our magazine.
Engine Builder was exhibiting at SEMA for the first time, and if we were looking to generate excitement with our booth – well, we were definitely going about it all wrong.
To be fair, one booth among more than 10,000 spread over more than one million square feet of Las Vegas Convention Center show space is unlikely to make much of an impact. Especially when Managing Editor Brendan Baker and I were the stand-ins for the models in slinky outfits who somehow failed to materialize.
On the first morning of the show, a representative from SEMA came by our booth to congratulate us on being first-time exhibitors. As I tried to explain that this really WASN’T our first show, I felt like the Ghost of Christmas Past. You see, I said, our former sister publication, Specialty & Custom Dealer was the first voice of the specialty and performance aftermarket. Babcox Publications was actually one of the founding associate members of SEMA and has had booths at every one of the 40 annual shows since that first one under the Dodger Stadium grandstands in 1967. Granted, I wasn’t at that show, and I haven’t been to SEMA for a few years, but getting back to where the performance market action is hot felt like a homecoming.
As it turns out, American muscle was making a homecoming too.
To celebrate “American Muscle” (the theme of the 2006 SEMA show) Detroit’s Big 3 displayed 61 examples of classic and current muscle cars, from the Smokey Yunick-prepped 1955 Chevrolet sedan that captured Chevy’s first superspeedway win at Darlington to the 2006 Ford Mustang, the prototype 2008 Dodge Challenger and the 2009 Chevy Camaro.
The latter three vehicles signal to many industry observers that real performance, in the form of big engines, eye popping paint jobs and rear-wheel drive, has only been slumbering in this country, and is ready to make a triumphal, albeit different, return.
So were we rookie exhibitors? Maybe, but Engine Builder is certainly no stranger to the performance and specialty industry. Coming from our company heritage (Brendan’s father, Don Baker Jr., was at that first SEMA show, as managing editor of SCD) and looking through archival photos of that first SEMA show), our understated booth could be called “retro.”
Our booth may not have been sexy, but it was gratifying to talk with so many readers who managed to find it amidst the excitement of the trade show. While the definition of “performance” may have changed since that first SEMA show. We’re glad to know that there’s still a desire for excitement burning in this country.