Louis Senter—one of SEMA’s founding members and a Hall of Famer—died Saturday, May 28. He was 95.
Senter got his start by building and modifying engines for midgets and other forms of oval-track racing. He was the founder of Ansen Automotive and, later, the Senter Wheel Company.
He opened his own machine shop on Crocker Street in downtown Los Angeles called Senter Engineering.
After moving the business to Jefferson Boulevard in 1947, he took on Jack Andrews as a partner. The new partnership also brought a name change from Senter Engineering to Ansen Automotive Engineering—a combination of Andrews and Senter—and was one of the first true speed shops in the city, according to Senter. There, Senter developed a lightened, balanced and polished Ford flathead crankshaft kit. The firm sold complete engines, which were shipped for the most part to NASCAR drivers in the southern states.
During that period, Senter became well acquainted with other industry pioneers, such as Ed Iskenderian, Vic Edelbrock Sr. and Phil Weiand. All of them grew increasingly adept at producing specialty-equipment parts.
In addition, Senter became involved in drag racing. He began at the Santa Ana Blimp Base in Los Angeles—the first strip in the area—and then at the Saugus Drag Strip, where he held races every Sunday.
In late October of 1950, after Senter became the sole owner of Ansen Automotive, the company expanded again into a building on Normandie Boulevard in Los Angeles. During the ensuing years, a number of automotive icons worked there, including Lou Raney, Ed Pink and Jim Kavanaugh.
In 1963, Senter and other manufacturers formed an organization known as the Speed Equipment Manufacturers Association (SEMA), later renamed the Specialty Equipment Market Association. Senter said that the organization was designed to formulate safety standards in the high-performance industry and organize the manufacturers for representation in Washington, D.C., to keep SEMA informed about legislation being introduced that might affect the industry.
In the early ’60s, Ansen Automotive moved to a building constructed specifically for the business on Western Avenue in Gardena, California. The company’s catalog grew to more than 100 pages and featured hundreds of parts, including forged pistons and forged-steel rods, aluminum connecting rods and a safety bell housing that became compulsory at all dragstrips. The piston department was later sold to Nick Arias, who is still making pistons today, and the rod department was sold to Miller Rods.
Senter began to pull back from the business in 1969, selling to Whittaker Corp. He stayed with Ansen until 1974 and then became a consultant for W.R. Grace, which included Appliance Industries, Mr. Gasket, Lakewood and Hickey. In 1978, Louis Senter was inducted into the SEMA Hall of Fame.
Senter continued to develop wheel products and companies over the next few years but eventually retired for good. He was named to the Hot Rod Magazine Hall of Fame in 1997, received a Western Racing Association award for his 50-year contribution to racing in 1998 and was named to the Dry Lakes Hall of Fame in 1999.