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  • Jason Chandler

History of the SEMA Show

The SEMA Show is held at the Las Vegas Convention Center. It is among the largest conventions held in Vegas. The 2018 SEMA Show drew about 65,000 buyers. The displays are segmented into 12 sections, and a New Products Showcase features nearly 2,000 newly introduced parts, tools and components. In addition, the SEMA Show provides attendees with educational seminars, product demonstrations, special events, networking opportunities and more.



The first SEMA Show was held in 1967 in the basement of the Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, before moving to the new Anaheim Stadium in 1974. In 1967 they had 98 manufacturers manning booths and an attendance of 3,000 people. In 1967 there were 5 cars on display, including a 1967 Ford GT40 in the Shelby America booth and a drag-race-prepped Dodge Dart. The early shows, held in Los Angeles and Anaheim, California, were exclusively card-table-and-masking-tape affairs,[vague] but by the early 1970s, sophisticated display and marketing techniques were visible throughout the show. At that time, a Show booth cost $375. The Show moved to a different location—the new and expansive Anaheim Convention Center (across from Disneyland). Booth sales and attendance kept increasing dramatically. The SEMA Show continued to cater to the needs of industry representatives rather than consumers and began to develop a reputation as a place where business was expected and completed. As part of the ’70s SEMA Shows, one of the must-attend events was Doris Herbert’s Drag News party, which was topped only by the SEMA Awards Banquet.


In 1975, the featured entertainers for the Awards Banquet were April Stevens and Nino Tempo. In 1976 (the last SEMA Show to be held in Anaheim), the show was a sellout with 570 booths and, in fact, had to turn away a number of manufacturers due to lack of space. Over the next few years, the Show grew much larger and soon filled the Convention Center to capacity and was moved to Las Vegas in 1977. Las Vegas was chosen because it provided room for continued growth, dependable weather, big-name entertainment and a world-famous location.


In 1977, SEMA’s Awards Banquet (run by Sheldon Konblett) was held at the Sands Hotel and featured Norm Crosby. Sheldon Konblett also developed the design for the SEMA trophies, which have come to symbolize product innovation and excellence in the industry.


In 1979, Nile Cornelison began plans for his Innovations Day seminars program, which has since become one of the major annual association programs. The following year, Innovations Day was a smashing success and featured Lee Iacocca as the keynote speaker. Never before had any activity held on the day prior to the Show’s opening attracted anything near the more than 460 who attended. That same year, Willie Nelson was the featured entertainer for the SEMA Awards Banquet.


In 1983, the import parts section of the SEMA Show was added under the auspices of sister organization, Automotive International Association, thus changing the name to SEMA/AI Show. In 1984, there was a combined SEMA/AI/APAA Show in Las Vegas. The Industry Awards Banquet was held at the MGM Grand, and the entertainment was provided by The Platters and Gallagher. By all indications, the move to Las Vegas has been an overwhelming success. In 1986, Car and Driver magazine noted that the Show was a “...prime opportunity to monitor the West Coast car culture without breathing the smog or fighting the freeways.” That same year, Jay Leno made his first appearance on stage at the SEMA Show Industry Awards Banquet.


In 1990, the onsite registration fee was increased to $20. All exhibitors are eligible to submit an entry into the New Products Showcase at no cost. In 1992, the SEMA/AI Show and the Automotive Service Industry, Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association and Automotive Parts & Accessories Association (ASIA/MEMA/APAA Show—formerly the Big I/APAA Show) came together to form Automotive Aftermarket Industry Week (AAIW) in Las Vegas. The two shows together boasted in excess of 1.6 million square feet of exhibits.


In 1997, the National Tire Dealers & Retreaders (NTDRA) trade show was combined with the SEMA Show. Affiliating the 77-year-old NTDRA trade show with the SEMA portion of AAIW provided benefits to both sides. In the same year, Goodyear sponsored the first SEMA-NTDRA “Racers’ Night Out” at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.


In 1998, the SEMA Show broke the 500,000-foot mark with 502,912 net square feet of rented space. Each year since then, the Show has set new records of some sort. It now occupies more than one million net square feet, draws more than 3,000 media, and has a buyer attendance in excess of 60,000. The SEMA Show now routinely brings together more than 2,300 exhibitors, occupying in excess of 11,000 booths. Total attendance at the Show now tops 150,000 manufacturers, buyers and other industry representatives, making contacts and doing business.


The SEMA acronym originally stood for Speed Equipment Manufacturing Association. In 1970, government regulations became an issue and the name was changed to Specialty Equipment Market Association to improve the overall image of the association. It was also warned that bureaucrats in the industry may be turned off by the word "speed", which Corporate Council Earl Kitner felt they may associate with "the swinging generation."SEMA came about as a result of the company Revell Models attempting to fill a gap in industry trade regulation Its first president was Ed Iskenderian. Other original members of the organization include Roy Richter, Willie Garner, Bob Hedman, Robert E. Wyman, John Bartlett, Phil Weiand Jr., Al Segal, Dean Moon, and Vic Edelbrock Jr.



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