AskPatty Certified Female Friendly Logo

My First Time at SEMA: 5 Things I Learned

Published Nov 27th 2017, 8:00am by Kaeli Gardner in Featured Articles

I got back from SEMA over two weeks ago, and I’m finally feeling recovered enough to write my wrap-up. It was my first time at SEMA, and it was insane and amazing all at the same time. I had the great pleasure of attending with Jody, or as I like to call her, the Queen of SEMA. This was Jody’s 16th year in a row. You read that right…SIXTEEN! Needless to say, I was in excellent hands and got all the insider tips on how to navigate through 4 days of meetings, muscle cars, and miles of walking. I repeat. Miles.

In addition to SEMA, we also attended several events at AAPEX.

For those who may not be familiar, SEMA stands for Special Equipment Market Association and AAPEX is the Automotive Aftermarket Products Expo. Fun fact: I walked around for four days not knowing what these letters stood for…

You can see my recap videos of my SEMA and AAPEX experience here:

And here are the top 5 things I learned:

1. There’s an unofficial women’s track.

I was blown away by how many female-focused events there were at SEMA and AAPEX. We kicked our SEMA off with the Gear Up Girl event hosted by SEMA Businesswomen’s Network (SBN). SBN is 550+ members strong, and their goal is to provide networking, education, and recognition opportunities for professional women in the Specialty Equipment Industry. It was an incredible site to see on my very first day - a room full of women! Totally unexpected. Then there was the Chevy Montage reveal led by Bogi Lateiner. If you don’t know about the Chevy Montage rebuild, do yourself a favor and check it out. This past year, Bogi brought together 90 women from all over the country to rebuild a beautiful Chevy Montage. To use Bogi’s words, they came together to build more than a car. They built community. On top of these exciting events, we also attended the Women in Auto Care Awards and a roundtable hosted by Women Driven, SEMA’s education track for women. Ladies, I’m proud to report back that there is a whole lot for us at SEMA!

2. But…we were still invisible.

Within our first few hours at SEMA, I made an interesting comment to Jody. Laughing, I said to her, “It’s like we’re invisible here”. Initially, I meant it as a joke when I noticed all the men around us completely infatuated by the cars. Who can blame them? But later in the evening, Jody and I revisited this notion of being invisible. As you walk around SEMA, it’s easy to feel like a tiny fish in a big pond. Factor in the fact that there were only a handful of female attendees at the show and the fact that women make up less than a quarter of the automotive work force and a shocking 3% of mechanics. So in a sense, we were very much “invisible” there. Besides the events I listed above, I still felt the overwhelming imbalance of male to female attendees.

3. Best bathroom situation ever.
What was the best part of being a woman at SEMA? No lines for the bathrooms! I’ve been to my share of women’s conferences where the lines for the bathrooms are unbearably long. Not the case at SEMA. All the women's bathrooms were super clean and there was never a line to use them!

4. Planning and self-care were key.
SEMA is hands down the largest conference I have ever been to. I expected nothing less from a convention in Las Vegas. I’m not kidding when I say it was like a theme park. There are four huge halls filled with exhibitors…and surrounding these halls were more exhibitors and several race tracks! Every night, Jody and I huddled over the map as if it were game day. We marked our meetings and the best routes to get to each of them. We ate when we could. We sat when we could. We rested when we could. SEMA was definitely a marathon, not a sprint, and if it weren’t for Jody’s meticulous planning, I surely would not have made it out alive.

5. Drifting is not (that) scary.
One of the highlights of my SEMA experience was attending the 2018 Shelby 1000 reveal at the Shelby Heritage Museum. I had the incredible opportunity of hopping in a car with the VP of Shelby, Vince LaViolette, and he took me drifting for the first time! I was nervous to hop in at first because I'm not huge on speed. He reassured me that we weren't going fast...we were just going sideways. Afterwards, I was hooked and hopped right back in line to go a second time. This time with the President of Shelby himself, Gary Patterson. Who was the better driver you ask? I’ll never tell. But you can watch my drifting experience on my YouTube channel!


comments powered by Disqus

Need Car Advice?

Ask The Experts!

Looking for a New or Used Car?

Search for our Certified Female Friendly® Car Buying Marketplace locations

Help Our Charities