“A dream come true”: Lifelong enthusiasts experience SEMA for the first time, a year later than planned

Jack Baruth

Johnny and Anita Bell always knew they’d make it to SEMA one day. “I’ve been reading about it for a long time. As a lifelong hot rodder, SEMA has always been a destination for me. But it wasn’t until I retired from my day job that I could even think about making it happen.” Having grown up and worked in the Midwest before retiring to Miami, the Bells never had the time or opportunity to visit the country’s most important specialty automotive show—but when the chance came up to represent the auto transport business owned by a friend and associate, they jumped at it.

“We were all set to go last year,” Johnny noted, “but, as you know, that was the year that SEMA went on hiatus.” The moment the organizers announced that this year’s event would take place in-person at the Las Vegas Convention Center, they were all but first in line for credentials.

Their interest in vintage Chevrolets, particularly Camaros and Novas of the Sixties, meant that this year’s SEMA was of intense interest. “If you’re a Chevrolet fan … well, not only do you have all the major suppliers, all the parts makers, but Chevrolet themselves,” Johnny said. Like most showgoers, they were gobsmacked by the Chevy “Beast“, a 650-horsepower supercharged cross between a Silverado truck and a dedicated “side-by-side” off-roader. Chevrolet’s debut of the ZZ632/100, the 1004-horsepower crate engine that is the most powerful passenger-car unit ever supplied by a Big Three automaker, was also of considerable interest to them.

Over the course of two days, the Bells visited every single booth and display at the show. They were particularly interested in meeting other enthusiasts and vendors from the African-American community. “As a Black man, you can’t help but notice that there aren’t too many people here who look like us, particularly behind the booths.” This won’t discourage Johnny and Anita from returning in the years to come. “Yes, it would be great to have more Black folks involved in this culture, particularly the hot-rodding side, but it’s okay, because we’re still among friends here. In the end, we’re all here for the same reason. And that reason is that we have a passion for cars.”

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