SEMA 2018: Las Vegas Headlights

 SEMA 2018: Las Vegas Headlights

by Hanna Shae Smith, Contributing Writer

We could hear the event before we could see it.

Easily mistaken for thunder if there had been a cloud in the clear desert sky, we knew we had arrived at SEMA Ignited 2018 upon hearing the roar of engines and screeching of tires on the drift track.

It was still relatively early in the day, and we parked our car on the south-west side of the Las Vegas Convention Center where the event is hosted annually by the Specialty Equipment Marketing Association. Throughout the week, this year from Nov. 5-8, those in the automotive industry attend the exclusive conference where they browse new technology, models, tools and more inside the large buildings.

And although this portion of SEMA precludes those not an automotive trade, the event culminates on Friday with SEMA Ignited where all car enthusiasts may join in several outdoors events and shows free of admission.

This included us. Since my husband Adam and I moved to Phoenix, Arizona, in the spring of 2018, we began planning a trip to Las Vegas for SEMA. A couple months in advance, our bus tickets were purchased, rental car booked and Airbnb reserved for a two-night stay. We arrived late on Thursday night after a six-hour bus ride between cities, and Adam shook my shoulder to wake me up as we crossed an overpass on 93, catching our first glimpse of Sin City. Las Vegas, shining brightly with millions of neon lights welcomed us to its home in the valley.

It was 10:30 p.m., still early for this sleepless city and the colorful crowds had already taken to the streets mingling in and out of casinos and sidewalk bars. Our first clue that it was SEMA weekend came as we drove our rental down the Strip where we were passed by several exotic cars including a McLaren and Lamborghini Aventador weaving through the dense traffic and turning heads as they roared down Las Vegas Boulevard.

Despite our late-night adventures on the strip on arrival, we still left fairly early the next morning on Friday for the convention centers – a plan that paid off. Lesson No. 1 of attending SEMA Ignited: Try to get there early if you can. Most other attendees did not arrive until approximately noon, which meant we had more freedom to walk and look at what cars had arrived before the crowds came. This was when SEMA truly kicked into gear, however.

Mustangs and trophy trucks took passengers for rides around drift tracks on one side of the building, while Slingshots raced around a smaller track. Numerous people from all over the country, including a few who we knew from Phoenix car shows and clubs, were included in the enormous show which took place on the east side of the center. Areas were sectioned off per type of vehicle with large sections exclusive for lifted trucks, baja trucks, exotic cars, custom cars, newly released models and equipment and off road vehicles. Although the main event was on the east side of the convention center, shows and events took place on all sides of the building – including some smaller and somewhat random, but very worthwhile, shows in parking lots outside of the center.

Lesson No. 2: Wear good walking shoes. By the end of the day, we had spent almost exactly eight hours at SEMA and much of that time was spent walking. Your feet will thank you for those insoles.

Legs sore, feet achy, we settled down on the grass by the drifting track to wait for the final event of the day: The cruise when all the vehicles parked inside the convention center take to the streets. Slated for 4 p.m., we arrived early at approximately 3 p.m. to ensure we had a good viewing spot. Seated beside us, two retired friends sprawled out in the warm sunlight with baseball caps shielding their eyes. One of them mentioned the red Ferrari he was thinking about purchasing. The other turned to us and asked if it was our first time at SEMA. Yes, it was Adam replied.

    “I’ve been going here for years. You know, when I retired, I thought I’d have all the time in the world,” the man said. “Now, I’m just so busy all the times with my hobbies and going to events like this, I can hardly ever relax.”

    “Sounds like a nice problem to have,” Adam replied.

Waiting as 4 p.m. rolled past and only a few vehicles had emerged from the centers, we decided to walk around the other buildings and try to find a better viewing location. Although the man we met said that this east-side location near the Ford drift track was a main viewing point for the SEMA cruise in the past, the route was changed this year, apparently last minute. The massive crowd shifted as people tried to find better viewing locations and we took a side route down an alley to the middle of two centers where we found a line of SEMA Show cars filing out of the convention center, mingled with the other vehicles from SEMA Ignited.

The SEMA event itself ends here as the cars drive away back to their buses and carriers and staff begins tearing down booths and exhibits. However, some of the show cars mingle into the Las Vegas streets as the sun sets over Sin City. Like a magnet, we’re all drawn to Las Vegas Boulevard and back to the neon lights.

Making a quick outfit change back at the Airbnb, we drove back into the heart of the city for a sort of unspoken SEMA after party. We recognized many of the cars and trucks which had taken to the the streets as ones that we had seen at the event – unique, colorful exotic cars turning The Strip into a second car show. Walking down the glittered streets – literally, the concrete is mixed with glitter – you can hear the cars coming and people crowded to the rails to watch. We picked a spot near The Mirage casino with drinks in hand to watch the after party.

Lesson No. 3: Don’t miss the final show on The Strip following SEMA.

To view more of the Smiths’ trip to Las Vegas for SEMA, follow them on Instagram at @hanna_ls1 and @adam_ls1.

Photos by Adam and Hanna Shae Smith

Hanna Shae Smith

Hanna Shae Smith is an award-winning journalist and photographer. The Phoenix resident is employed as a medical caregiver for neuro-cognitive pediatric and post-operative patients and studies surgical technology and neuroscience. She was the 2016 recipient of the Excellence in Legal Journalism Award from the Missouri Bar Association in addition to receiving more than 15 awards from the Missouri Press Association. Smith owns a 1997 Corvette C5 and covers automotive topics for Western Sports & Media.

Adam Smith

Adam Smith is an emergency medical technician, experienced electrician, and student pilot in Phoenix, Arizona. Smith served in EMS at the internationally-acclaimed Taney County Ambulance District and has lifelong experience working mechanically with cars. He owns a 1997 Corvette C5 and manages an Instagram account focusing on automotive topics, car photography, and local Phoenix car events.

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