Preparing for SEMA is a huge part of getting the most out of the show. For most of us Filipinos, a trip to SEMA could very well be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so squeezing every last ounce of this incredible experience is incredibly important. The show lasts four days, so you might be tempted into thinking that time is on your side. But with over 100,000 square meters of show space, plus hundreds of special events, autograph signings, and activities, time is not a luxury you will have. It is impossible to see and do everything that SEMA has to offer, so the key to maximizing your visit is careful planning.
Before setting foot in SEMA, best to visit semashow.com and look up the schedule of activities. In my case, I prioritized meeting my college racing hero, Juan Pablo Montoya, car building legend Chip Foose, and Top Gear America hosts Tanner Foust and Rutledge Wood. After that, I wanted to watch special automotive shows being filmed on set, particularly Overhaulin’ and the Discovery Velocity (aka Discovery Turbo) panel, which features the aforementioned Chip Foose, as well as Mike Brewer and Edd China of Wheeler Dealers fame. Finally, I wanted to check out the different flavors of tuner cars – this is last on the list, because the cars will be on display all week. With this in mind, I made a list of times and dates for the events I want to go to, their locations, and from there I make my itinerary.
First order of business is to get to the show early. Doors open at 9am, but you want to get to the Convention Center before that. Not only do you give yourself more time at the show, you also get to enjoy the displays and exhibits without a crush of people crowding you. If you are lucky enough to have a hotel within walking distance, good for you! Your commute will be simple. But if you need to take a cab, shuttle, or rental car, traffic gets bad as early as 8am. And if you are driving, parking is full by 7:30am. There is a hidden parking area that often has slots until 8am (and is well within walking distance). Look for the open parking lot on the corner of East Desert Inn Road and Joe W. Brown Drive, just behind the Las Vegas Convention Center loading docks. At $10 for the whole day, it’s a great deal, too!
When you first arrive at the Las Vegas Convention Center for SEMA, it’s very easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of booths and cars on display. The parking lot alone is filled with hundreds of modified cars of every style you can think of – and even a few styles that you never thought possible. If you find yourself tempted to start wandering and drifting towards the first interesting car you see, stop. Go back to your itinerary and head straight to the booth or area that will host the event you want to go to. In most cases, being there 30 minutes early will ensure you will get to meet that celebrity, or participate in the activity you wanted to try out. But be warned – if you want to get an autograph with one of the more famous people – like Chip Foose – you might want to be there 45 minutes early at least! Lines for people like that can extend to a waiting time of over 2 hours, and in some cases, you can miss your chance altogether if his signing session ends before you get your turn! Same goes with the big activities like ride-alongs with famous race car drivers. Waiting times of an hour or more is not uncommon. Of course, the rewards for preparedness are great – photos and autographs with your motoring hero are priceless (or at least a thousand pesos or so if you plan on selling an autograph).
In between special events you have planned, it’s best to have an pre-planned route to visit all the displays of SEMA. Again, listing down the highlights (for me, the Brembo booth was number one, followed by the Ford, Hyundai, Scion and Honda pavilions). There are five major display areas – North Hall, Central Hall, South Hall Level 1, South Hall Level 2, and the Front Parking Area. Each area has specific themes, so be sure to decide on which area to prioritize. Again, keep in mind that each area can be up to 20,000 square meters!
Another overlooked plan is where to eat. With over 60,000 people present, including visitors, exhibitors and media, you can bet that lines for food will be incredibly long during normal meal hours. Get an early breakfast, go for a 10:30am lunch, and a snack at 3pm. That way you spend less time waiting in line to order and more time enjoying the SEMA experience.
While you roam around SEMA, it’s always a good idea to keep your eyes peeled. Often, there will be unscheduled events that you may tumble upon. Today, for example, Vic Edelbrock (founder of Edelbrock Performance, one of the most famous names in American tuning) did an autograph signing at the Edelbrock booth. Also, you never know who might be walking around the halls of the Convention Center around you. I was lucky enough to bump into Jon Sibal, renowned Filipino-American tuner, designer, and comic book artist (his BMW E36 M3 is the stuff of legends), who hung out for a few minutes to chat about his project cars and even look at my own project M3 to give me tips and encouragement.
SEMA closes its doors at 5pm, and you better believe you are in for some insane rush hour traffic! Lines for cabs and shuttle buses can be as long as 2 hours, and traffic itself is brutal. If you walked to the show, then you’re lucky. If you drove there, prepare to face traffic, though if you’re Filipino, traffic is not worse than a usual day in EDSA, so go for it! But if you need to take a cab or bus, take my advice – just walk to the nearest casino or mall (there are a lot of places within walking distance) and hang out there. Grab dinner, window shop (or actually buy stuff if you’ve got money to burn), or catch a show. There are a lot of great dining options in Las Vegas for any budget, and there are dozens of entertainment possibilities (my favorite is the Blue Man Group, though I suspect many will prefer… uh… other sorts of entertainment).
A final thought – in SEMA, as in life, failure to prepare is preparing for failure. And if you don’t get the most out of your SEMA week, all the money you spent on airfare, hotel, and living expenses would have been an epic fail!
Tomorrow: The section you’ve been waiting for, my favorite cars of SEMA 2013, part 1