Glass Half Full At SEMA 2021

I was a little disappointed after SEMA this year. Not at all by the event itself, but instead by the social media posts I saw surrounding the show during and after the fact.

There was some positive energy focused on certain cars or booths, and my friends exhibiting parts or vehicles at the show were obviously excited to be involved. On the other hand, it seemed like many of the casual observers were bent on representing the 2021 SEMA Show in a poor light, and of course these voices seemed to drown out the others. Photos of empty spaces and smallish crowds along with the usual complaints of ‘Overfender Nationals’ and Bluetooth driveshafts inundated my feeds.


In the face of great adversity and difficulty the SEMA Show still went on, thanks to thousands of people working behind the scenes to make it a reality.

So, why would we not celebrate that instead?


It’s no easy feat pulling off a show of this scale in normal times, let alone while a contagious virus is still claiming the lives of 1,000+ people in the US each day.

I don’t want to focus on this too much in this post, but Covid definitely was the elephant in the room this year and ignoring the reality would be irresponsible.


Despite this, thousands of booths filled the roughly 2.5-million square feet available in the Las Vegas Convention Center. I heard from an attendee at SEMA that this would be the largest trade show in the United States this year, too. I wasn’t able to find anything to corroborate this, but I wouldn’t be surprised given the country’s slow rebound and recovery from Covid and the surprisingly strong turnout at SEMA, all things considered.


Plus, the Boring Company’s Tesla tunnel thing under the convention center was kind of cool, and pretty effective too.


This isn’t to say that everything was perfect, and attendance certainly felt thinner than in previous years. And granted, there was some empty space around the show as well.

Some big names pulled out, and I’m sure a lot of smaller companies just couldn’t justify it this year either. But it just wasn’t at all the doom and gloom I saw represented on Instagram and Facebook. If you try hard enough, you can make anything look bad, but why would you?


Sure, there were also a lot of pretty poorly-done vehicles on display at the show, I’ll give you that. However, this isn’t something that is unique to Covid-era SEMA. This is always true.

For every car I really like, there are probably 100 that either aren’t to my taste, aren’t quite finished, or are just plain bad. For example, I’ve never really given brodozers a second look; I’d rather spend my time hunting for the things I actually like.


I spend my time at SEMA searching out the brands I appreciate, who have been chugging along over the last year to develop new and innovative products in hopes they’ll end up on our cars, just like always. I spend my time hunting for the cars that I think are really cool, which were built by guys and girls like you and I who have been hustling over the last year, just like always.

To me, SEMA is simply about finding the best and most interesting cars, and knowing that I’ll probably still miss half of them at this truly massive show.


For example, I learned that Hotchkis makes an amazing bolt-on setup for a first-generation Mustang that greatly helps to improve the handling and adjustability, and I was blown away by how light QA1’s carbon fiber driveshafts are. The SFI-certified piece at the top of their display weighs a fraction of its steel counterpart yet is still capable of withstanding 750hp from just a 2.25-inch outer diameter. I also spotted dozens of feature-worthy cars, a few of which will be receiving spotlights here in the coming days.


You just have to take the good with the bad, and what you focus on is entirely up to you.


SEMA has always been this way to me, just like any other car show where you must avert your eyes from the things you find unsavory and instead focus on what excites you. This year was no different, and for that I’m thankful.

I’m also thankful for the collective tens of thousands involved in making it happen, from the employees of SEMA itself to the designers, fabricators, builders, tire companies, manufacturers, car companies, airline pilots, Las Vegas police, and many more who made this a reality.


Plus a dog, even. How can you have anything bad to say about this good boy?

Trevor Ryan
Instagram: trevornotryan

Cry Me A River


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Looks like a super spreader event to me. Total disrespect shown for those around, with the mask being used as a chin guard if used at all.

I'm a casual observer and an average car guy - it just seems like the price of admission to the car scene is becoming stratospheric. The hobby is becoming a little inhuman. It's beginning to prescribe to the notion that if more is good than a boat load is better. Like horsepower and downforce. What is the use of 1300 HP.

Anyway, it's all cool and great pictures. I guess that would make me half empty.


Muh-muh-muh covid

SO glad the virtue signaling made it to one of the few sites where I thought I could escape NPCs talking about this stupidity. Everyone clap for them so they can feel better about themselves and stfu.


No worries, virtue signaling is not something I'm in the habit of doing so you don't have to worry about much from me. It's just that Trevor brought up "the elephant in the room" the day after I was diagnosed with COVID, which I caught after being at an event with a similarly cavalier and escapist attitude. And, now I know some good people who are in the hospital fighting for their lives.

Take Care


You seem to be confusing the online world and top-trumps-highscores game (most hp, most cylinders, most whatever) with the actual irl car culture.


Lol, way to prove his point


Yeah, I'm blown away at how people have forgotten about how many people have died from covid, the excuses made, lies told. I find it odd that people don't want to protect themselves. You should watch this video on YouTube, paper to pavement is he channel, watch the one about the banana hammock. Worth your time.


Glad you called this out. Culture overall is trending towards negativity. Social media is designed to hype negative trends because it gets more views and clicks.
Quality writing, car builds and positive energy take more effort than a quick and lazy criticism. Thanks to you and Speedhunters for promoting the good stuff. We all could use more positive stuff these days. Someday I hope my boys and I can build a nice car too.


That Iso Rivolta on the Campagnolo wheels. Wew.


Ooof, right?! I would have gone just to see this.

Yes, lots of negativity from basement dwellers have been emboldened by the last couple years. If I've gotten stronger at anything, it's been to ignore those with a whining negative judgmental attitude.

On a positive front. I was out at SoCalVintage BMW show yesterday .... so many smiles, and twice the number of cars as the last event. The variety of cars, owners, and unpretentious attitude was awesome.

The bummer is I just realized I missed JCCS this year....


Man I would love to go to SEMA someday!


It's easy to be negative and criticize, we seem to do that easier here in the states than say, Japan. I read a comment below about the car hobby getting expensive, yeah, it has changed, cars have become investments and portfolios for the haves. I watched a video on YouTube on the Paper to pavement channel, it's about a build, the guy building it and his group of friends who help him. I highly recommend watching it, it about an hour long, but so worth it. The car is called the banana hammock.


Ahh, Social Media...Desensitizing and ruining the car scene since 2010. But hey, as long as you get the likes...who cares about the effort someone has put into their build.


What's that dog looking at?

Do I even wanna know?


Don't let them ruined the car scene!
nowdays too many people is impose their opinion even if you hadn't ask for it..
so all this posts about "how bad is this" - are actually a kinda compensations to their little ego.

Im eager to see that volvo on the last pic please!

P.S. been with speedhunters from the very start (with a few photographers as all team), you rock guys!


Absolutely feel you on this one, Trevor.

I've been distancing myself from online car culture a lot more over the last few years as it normally (for me) showcases the absolute worst of our world. TBH, I don't even consider most of these social media clout hunters as real car people. Cars just happen to be a vessel for them to inflate their own self worth whether be it via hyping themselves or trying to tear others down.

In saying that, there are thankfully a lot of really, really good people in the car world and it's our responsibility to always ensure they have a platform and to promote the positive side of car culture.

As you say, it's up to ourselves to choose what we focus on.


"Sure, there were also a lot of pretty poorly-done vehicles on display at the show, I’ll give you that. However, this isn’t something that is unique to Covid-era SEMA. This is always true."

I feel like that drew a lot of criticism this year because the usual "Sema crunch" argument, that they ran out of time, didn't really work. You had 2x the time to finish the car, why did you rush it/leave it unfinished?


I think a bad SEMA is still better than the best car show my home town can muster up on a good day. And can we all just appreciate the term "brodozer" for a second. Nothing says, I will cut you off in traffic and still give you the finger like a brodozer.


Glad someone else with a platform is trying to counter the negativity building in our culture. Great pics and great article!


Been going to SEMA for 20 years and this is one of the two years that I opted out. Why? Because I disagree with SEMA risking the life of its members all so that they could do a show that will still happen for many years to come. Lost friends/members in the industry from COVID seems to be irrelevant to the association that always touts to be a champion for its members. You can say we shouldnt paint such a negative picture but tell that to the people we've lost. Not doing the show for another year would have been the best tribute to them by simply keeping their friends in the industry safe regardless of how they view the pandemic. SEMA should have been leading instead of caving in to voices that disregard a world wide health disaster... I want to be able to see my friends at SEMA every year for as long as I can and not hear of their death over a preventable disease....


I think the article is spot on! I just don't get how you expect everything to be amazing and aimed towards your taste. The financial and logistical ability towards participating these shows are growing. That brings more variety and different people to the show. In turn, this makes the show much more inclusive to everyone. Of course you can't like everything in here but someone else might like something you don't, that's the beauty. No need to gatekeep anything on social media because you have been payung attention to this show longer than others. If you don't like it, don't look at it! I will look at it and maybe find something I like I have never seen before.....


When I first heard about SEMA, I though it was just another custom car show. The fact that it's a manufacturers event with restricted attendance gave it much more credence. Is it still that way? Hard to tell, but focusing on the fabrication skills and new technology seems like a valid standard.


Man that purple skyline... Ahmahgad...

Such a sexy car, such a beast, such an icon. It just screams "golden era" to me. From FnF to NFS... To myriad of different magazines about tuning.

Purple niggy is great as well, something about purple cars man, its not Saint Rows, its just they looks cool hahah. Sexy but not tacky.

And full carbon GT-R man I want more of that one... I just wanna touch it. Carbon weave looks so good. Dont you love when things have both form and function? Beautiful.

And the red corvette is interesting, I wanna see a less transformers inspired kit, but somehow it turns that inner child part of me. even looking as it does now.


holy soyboy comment section batman. like nigel it's the internet, just close your eyes lmao.


F it man, the same guys will be nagging for the lack of space if it was overcrowded (add to it this year that the attendees are a risk on our survival cause they didn't respect social distancing).
If i could make it to the show i would go this year in specific, less crowded means more space around the build in question so you can take your time looking at it. For the time being i'll stick around behind my screen witing for the spotlights that will make it to this site.


This was my first time at SEMA. Obviously, first time showing a car too but I thought it was perfect as an atendee. If it were any more crowded, I don't think I would have enjoyed it as much. From a vendor standpoint, I could see how it might have felt a little less effective but it seems that the less displays just gave more attention to the ones there. I know of a small company that went ahead with their booth because of that.

For me, I enjoyed the people the most and the entire show just felt more personal. There were amazing cars everywhere and I was blown away. Plenty of subpar stuff but isn't that how it always is?

My only regret was not spending more time away from Treadpass. Being my first time with a car, I really wanted to gauge reactions and by being near the car, I met and had great talks with so many interesting people. I do look forward to going as a pure spectator and really want to spend more time photographing everything. I took far too few photos and didn't get to see nearly enough.

It was one of if not the best times of my life and I look forward to next time.



I saw a little bit of coverage of SEMA on my feeds and didn't notice any of the negativity - though I don't doubt it was out there. Maybe it's time to curate your feeds a little?


Great write up Trevor.

I've been to SEMA almost every year since 06 and have nothing but positive things to say about the show. It is a great way to network, see the latest offering, and meet many of your automotive heroes. I find the majority (not all) of the people bitching are not even there. I'm not sure why they want to ruin the fun for everyone but those same people should be praising the show for keeping the automotive aftermarket and enthusiasm alive. Remember, SEMA is much more than just a trade show.


So many fast ppl.