Mini Designer Hot Rods Take to the Track

SEMA News—December 2015


By Chad Simon

Mini Designer Hot Rods Take to the Track

Builders and HRIA Manufacturers Race for Charity at NSRA Street Rod Nationals

The 2015 Pinewood Builders Challenge, previously held every summer during SEMA’s Installation Gala, featured two major changes. Five of the nation’s premier custom-car builders crafted miniature pinewood hot rods that raced head to head last August at the National Street Rod Association (NSRA) Street Rod Nationals in Louisville, Kentucky. In addition to the Builders Challenge, a Manufacturers Shootout was held for the first time ever for eight participating members of the Hot Rod Industry Alliance (HRIA).

This year’s Builders Challenge winner was Blake Meaux from Mo’ Muscle Cars. Devin Butterbrodt from Classic Instruments won the Manufacturer’s Shootout. Steve Tracy and Josh Mishler from Advanced Plating won the award for Best Engineered, and Craig Darpino from American Autowire won Best in Show.

Cole Kern Hot Rods
Cole and Carlee Kern, Cole Kern Hot Rods. 
  Reisinger Custom Rebuilding
Ty Hauer, Reisinger Custom Rebuilding. 
  Advanced Plating
Steve Tracy/Josh Mishler, Advanced Plating. 
Goodguys Rod & Custom
Kevin Reynolds, Goodguys Rod & Custom. 
  Fatman Fabrications
Brent Van Dervort, Fatman Fabrications. 
  Classic Instruments
Devin Butterbrodt, Classic Instruments. 
American Autowire
Craig Darpino, American Autowire. 
John Huchgesang, RideTech. 
Jeff McClure, Lokar. 
Mo' Muscle Cars
Blake Meaux, Mo’ Muscle Cars. 
  Fastlane Rod Shop
Dave Lane, Fastlane Rod Shop. 
  ZRodz & Customs
Zack Ingram, ZRodz & Customs. 

“The cars everyone built were simply amazing; they took the time and care as if they were building a customer’s car or manufacturing a part for their company,” said HRIA Chairman John McLeod of Classic Instruments. “I was proud that our team at Classic Instruments came out on top for the Manufacturer’s Shootout. All the cars moved to the SEMA Show for the HRIA to raise some serious money for the kids.”

The hot rods were then displayed in the HRIA booth at the 2015 SEMA Show before the Builders Challenge winner, Best Engineered and Best in Show cars were auctioned live during the HRIA council reception. A silent auction was held for the rest of the Pinewood derby cars. Proceeds benefit the SEMA Cares children’s charities.

“I built the car in about 40 hours; it’s a mix between a roadster and a land-speed car,” Meaux said. “This is something we want to do every year. Building the best and fastest car makes the value of it go up. We love giving back, and this is a great opportunity to do so.”

But for Meaux, the win didn’t come without a few roadblocks. He initially sent the finished car in the mail to the HRIA, but it was slightly damaged during shipping—nothing a quick tweak couldn’t fix. To get to the race in Louisville, he flew from Houston to Charlotte, North Carolina. By the time he landed in Charlotte, he learned that his connecting flight to Louisville had been canceled, so he rented a car in Charlotte and drove all night so that he could be in Louisville in time for the race the next morning. After taking a three-hour nap in a parking lot in Lexington, Kentucky, he raced to the show with about 15 minutes to spare. When he finally arrived, he found out that his car had been damaged again in shipping. This time the axles were bent and one of the wheels was broken in half. So he superglued it together, raced the car and ended up winning. The next day, he raced his car against the manufacturers and beat them, too.

In addition to supporting the charities, the builders showcase their creations throughout the year to children interested in cars, providing an opportunity to expose the hot-rod hobby and custom-car industry to the next generation of car builders. The Builders Challenge moved to Louisville this year to provide a more central location for many of the builders and also to gain additional exposure.

“Moving the HRIA Builders Challenge to the NSRA Nationals and adding the Manufacturer’s Shootout had a positive impact on the event this year, and will for years to come,” said BJ Elmore, HRIA select committee member and head of the pinewood task force. “Not only were we able to put the pinewood races in front of a few hundred enthusiastic spectators, but also we were able to expose the SEMA Cares charity to the tens of thousands of people in attendance. This added exposure has already bolstered interest from builders and manufacturers alike to build and race a car at next year’s event. We made some great contacts within the Louisville-area Boy Scouts and plan to expand the races next year to get some interested young hot rodders to attend the event.”

The race came to fruition at the 2009 SEMA Show, when former HRIA Chairman Rick Love of Vintage Air and the late John Menzler of Comp Cams decided to walk the Show floor and ask every well-known hot-rod builder to participate.

The idea behind the first Challenge was simply to see what top-notch hot-rod builders could do with a block of wood, and they have pushed the boundaries every year. The rules are simple and subject to interpretation. Each pinewood builder is given four months to complete a car, with no design limitations imposed except that the car has to fit the track’s dimensions and no propulsion systems are allowed.

Each builder must use at least one piece of the pinewood block that SEMA provides. Over the years, builders have not only used the wood for their cars but also aluminum, fiberglass and chrome. They have fabricated custom wheels, suspensions and chassis parts in miniature formats.

Participating builders included Cole and Carlee Kern, Cole Kern Hotrods; Dave Lane, Fastlane Rod Shop; Blake Meaux, Mo’ Muscle Cars; Ty Hauer, Reisinger Custom Rebuilding; and Zach Ingram, ZRodz & Customs. Competing HRIA-member manufacturers included Steve Tracy and John Mishler, Advanced Plating; Craig Darpino, American Autowire; Devin Butterbrodt, Classic Instruments; Brent Van Dervort, Fatman Fabrications; Kevin Reynolds, Goodguys Rod & Custom Association; Jeff McClure, Lokar; and John Huchgesang, RideTech.

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