By George Gabriel
Hot Rodders of Tomorrow
Moving the Automotive Industry Forward by Inspiring the Next Generation
The dual championship for Hot Rodders of Tomorrow competition takes place at both the SEMA Show and the Performance Racing Industry Trade Show.
Hot Rodders of Tomorrow (HROT) has been going strong since its inception in 2008. HROT is a timed competition where teams of five high-school students go head to head to disassemble and reassemble a small-block Chevy 350. The program is simultaneously educating and empowering students while they compete. The idea is to give students access and experience with the automotive industry by way of a team-building challenge. SEMA News spoke with HROT President Rodney Bingham to learn more about how the program has grown over the last nine years and how it benefits the automotive industry at large.
“At the first Race & Performance Expo in 2008, we were looking for a youth activity, so we used some junkyard engines and invited some high schools and junior colleges,” Bingham said. “Vic Edelbrock was at the show and said, ‘This is what our industry needs. We need to bring this across the nation so we can increase the development of the youth’s involvement for our industry.’ With his support and a great group of volunteers, the program has grown year after year.”
Just because HROT primarily operates at the high-school level does not mean that the competition is any less fierce than in the major leagues. During the competition rounds, each five-person team is presented with a Chevrolet small-block engine. The team is tasked with disassembling the engine down to its camshaft. When the disassembly is completed, a judge steps in to verify that it has been done correctly. After receiving the go-ahead from the judge, the team reassembles the engine back to its original and completed form. The whole process is timed, and only the fastest teams advance to the next round.
The 2017 competition features 158 teams, with a total of 790 students. Teams compete at 15 nationwide events that are held throughout the country. The teams that win the various qualifying events go on to participate in the dual championship finals. The final two events take place at the SEMA Show and conclude at the Performance Racing Industry (PRI) Trade Show.
The HROT competition serves as a fun and professional way for students to show off their skills and get involved in the automotive industry.
“Besides being part of a team, developing teamwork skills, hands-on learning, building a competitive spirit, focus and enthusiasm, the students receive an introduction to career opportunities in the automotive aftermarket industry, and scholarships are available from colleges and the HROT foundation,” Bingham said.
The program enables students by giving them the tools to gain valuable professional-level experience in the industry. This hands-on experience is invaluable for students because it not only prepares them for automotive careers but also gives them a competitive edge over their peers who also hope to enter the automotive field.
HROT judges watch the disassembly and reassembly of the engines.
The final teams are given sizeable scholarships for every student who competed.
“More than $15 million was distributed from 2009 through 2016,” Bingham said, “and more than $6.5 million in 2017 alone.”
That scholarship money doubly helps the industry by giving young people with an automotive passion a chance to get a higher education. It also allows them to be that much more educated should they enter automotive careers.
Not every student who joins the program has a ton of automotive experience.
“It really varies from school to school,” Bingham said. “Some are taking auto shop and have a lot of experience. Some take auto shop just to be on an HROT team and have very little experience.”
The program does not require experience to enter. It only asks that a student be passionate and willing to learn. In some cases, the HROT program has become so popular that high schools are encouraging students to join as quickly as possible.
“We have a school in Georgia—Forsyth Central High—where they hold tryouts at the beginning of the school year and get 90-plus students attending,” Bingham said.
The larger strategic goal of the program is to engage younger students at an age when their career options are wide open, so that the option of an automotive career is feasible.
Teams of five race the clock to disassemble an engine for the HROT competition.
Bingham is currently showing no signs of slowing down and is formulating plans to continue to push the HROT program further.
“In 2017, we partnered with Midwest Jr. Super Series, forming the HROT Jr. Dragster Racing Series and developing the HROT Jr. Engine Challenge to reach five- to 15-year-olds,” Bingham said.
The HROT Jr. Dragster Racing Series and HROT Jr. Engine Challenge programs are designed to introduce kids to the automotive industry at an even younger age. Students who have completed the HROT Jr. programs will be equipped with the right tools and hands-on experience to bring to the standard HROT program when they come of age.
“We will be introducing the HROT Electrical Challenge in 2018, where students will work on finding faults in an electrical panel,” Bingham said. “And we’ll also introduce the HROT Carb Challenge, where students will tear down a carburetor and rebuild it. And then there will be an LS Engine Tear-Down/Rebuild Challenge for college students.”
What started as a simple need for a youth activity has bloomed into a full-blown nationwide effort to encourage kids to get involved with the automotive industry. Next year marks HROT’s 10th anniversary, which is set to be its biggest year yet with the introduction of the new programs for students. That’s 10 years of contributing and investing in the future faces of the industry and 10 years of cultivating passion, creativity and knowledge with the Hot Rodders of Tomorrow.