Hot Rodders Of Tomorrow

SEMA News—December 2018


By Grant Walter

Hot Rodders Of Tomorrow

Moving the Automotive Industry Forward by Inspiring the Next Generation

  Hot Rodders
Teams of five compete intensely for the fastest time. Every engine spec and torque setting must be correct so that the engine could run if given fuel, oil and electricity.

Since 2008, Hot Rodders of Tomorrow (HROT) has been inspiring young people to lead successful careers in the automotive industry and beyond through its Engine Challenge competition. The final, culminative events took place this year at the SEMA Show and the PRI Trade Show. Teams of high schoolers learn critical life skills such as teamwork, critical thinking, on-the-fly initiative and communication as they tear down and reassemble Chevy 350 engines without power tools. Some of them will go on to become engineers and pursue science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers, and many will join the automotive industry. All of them learn how to be productive and contribute, wherever they end up working.

The Overview

The teams consist of five students, with only four actually working on the engine. The team captain sits behind a counter and calls the shots, laying out tools and parts for the rest of the team. The small-block engine is disassembled all the way down to the crankshaft, then it is rebuilt with every torque spec and clearance checked by a judge. The engine begins the round as a runnable crate motor and is returned to running condition, often within 20 min. or less.

A new competition was recently added to the classic engine challenge: An electronics challenge debuted last year at the SEMA Show. Students must complete circuits, fix problems and pass a 10-question test about electronic components and concepts. The new challenge is crucial to building the future of the automotive workforce, as technology plays an ever-greater role in nearly every industry segment.

The competitions take place all across the United States, with high-school teams preparing and competing all year long for the lowest time. In 2017, HROT held a total of 14 qualifying events in 11 states. With 158 teams from 54 different high schools, that is a grand total of nearly 800 young people who will graduate high school with a major leg up in the automotive industry. They will have a significant amount of mechanical training and be ready to enter the workforce with higher pay, or they may further their education, many of them with scholarships.

Hot Rodders
Hot Rodders of Tomorrow needs volunteers—especially at the local level. Teams can be found at high schools across the nation. The organization is also expanding to bring elementary, middle and college students challenges as well.

Scholarships, Sponsors and Results

According to the HROT website, OTC, SAM Tech and UTI offered competitors scholarships amounting to $3.78 million in the year 2017. This year, they offered a record $4.2 million in scholarship vouchers. That money will help high-achieving competitors who might otherwise not be able to afford any more advanced education become highly trained professionals in the automotive industry.

HROT continues to attract broad industry support. New among its sponsors this year are Champion Spark Plugs, Jegs High Performance, Kunzman & Associates, Summit Racing Equipment, Considine Sales, R&R Marketing and E3 Spark Plugs. Those companies are already getting involved in the mission, with Jegs taking students out to an NHRA dragstrip for a field trip and even letting them try out a reaction timer.

The competition is unique because it allows students who might otherwise never gain an interest in the automotive industry experience the joy of working with engines and tools firsthand. It haso also helped encourage people who might otherwise never have considered getting into a STEM field to do so. Unlike many sports, it offers an opportunity for male and female teams to best one another in direct competition or work together on the same team. In recent years, there have been three to four all-girls teams, with one of them making it to the top eight last year. According to HROT President Rodney Bingham: “They’re going to beat the men here at some point. It’s only a matter of time.”

What Lies Ahead

As the organization continues to expand and grow in popularity, there is yet another challenge in the works. It has been dubbed “The LS Challenge.” With this new event, college students will be able to get involved, and they’ll be able to work with a newer, more advanced engine. Besides allowing high schoolers to continue their involvement with HROT after graduation, it will also allow them to learn the ins and outs of the latest in engine technology. The LS Challenge will debut in 2019. According to Bingham, there are other challenges in the works as well, but they are still in the alpha phases of development, so we’ll just have to wait and see.

Further expansion comes in the form of the new junior challenge. Kids ages 5–16 are able to participate now, getting their hands on a Briggs & Stratton engine. This is a newly expanding area for HROT that seems to show great promise. The kids have a chance to get away from their phones and get their hands on a real engine.

While there is always a call for funding with nonprofit work, what’s needed most now is volunteers, Bingham said. “The groundwork has been laid for expansion, but we need ordinary people to donate their time.”

HROT clubs can be found in high schools across the country. The LS Challenge is set to come to colleges as well, and that will require an entirely new cohort of volunteers. For more info about the organization and how to get involved, visit You can also call or email Rodney Bingham, and he can help to get you started. Contact information can be found on the HROT website’s “Contact Us” page.

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