There’s something decidedly American about being judged by one’s peers. It’s a cornerstone of our judicial system and that seems to work pretty well –– so there’s something to it.
Two years ago SEMA applied the peer-judging model to a competition held at its annual convention in Las Vegas. In a nutshell, builders-some 200 teams this year-submit their project vehicles-260 this time-for approval. A panel whittles the field of entries to 10 and the organization promotes the semi-finalists and the booths they inhabit. On Thursday night the 10 vehicles relocate to a stage in front of the convention center.
The peer review occurs on Friday; each of those 10 teams evaluate the other teams’ cars. But rather than formally judge, the entries hold a kind of personal symposium and explain the philosophy and construction of their vehicles. In a sense it’s not as much a competition as a dialogue among equals.
This year the panel selected teams is about as diverse a range as possible. Three cars fit a decidedly pro-touring format. Mike and Jim Ring, AKA The Ring Brothers-semi-finalists in ’14 and ’15-brought a silver-blue Camaro. Cam Miller (HS Customs) brought another ’69, this one white and silver. Jeremy and Phil Gerber, AKA The Roadster Shop, brought a black ’67 Chevelle.
Inaugural BOTB winner Kyle Tucker (Detroit Speed Inc.) departed from his conventional G-machine pattern with a bona-fide hot rod, a ’41 Willys coupe. Street rod builder Jesse Greening (Greening Auto Co.) brought a white ’61 wagon made from a Bel Air coupe. The Ring Brothers fielded multiple entries this year, the second one a ’48 Cadillac-or at least a Caddy body stretched over a brand-new Cadillac CTS-V chassis, a chassis that uses every feature from the modern car except the side-curtain air bags –– or so we’ve heard.
This year’s field held two wild cards: imports and off-road trucks. Brad DeBerti stripped to the cab a ’17 Raptor-the only one at the show mind you-and built it in the likeness of a street-driven Trophy Truck. Two years ago Daystar Products CEO Mark Turner debuted his ’58 Jeep FC-170 on tank tracks but tires on it this year proved it wasn’t just a gimmick.
Garden Grove builder and Honda legend Big Mike revised his ’92 Honda Prelude for the third time to compete. And in what amounted to the most surprising (and potentially entertaining entry, Gordon Ting re-cast the eco-friendly Prius as a Grand Touring racecar, and a car that frankly we’d consider driving.
Contestant-judges narrowed the pool to three cars announced just prior to the Roll Out, the exit event that SEMA capitalized upon two years ago with its SEMA Ignited after-show party. They chose Tucker’s Willys, Greening’s ’61 wagon, and Miller’s Camaro.
After a great deal of fanfare and multiple takes on the stage at the Ignited event, Adrienne Janic and Chris Jacobs announced Greening second place and proclaimed Cam Miller at HS Customs winner. Miller, a painter for the past 19 years, started building professionally only six years ago. A resident of Logan, Utah, a university town an hour north of Salt Lake, he admitted he hardly considered himself a long-shot. “I had no idea this could happen,” he says, explaining how this was his first trip to SEMA with a vehicle.
“My dreams were made on Sunday afternoon when we put our cars on the SEMA property; I was good,” he continues. “But this? Wow! I just can’t even…wow! My customer was awesome. Very supportive. Very open-minded. We shared ideas and he was on board the whole way. I just never thought this was even possible.”
A broadcast production team followed the Battle of the Builders competition every step of the way. The results will air in an hour-long special on the Velocity Network.
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