History of Hot Rodders (2008 - 2022)
The story of Hot Rodders' inception is a fascinating tale of passion and vision in the automotive aftermarket industry. It all began with two men deeply devoted to their automotive pursuits: Jim Bingham and Vic Edelbrock Jr. Jim, the owner of a family-run speed shop Winners’s Circle in Joliet, IL, envisioned creating a local event in the Chicagoland area akin to a smaller version of the SEMA show. This vision was to enable his customers to directly connect with manufacturers responsible for designing and creating automotive products. This concept materialized as the Race and Performance Expo, which made its debut in 2008 at the Pheasant Run Expo Center in St. Charles, IL.
Jim invited his close friend Vic Edelbrock, who had successfully expanded his father's business, Edelbrock, to one of the largest names in the automotive aftermarket industry, to be the guest of honor at the inaugural show. During the event, while mingling and exploring, Vic discovered a unique feature of the show, "The Engine Challenge". This challenge was a modest setup involving four junkyard engines and a handful of high school and college teams competing in a 10x20 booth. Captivated by this feature, Vic saw its potential as a tool to engage young enthusiasts in the automotive industry.
He shared his excitement and vision with Jim, emphasizing the importance of such initiatives for the future of the industry. Motivated by this idea, Jim took concrete steps to expand this concept. He acquired a truck and trailer, found some passionate volunteers, and together with Vic, they reached out to industry vendors for support. This collaboration and shared vision led to the birth of Hot Rodder of Tomorrow, a program aimed at fostering the next generation of automotive enthusiasts and professionals.
The program started in 2008 with five high school teams and 35 students at the Race and Performance Expo. It rapidly expanded, hosting 36 teams across three events in 2009, including Edelbrock’s Rev’ved up 4 Kids Charity Car Show and Motorstate Distributing’s Lane Car Show. Significant scholarships were offered, with $250,000 from Ohio Technical College (OTC) and University of Northwestern Ohio (UNOH) at the first “Showdown at SEMA.”
By 2010, the event grew to 51 teams across five events, with scholarships increasing to $606,000. The subsequent years saw a continuous rise in participation and scholarship offerings, peaking at over $2.6 million in 2012 for 86 teams across eight events. The program continued to grow, reaching 93 teams and nine events in 2013, with scholarships totaling $2.75 million.
The 2014 season marked a significant expansion with 135 teams participating in ten events and the introduction of the “Dual Championship” at the SEMA and PRI shows. The program offered $2.96 million in scholarships and included three all-girl teams, highlighting its inclusivity.
The momentum continued through 2015 with 153 teams in 12 events and further increased scholarships. By 2016, the program encompassed 164 teams in 11 events, with $4.55 million in scholarships. The 2017 season saw 158 teams from 54 high schools, and the Dual National Championship featured 45 teams with $3.78 million in scholarships.
In 2018, the HROT season had 14 events across 11 states, with 51 teams qualifying for the Dual National Championship. The program expanded its educational outreach, introducing the Junior Hot Rodders of Tomorrow Engine experience for younger enthusiasts.
The 2019 season maintained its impressive scale with 14 qualifying events in 11 states and 41 teams qualifying for the Dual National Championship. The program's educational and outreach efforts continued to grow, reaching more young individuals through various initiatives and offering over $3.8 million in scholarships.
Like many programs and businesses, Hot Rodders of Tomorrow faced significant challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The program had to pause its activities, aligning with widespread health and safety measures. However, towards the end of 2021, Hot Rodders made a resilient comeback, participating in the PRI show. This event welcomed teams that had qualified for the finals in 2019, with 18 teams rejoining the competition. The Burton Center's “Team E3 Spark Plugs” emerged victorious, winning the National Championship with an average time of 20:51. The return of the competition also saw generous scholarship offerings from OTC, SAM Tech, and UTI, totaling over $1.7 million. This marked a significant step in resuming support for students in the automotive field.
In 2022, Hot Rodders of Tomorrow made a significant comeback, hosting regional qualifiers across seven locations: Georgia, Illinois, Texas, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, and California. Embracing modern technology, the program introduced an innovative option for teams to qualify virtually through video submissions, a testament to its adaptability in a changing world. Additionally, Hot Rodders reinstated the prestigious Dual National Championship, held at both the SEMA Show and the PRI Show.
The competition format was expanded to include an Elite Ten, up from the previous Elite Eight, indicating a broadening of opportunities for participants. This expansion led to a total of 29 teams fiercely competing in the 2022 playoffs. A highlight of this season was the remarkable achievement of Team A-Tech Training from Forsyth Central High School. Under the guidance of Leah Bavirsha, a former student and volunteer, the team secured their first-ever National Championship. Bavirsha's success was particularly noteworthy as she became the first female coach to win this prestigious title.
In terms of educational support, OTC, SAM Tech, and UTI continued their commitment to fostering young talent in the automotive industry by offering over $2.8 million in scholarship opportunities. This substantial financial backing underscore the industry's investment in nurturing the next generation of automotive professionals and enthusiasts.