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Mike Rowe Helps Kick Off SEMA360

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The Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) kicked off its virtual 2020 event with two big names — Mike Rowe and Tanner Foust.

In a keynote address, the two talked about their overlapping passion for the people and creativity that fuel the automotive aftermarket. Rowe, best known as the host of the TV series “Dirty Jobs,” in 2008 founded the MikeRoweWorks Foundation to help publicize the need for skilled labor in many trades, including automotive. Foust is a race car driver and enthusiast who said he got the car bug at age five, when his dad took a corner quickly and made the vehicle’s tires squeal.

Foust describes himself as that “annoying kid who loved to talk about cars.” He’s still talking about cars as an adult, and says he’s found his people in the aftermarket. “The enthusiast world in the automotive aftermarket is healthy.”

Rowe says that kind of energy and culture applies to all kinds of niche interests — from cars to barbershop quartet singing to square dancing. “Those people are fascinating to me.”

Even though his foundation started with a focus on calling attention to the shortage of skilled labor in America, it’s slowly evolved. The foundation now gives away $1 million a year in scholarships to people who want to learn a trade. Just as he told people’s stories on television, Rowe says he can share the stories of about 1,000 people who have used his foundation’s scholarships to learn skills and fill the service gap in many industries.

Foust, too, is impressed by the people who make the industry tick. “People have innovated,” he says, and in turn they’ve made creative contributions. He was speaking from a garage in Austin at the Hi-Performance Expo at the Circuit of the Americas for a new event designed for enthusiasts to meet suppliers and hit the track. Foust pointed to a van near him in the garage — the world’s fastest minivan.

Rowe says, “There’s so much opportunity in your world that the average person can’t even conceive of. That’s my relationship to this. I’m always reminded there’s a new job and a struggle to find the man or woman who’s willing to do it.”

Foust sees some of the passion coming from other industries. There might be kitchen designers who love to go camping and off-roading, who combine their skill set with their passion to create creative opportunities. “A lot of times, it’s that duality. The same thing happens with performance. A lot of software engineers are tuning cars.”

The keynote address with Rowe and Foust kicked off a week of virtual events through the SEMA 360 platform.

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