SEMA Sits Down with Rep. Troy Balderson

It's not every day that you find a politician who has run an automotive small business and is a life-long speed enthusiast. SEMA recently sat down with U.S. Representative Troy Balderson (R-OH) to discuss some of the key issues he's working on that impact our industry. Rep. Balderson comes from the automotive sales and repair world and is a passionate motorcyclist. Currently, he's serving his third term in Congress. Rep. Balderson is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee that has jurisdiction over many of the issues that affect SEMA in Washington, D.C.

We are excited to share Rep. Balderson's unique perspective on how things work on Capitol Hill.  For those who have visited with your members of Congress, you know how rare it is to walk into a lawmaker's office and see it decorated with an old dirt track race helmet, automotive and racing pictures, and other motorsports memorabilia.  When we find lawmakers who not only understand us but live like us, we are excited to share their stories.

Congressman Balderson is a native of Zanesville, Ohio, located just east of Columbus. He joined his family's business, Balderson Motor Sales, as a mechanic while attending Muskingum University and working on his family farm. He worked his way up to become the company's vice president and general manager from 1987 to 2008, the third generation of his family to run the business after his father and grandfather had been in charge for over a half-century.

When the 2007-08 financial crisis hit the automotive industry, Rep. Balderson decided to step away from the family business and pursue a career in politics at the urging of a friend and fellow small business owner in the area. He was elected to the Ohio State House of Representatives in 2008 and represented the 94th district from 2009-2011. In 2011, Balderson was appointed to fill a vacant seat in the Ohio State Senate and served for seven years. He won a special election for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018 and has served Ohio's 12th Congressional District in Congress ever since.

Congressman Balderson has been modifying vehicles since he purchased his first one and has remained true to his roots joining the Congressional Automotive Performance and Motorsports Caucus along with the Congressional Motorcycle Caucus when he arrived on Capitol Hill.

The Congressman still resides in Zanesville and has one son, Joshua, that shares his passion for motorcycles. Earlier this year, the Congressman was blessed with his first grandson, Arlo, whom he hopes to pass on the family tradition of motorsports.


Driving Force: What was your first car?
Rep. Troy Balderson: The first vehicle that I actually purchased and considered mine was a 1978 Jeep CJ-7 with Levi seat interior. I bought it from a guy that used it in a Jeep jamboree using my steer money from 4-H. It had Hooker Headers on it. I lifted it a little bit and put some wheels and tires on it. That was my first vehicle and I loved it.

DF: What was your first motorcycle?
TB: My first motorcycle was a Suzuki [MT-50] Trailhopper that my grandfather gave to me. Then I moved onto a Yamaha 80 when those first came out and just kept going all the way up to the 250.

DF: What kind of motorsports were you involved in? Did we hear you did some autocross?
TB: I've done autocross in my car but primarily I've done motorcycle racing. I grew up in motocross and then transitioned into the enduro world, which I did up to my early 50s when I got hurt. I also ran the Grand Nationals GNCC too.

DF: Tell me a little bit more about enduro racing, because it's something that some of our four-wheel friends may not know much about.
TB: You try to go fast but it's a timed event. So, you've got a route sheet, and it's just a little bit more technical.  You know, there are some segments you don't want to go too fast into the checkpoints.

My son didn't get started (in motorcycling) as I did. But one thing he just said to me that he missed the most was going to the races and riding his motorcycle. He just gave me my first grandson. I told him that were going to get a minibike for Arlo. So yeah, it's a special thing to me, and it becomes a family affair.  Everyone becomes involved in it, and its meaningful and you're spending time with the family and that doesn't happen much anymore.

DF: That's such a great point. Today you see a lot of families are somewhat disconnected with each other. Everyone is doing their own thing. But you go to a racetrack or a local car show, and you see people with their families. They also bring people together who, on the surface, may not appear to have a lot in common and then you see them interacting and excited about the very same thing whether it's a particular classic car or class of racing they love and it's exciting.

DF:  So, we know you're a BMW motorcycle guy. What else is in your garage that's got four wheels?  What's your daily driver?
TB: Ford Explorer. I love Fords. My family was a Chrysler-Dodge dealer, but I made the switch to Ford.  I like the family background of Henry Ford and just everything that he did. I was in the business at a great time for automobiles when Lee Iacocca came and saved Chrysler. I have strong memories of meeting Mr. Iacocca and some people don't know the great history that he had. He invented the Mustang, he had the first front wheel drive vehicle, and he did the Caravan. He and Carrol Shelby did some great things when they were at Ford. And then Bob Lutz came along when he left GM and came over with Mr. Iacocca and they had the Dodge Viper.  Hence, you see my office chair is a Viper Chair. It's no longer produced, but we used to sell them.

DF: What year was the Viper you owned?
TB: The very first year (1992). I brought some old yesteryear photos into the office with me. This was one of the first Mopar World of Outlaws Sprint Car, and that's Joey Saldana, our dear friend. His father ran the Indianapolis 500. When Joey raced for Mopar, I met the gentleman that did the motors for Mopar down in Kentucky. We sponsored his race suit. My brother actually won that chair, it's got an actual airbag on it and everything. It's an actual Viper chair.

DF: The automotive industry is shifting right now with regulatory rulemaking that could put an end to combustion engines. How can automotive enthusiasts work with Congress in a constructive way to make sure their voices are heard?
TB: Working with SEMA is the number one priority or whatever association that you can become a part of, that must happen. Everyone that comes into this office and others, need to make sure they acknowledge organizations like yours or even from the dealer's standpoint like the NADA. I go back to those groups, and I communicate with them directly. You know, that's something I do typically, and I think that's a little bit more unique.  So, I know some of these people and I go out to their locations.  I do that now as a member of Congress, and I did it in the state legislature to find out what is going on because I've been in that world and know some of the challenges they face. 

Look, as you know, with the tailpipe emission standard. I feel confident that members of Congress, myself included, will lead the charge if nothing else, but more of your members and the more people that love the combustion engine and all the things that come with that…the goosebumps you get by going faster, the smell of gasoline and the noise have to get involved.  They can't say well, my opinion doesn't matter. IT DOES MATTER. It's important when they come here and sit down to speak with us. For example, the SEMA member who came here last fall to tell his story about how he not only raced but his business produces an octane booster. This is a big deal and that will impact him and so many of your businesses down the road as some of these changes take place.

DF: Appreciate your comments on preserving vehicle choice in the future, that we will continue to preserve vehicle choice.
TB: Absolutely. The path that some of the auto manufacturers are going down right now concerns me a bit.  I'm trying to adapt to some of their reasoning.  I don't agree with some of it.  There is no reason to make this type of drastic change, and I'm trying to get them to a level where they understand that their customer base is bigger than just electrifying every vehicle.  If a manufacturer wants to electrify a vehicle, that's fine. I'm sure they have a customer that wants that, but don't forget about us that do not what that.  I mean, we want choice and the ability to have that choice.

DF: You are a co-sponsor of H.R. 1435, Preserving Choice in Vehicle Purchases Act.  SEMA is active on Rep. John Joyce's bill and has rallied strong grassroots support for the legislation.  Do you see a pathway legislatively to push back on California's all-EV proposal?
TB: I do.  Now is the time to get started.  It's up to us, all of us… Members of Congress and associations, to encourage people to communicate, send an email or pick up the telephone.  I know it can be frustrating at times, but it's something that needs to happen. I am going to help Rep. Joyce and want to make sure that we get a lot of co-sponsors because the more we can get, the more meaningful that becomes, and we can be very active with it. 
As more and more American people figure out what all of this is, they're not really paying attention to it right now. They are getting bits and pieces of it and parsing out what they want to hear.  You know, some of my motorcycle buddies, they're not thinking about what the exhaust pipe emissions standard is going to be or the new CAFE standards over the next couple of years. So yeah, it gives us time, all of us here to work together to make sure that we get this effort going.

DF: What motived you to get into politics?
TB:  This is the last thing that I ever thought that I would be doing.  I was leaving the family business because it was getting really challenging.  At that time, the US auto industry was crashing.  It was getting ready for its next bankruptcy and the bailout conversation was starting to happen again. And I just thought that this is putting too much pressure and turmoil on the family and with a family business there's more challenges there.  Your members can probably understand this.  So, I made my choice to leave.  It bothered my dad, because my grandfather started our business and we've been a dealer for 49 years.  My state representative had his own business too, and at the time said, "Hey, I'm term-limited. You should think about running for my seat."  I said, "you're crazy." Finally in July of that year, I said "okay, I'll have that conversation to make sure, and here's where I am now."  Now, I'm in Congress and started as a state representative.  I had not been in local politics prior to that.  I mean, I'd rather be under the hood as my customer is talking to me, complaining about property taxes or school, or whatever it may be that's going on.  But here's where I am today and it's the best thing that's happened to me after my son.

Special thanks to Rep. Troy Balderson for standing up for our automotive freedoms on Capitol Hill!