U.S. Representative Gil Cisneros (D-CA) celebrates Independence Day at a local car show.

Unearthing Common Ground


By Colby Martin


One of the major perks of working at SEMA has been exposure to a wide array of interesting personalities. Like so many, I grew up inspired by the countless influential talents found in the automotive field. No question that the heavy-hitters today are as diverse a crowd as ever. The well-known faces and brands are usually linked to a unique style of craft, innovation or entertainment. While I don’t always share the same taste, I can appreciate such expression. At the end of the day, we enthusiasts are united by a common thread: the love and dedication for all things four-wheeled.

In my role with the SEMA Action Network (SAN), the “who’s-who” roster includes folks I never considered meeting: elected officials. I’d falsely assumed that nobody in government shared my sense of fun with four wheels prior to this position. Through in-person experiences with lawmakers and staff, my perception has been proven wrong. It turns out that cars and trucks transcend just about every line—even political parties! It’s been so refreshing to meet legislators in my home state who have a similar affection.

I first met this edition’s cover subject, California Assembly Member Tim Grayson (D-CA), as well as his wife Tammy, at the 2018 SEMA Show. It didn’t take long to recognize a kindred spirit. He was excited about the possibility of taking a hot lap in an exhibition Cobra outside the Las Vegas Convention Center. In fact, Assembly Member Grayson believes that his own ’67 Ford Mustang Fastback is a ‘bipartisan car.’ He explains, “My colleagues may have never sat in a musclecar, or even heard one run. And then all of a sudden, they hear that car roar in the basement of the Capitol. It gets their attention—and some of them become very passionate. It causes us to lay down our differences and to appreciate something that is complete Americana all the way.”

The life experiences of freshman Congressman Gil Cisneros (D-CA) are fascinating. He represents California’s 39th District, which is home to SEMA’s Diamond Bar headquarters. A first-time elected official, Rep. Cisneros served 10 years in the Navy, reaching the rank of lieutenant commander. He served in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Shield and later worked as a shipping and production manager for Frito-Lay. Rep. Cisneros has a bachelor’s degree from George Washington University, an MBA from Regis University and a master’s from Brown University.

U.S. Representative Norma Torres (D-CA, center) poses for a photo with SEMA staff.


When Rep. Cisneros recently paid a visit to my workplace, it was his passion for Corvettes that struck a chord with me for obvious reasons. “Growing up, my dad and I bonded over our love of cars, and I have many fond memories working on his old ’56 Chevy,” he said. “Although I was a proud Corvette owner, I’ve since been forced to trade it in for a minivan following the birth of my twin boys.”

I was unaware that U.S. Representative Norma Torres (D-CA) had her own meaningful connections with our hobby. As a constituent in the 35th District, I’ve sent her office many personal messages on automotive issues for consideration as my elected representative in Congress. I’ve learned that when given the opportunity, she’ll proudly mention that she enjoys driving a ’66 Ford Mustang that her husband Louis restored. With that in mind, it was only a matter of time before she too made her way to the SEMA Garage.

During the SEMA Garage tour, Rep. Torres was especially interested to hear about Project Underdog, a special build created with The Fast and the Furious franchise star Sung Kang to work with local youth on customizing a ’72 Maverick. For Rep. Torres, Project Underdog brought her back to the days when she drove a 302-powered ’74 Maverick. Hearing her recount colorful tales to my co-workers and me about time behind the car’s wheel left a lasting impression.

What’s the big takeaway? While you may not have party affiliation or policy views in common, put these aside and give those elected to represent you and your neighbors a fair chance. Make an effort to connect on topics that are revered equally. Rep. Torres summed up the sentiment nicely. “Visiting the SEMA headquarters in Diamond Bar was like taking a trip down memory lane,” she said. “It was great to be around people who have the same passion, love and enthusiasm for hot rods that the greater Inland Empire and I share.”