Sherwin-Williams Automotive Finishes recently announced that it will be holding a silent auction at the 2019 SEMA Show with all proceeds going to the Blazing Trails Scholarship Fund, created in partnership with Larsen Motorsports (LMS).
Panels airbrushed and pinstriped by some of the biggest names in the industry will be auctioned off to raise money for scholarships for automotive refinish students.
The silent auction is being held in honor of former LMS and Matrix Automotive Finishes Jet Car Driver Katrina “Kat” Moller, who passed away in 2018 at Florida’s Sebring International Raceway while making an exhibition run in her LMS American Dream jet dragster.
THE AUCTION OPENS TODAY, THURSDAY, OCT. 31 at 4 p.m. EST. Submit your bids here. Final bids must be placed by 5 p.m. EST on Friday, Nov. 8. Panels will be officially unveiled on Tuesday, Nov. 5 at 8 a.m. EST.
Sherwin-Williams and Larsen Motorsports recently gave BodyShop Business an exclusive interview with Elaine Larsen, jet dragster pilot and founder of Larsen Motorsports, and Rob Mowson, vice president of marketing for Sherwin-Williams, to talk more about the Blazing Trails Scholarship Fund and the SEMA auction.
BodyShop Business: Larsen Motorsports has had a longstanding relationship with Sherwin-Williams. What has that meant to you?
Larsen: We’ve been with them for a long time, so long in fact that they’re not just a partner, they’re family. We’ve grown with them, and we’ve both experienced highs and lows. It means so much to us to collaborate on such an amazing program like the one at SEMA. We’ve collaborated on other things, but nothing with this much punch to it.
Mowson: Larsen Motorsports is one of those ‘wow’ organizations that fits our culture and thinks and believes what we believe. They focus on innovation, and they’re cutting edge with everything from their jet cars to their educational outreach.
BSB: What does it mean to you to help address the technician shortage?
Larsen: That is exactly why we started the Blazing Trails Scholarship Fund. I don’t think the technician shortage is so much the result of young people’s lack of interest in this industry but more that they’re just in the dark.
I’m 52 years old and my dad was a farmer. I was born and raised in Michigan, and my dad taught me that a hard day’s work gets you a paycheck. You work hard for your money. And he wasn’t of the mindset of, ‘I don’t want you to work as hard as me.’ He would say, ‘I want you to work harder than me. I want you to become better than me. The harder you work, the more you’ll get.’
A lot of parents have the concept of, ‘I don’t want you to have to work as hard as I did.’ Well, I’ve never been afraid of hard work, and none of these kids are afraid of hard work. They just don’t necessarily understand that jobs in the automotive, tech and trade industries are huge. If they decide to become engineers, attorneys and doctors instead of auto body technicians, welders, plumbers and electricians, we’re going to be in trouble.
Kids today I think really want to get into it, see how stuff is built and see how things are put together. They want to be able to get their hands involved in something. Kids are so excited about cars now because their interest has been sparked by movies like ‘Fast and Furious.’ They’re like, ‘How do I get my car to look like that?’ Well, here’s how you do it and then here’s how you can make a career out of it and here’s what you can do.
I always talk to the kids who do internships with us. In fact, I have around 10 of them working in my shop right now. It’s about letting them see the process from the beginning to the middle to the end and helping them feel like they’ve been a part of that process.
Mowson: We have to map out and build and plan our own future, and the best way to do that is to be proactive in identifying the right people who have an interest, need and desire to enter our industry. Until paint and body parts jump on cars without people, people will be actively involved in our industry at all different levels. If we can promote it and bring the right people in, I think they can have long, healthy, happy careers in our industry.
BSB: What does it mean to you to have the auction dedicated to Kat Moller and have a panel painted in her likeness?
Larsen: I met Kat when she was only 12 years old. I was racing cars, and she was a little junior dragster driver. She came up to me and got my autograph and said, ‘One day, I’m going to drive for you.’ When she turned 18, she applied for a driver’s position and she got it and started racing jet cars for us. Her mom, dad and entire family supported her dream of becoming a professional race car driver, but they also wanted her to get an education so she would have something to fall back on. So she went to school to become a mechanical engineer and graduated, all the while being a professional race car driver. She raced for us from the time she was 18 until 24, when she unfortunately passed away in a racing accident.
She was my race daughter. She was my girl. I taught her everything. And she was like a little sponge. But the part that I love best is that, when she wasn’t racing or in school, she was helping at her dad’s shop.
She had such a huge fan base and they all loved her and we thought it would be very fitting to be able to let the painters give back in her memory. And then Sherwin-Williams had this great idea. I thought, how awesome would it be to be able to give tribute to Kat at SEMA? We’re extremely proud of this event, and all of these painters are so excited to be able to have their work on display for her.
BSB: Can you give a little history of the Blazing Trails Scholarship Fund?
Larsen: We started it before Kat passed. We were going around to schools and talking to students about how they could launch their automotive careers. We talked to them about the science behind a jet car and what it took to get a car from the concept of design to fabrication to final assembly to the racetrack. The kids were shocked at how many different industries racing touches.
BSB: What is your vision for the fund down the road? 10 years? 20 years?
Larsen: My vision is that we have a mobile roadshow where we go from area to area, bring hands-on activities to the schools and show the kids what route they need to take to get into the automotive industry. We want to help them connect the dots and see how they can get there.
We’ve done some of these events already, and we try to bring people from the area who can then offer the kids opportunities to shadow them at their jobs. We just did a Blazing Trails event in Martin, Mich., and brought some auto body people with us who offered the kids a chance to work in their shops and see what it was like. This typically starts when they’re freshman so that, by the time they’re seniors, they already have experience and can determine if that’s a direction they want to go.
BSB: Will you be at SEMA supporting the auction?
Larsen: Yes, my husband and I will be there signing autographs and supporting the painters and giving them our thanks for donating all of their blood, sweat and tears and so many hours to these projects. The great thing about this project is that it’s bigger than Kat and bigger than me – it’s the ability to give scholarships to kids who otherwise would not be able to afford school. And Sherwin-Williams can donate product and stock the shelves of these schools.
BSB: What can people expect at the Sherwin-Williams booth at SEMA this year?
Mowson: This year we’re showing our appreciation for all painters, whether they’re artists, refinishers or pinstripers, with a booth set up as an art gallery to showcase their work. Artists with custom, hand-painted art and airbrushed pieces in our booth are world-renowned and nationally known. Their work will be auctioned off to benefit the Blazing Trails Scholarship Fund. There will also be some unique vehicles and motorcycles in our booth painted with our brands, and we have a lot of celebrity appearances planned, including Ryan Evans from Count’s Kustoms and Jesse James from West Coast Choppers.