To many hot rodders, the SEMA trade show in Las Vegas is a yearly religious pilgrimage. Gearheads from shops, dealerships, manufacturers, retailers, and suppliers come from all over the globe to check out the gleaming new hot rod hardware, and to soak up the excitement on the famous Vegas strip. With any luck, the exhibiting manufacturers can sign up new dealers, take orders from existing ones, and forge relationships that last a lifetime. In order to do that successfully, companies go to great lengths to bring exciting new products to hot rodders like us.

In recent decades, SEMA has expanded to cover everything in the automotive aftermarket. You've got trucks and SUVs, off-roaders, sport compacts, diesels, electronics and entertainment, replacement tires, and entire buildings stuffed with 26-inch wheels. But in the beginning, SEMA was the place for hot rodders. Back in its infancy, SEMA was the primary gathering spot for many past and current hot rodding icons. If it weren't for the likes of pioneers like Vic Edelbrock, Ed Iskenderian, George Hurst, and Phil Weiand to name a few, you wouldn't currently have giants like GM, Ford, and Chrysler tripping over each other to bring you high-powered crate motors and special-edition concept cars.

The past three years have been rough on the economy, and the hot rodding world has not been exempt. New car sales, orders for speed parts, sales of enthusiast magazines, ad revenue, and hours of billed shop labor have all taken a dip, but we are beginning to see improvement, as hot rodders are gradually coming out of their spending slumber. One big sign: 1,541 new products were on display at SEMA in 2010, versus just 134 for 2009. These figures don't count the "unofficial" new products that weren't registered with and photographed by SEMA, but the difference is huge, nonetheless.

Manufacturers are trying to get ahead of the impending demand for cool, innovative speed parts, and in the hot rod realm the charge is clearly being led by the new Camaro, Mustang, and Challenger. In this day of green politics, it absolutely defies mainstream logic that such cars-and the buyers for them-exist, but here we are. Emotion is the driving force behind our infatuation with power, and it knows no political, racial, age, or national boundaries. What's more, the new breed of muscle cars draws upon powerful nostalgic cues. They remind us of better times and give us a legitimate feeling of hope. As car guys, we tend to see the world, and the range of possibilities for what we can be, through our hot rods, and that drives us to be faster and more agile.

New cars aside, there is plenty of headway being made on our cherished classics from the '60s and '70s. For one thing, muscle cars are increasingly getting the "street rod" treatment instead of being restored. They're also getting "race-prepped" with top-shelf engines, high-tech suspensions, and bigger tires, wheels, and brakes. The wealthy enthusiast who might have bought a European exotic a decade ago is building (or commissioning) a high-end, one-of-a-kind muscle car with exotic performance levels.

Another interesting trend: Black is the new billet. Twenty years ago, the rush away from chrome to billet opened a lot of new doors for some vendors, and left others behind. Now the rush is toward anything black or satin. From valve covers and air cleaners to carburetors and calipers, black is back. Maybe it's because we live in a darker, more sinister world? And what about chrome? Well, it's back in a big retro way. You can get a pile of chrome-plated trim pieces for your new Camaro or Mustang. Bumpers, badges, wheels, grilles, it's all there. Heck, you can even buy a new Challenger from the factory with what look like chrome Cragar S/Ss.

In fact, retro is a predominant theme throughout SEMA. New cars have adopted retro themes, while older classics are being reborn in historic livery. Hurst, Yenko, Shelby, and Mopar are some of the traditional names showing off new creations with the originals often sitting nearby. It's just as if nothing had changed in the intervening 40 years. It's cool for sure, but I sort of attribute it to the uncertainty of the economy, and the notion that we tend to cling to the warm feelings of the past when we're seeing tough times. Still, SEMA showed us this year that things are coming around, and the future is getting brighter for hot rodders of all colors.

We've only scratched the surface here, but if you want to see all 1,541 of the new products at the SEMA show, point your web browser to www.SEMADigital.com, and surf by category to your heart's content!