Let’s start with the nickname. “That’s a question that’s been asked of me more times than I can count,” Jeep Worthan said with a laugh. “My mom gave it to me as a baby, though she claimed she could never remember why. Maybe it was because I looked like one when I crawled around on all fours. Or maybe it had something to do with my conception.” He paused. “That usually gets a chuckle.”
Currently (as of 2009) the vice president of marketing/sales for Auto Meter Products Inc., Worthan was a Chicago-area racer and enthusiast before he knew there was an aftermarket parts industry. By chance, he spotted an ad in the Chicago Tribune classifieds for a job at Auto Meter while recuperating from knee surgery in early 1974. He joined the company that April, and he’s been there ever since.
“In the early ’70s, Auto Meter was truly unknown,” Worthan recalled. “Everyone, including me, was using a Sun tach and Stewart Warner gauges.”
Immediately Worthan went into sales, using his experience as a racer to introduce fellow racers to Auto Meter’s products.
“I always had a love of going fast; that was my advantage,” he explained. “I had a passion and cared for the racer—the customer—and I would bring his needs back to the factory so the engineering team could develop products that the racers would want to buy.”
That strategy launched what Worthan considers the most significant product in his Auto Meter career: the Monster Tach. In 1977, Worthan took a “tach tester,” which incorporated the new electric tach, to race tracks around the country. Ostensibly, the tester would help racers calibrate their own tachometers, but once they saw how responsive Auto Meter’s gauge was compared to their own, “they became new believers,” Worthan said. “That product really helped us penetrate into racing and got the ball rolling.”
Worthan brought that same level of enthusiasm to SEMA after he experienced his first SEMA Show with Auto Meter.
“Up to then, my experience had been as a user of performance products, and suddenly here I was on the other side of the fence,” he said. “I immediately fell in love with the industry.”
It wasn’t long before he made friends in the association, one of whom was a member of the Board of Directors.
“He told me how much he enjoyed it and that I’d be perfect for it. So in the early ’80s I got on the board, and I’ve been heavily involved ever since.”
As of 2009, Worthan has served eight terms on SEMA’s Board of Directors. “Eight and counting,” he said. “I’m running again.” He has also been involved with a number of SEMA’s councils and had a hand in the formation of the Motorsports Parts Manufacturers Council (MPMC). He’s currently an active member of MPMC, the Young Executives Network and the Hot Rod Industry Alliance, and he is the SEMA Board liaison for the MPMC. He has also been recognized by the Performance Warehouse Association (PWA) as its Person of the Year, and Auto Meter has been PWA Manufacturer of the Year four times during his tenure with the company.
“Jeep’s eighth term on the Board of Directors only scratches the surface of his involvement,” said Ron Funfar of Hedman Hedders. “He has either served on or chaired nearly every SEMA committee—many more than once. He was a charter member of the World Motorsports Society and was influential in the formation of what is now SEMA News.
“It’s not often that a person’s name is synonymous with the company he works for, but when someone says ‘Auto Meter,’ the first thing that comes to mind is Jeep Worthan,” Funfar added. “Jeep’s love and passion for this industry are unparalleled. You will not find an individual more deserving than Jeep to be inducted into the SEMA Hall of Fame.”