Industry Icon’s Legacy Lives On…

By Ellen McKoy

A college education can be costly. And while many parents—and young people—scrimp and save to help defray the expense, it’s often not nearly enough to cover the costs of tuition and related expenses, even at a public college or university, let alone a pricey private institution. What, then, is a student to do?

One alternative, of course, is to secure a student loan. But student loans have to be paid back eventually. Why not apply for a scholarship? The Nat Danas Scholarship, named in honor of the late founder and publisher of Auto Trim & Restyling News magazine, can be a welcome windfall for students pursuing a career in the aftermarket.

Dedication to Education and Training

To long-time attendees of the Mobile Tech Expo, and readers of Mobile Tech News and Detailers Digest—the predecessors of the current digital Mobile Tech Digest—the name Nat Danas should ring a bell. He was a frequent magazine contributor and supportive presence at many Expos over the years.  But Danas’ influence and impact on the industry stretched back decades to the 1950s.

To understand why there’s a scholarship in his name, first a bit of history. A former auto trimmer, Danas founded Auto Trim News in 1952 to serve the trim and restoration industries. A year later, he formed the industry’s first trade association, the National Association of Auto Trim Shops (NAATS). Over the years, Danas produced numerous trade shows and conferences, showcasing emerging trends and offering the industry’s first formalized educational workshops and technical training clinics.

He also pioneered the concepts of adherence to best practices and recognition of skill-level achievement with the establishment of a voluntary code of ethics and the Master Craftsman Award. In the mid-1980s, as the restyling trend gained prominence, he renamed the magazine Auto Trim & Restyling News.

In 1988, Danas was instrumental in helping to found the Professional Restylers Organization (PRO). He later worked with Chuck Blum, former president of the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), to bring PRO under the association umbrella in 1990. A long-time SEMA and PRO member, he served multiple terms on the PRO Select Committee and was presented with the council’s lifetime achievement award in 1995.

As someone who had the good fortune to know Nat Danas for more than 35 years—including a lengthy stint as his editor—and considered him a treasured friend, colleague and especially a mentor—there’s no doubt that his dedication to education and training had a profound impact on the trim and restyling industry. And thus it was in 1987that the industry was inspired to pay tribute to Danas in a very meaningful and long-lasting way.

Nat Danas (center), surrounded by members of the original Danas Scholarship Committee, November 1987.



Recognizing Lifetime Achievement…

Nat Dinofsky, a New York City native, who eventually shortened his name to Danas, owned a small trim shop during the 1940s and early ’50s. He soon realized there was no way to share information with trim and upholstery shops, so he started Auto Trim News magazine in 1952. The 60-year publication, renamed Auto Trim & Restyling News, helped to reshape the automotive aftermarket.

Danas was a true mentor, industry friend and gentleman. The Nat Danas Memorial Award honors those who have also dedicated themselves selflessly to the auto care industry. The award is presented annually at the Mobile Tech Expo.

At the 2019 MTE in Orlando, three worthy individuals were honored with the Nat Danas Memorial Award: Tim Childers, Jamie Hawkins and Myke Toledo. Here, Tim Childers accepting his award from Show Director Kevin Halewood.

A Living Legacy

To honor the magazine’s 35th anniversary and Danas’ 65th birthday, the trim and restyling industry orchestrated a gala black-tie affair in Las Vegas during the 1987 SEMA Show. The event was attended by more than 100 industry leaders, friends and colleagues.  But it was much more than just a party.

Through the fundraising efforts of a then-newly formed Danas Scholarship Committee, the industry helped to establish a scholarship in Danas’ name at a Midwest university. But when the auto-trim degree program was later discontinued, the committee embarked on a plan: To move the endowment to the SEMA Memorial Scholarship Fund (SMSF), a nonprofit dedicated to fostering the next generation of automotive industry leaders and innovators.

Flash forward to the 2012 SEMA Show. During the annual industry awards banquet, the Danas Scholarship Committee announced that a Nat Danas Scholarship had been established as part of the SEMA Memorial Scholarship Fund. The intent of the scholarship, presented annually since 2014, is to provide tuition assistance to worthy students pursuing or advancing a career in auto trim, restyling or restoration.

Throughout his career, Danas not only mentored many hundreds of young professionals. He earned the respect of colleagues nationwide and made significant contributions to the growth and progress of the industry. With this endowment, his vision and legacy lives on and will continue to help needy students for years to come.

The Nat Danas Scholarship is among the many scholarships that SEMA awards annually to students pursuing careers in the aftermarket. Last year, according to SEMA, the fund awarded nearly $300,000 to 102 individuals, including scholarships to current students along with loan-forgiveness awards, the latter available exclusively to employees of SEMA-member companies. Since the program was established in 1984, more than $2.5 million has been awarded to more than 1,400 students.

Any student currently enrolled in a technical school, college or university may be eligible. To learn more about the scholarship program, including eligibility and application requirements, visit

Danas Scholarship Committee members Ellen McKoy, MTD editor, and Phil Edwards (right), Infinity Sales & Marketing, with Joel Ayres, then-chair of the SEMA Scholarship Committee, at the 2012 SEMA Industry Awards Banquet. Other Danas Scholarship Committee members are Maria and Jerry Roman, Roman Chariot, and Neil Rosenberg, ITTCO Sales.

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