Street Rodder is 40 years old, and with the good Lord, a bit of luck, and the if the proverbial creek doesn’t rise, it will be around for another 40 years. When sitting in the editor’s chair you are a caretaker, for it’s clear the hobby, the readers, and the magazine are what matter. “You” can be replaced anytime and as the history of SR has proven, a number of hot rodders have sat in the editor’s chair with varying degrees of tenure and success. It’s a lightning rod of a position and many of the rodders who have sat in the editor’s chair are a colorful lot.
For starters, you learn as the editor you have surprisingly little authority over the good but you are a welcomed recipient of all that’s not. Don’t misunderstand, of all of the editorships that have come before, now, and to come, the editor’s chair at SR is as good as it gets. From the inside/out much is attributable to the staff. From the outside/in there can be no doubt that the SR reader is more in tune and committed to the long haul and both faithful and supportive of SR. (Oh boy, let the emails begin.) A cohesive and talented staff is critical in these “rough and tumble” times. The SR staff is and has been surprisingly consistent over the years, and it’s this consistency that has made SR the rock-solid title it is today. The same can also be said of you, our readers. You have stayed faithful for 40 years and, hopefully, you and others to come will be with us for another 40.
Tom and Rose McMullen owned TRM Publishing but it was LeRoi “Tex” Smith whose vision and wide range of talents put Street Rodder on the newsstand in May of 1972. In the early days all of us had a title but in reality Tex was all things to the magazine. (He was about 35 while the rest of us were in our twenties.) He pointed us in a direction, introduced us to the now legends in the industry, kept us out of ownership cross hairs (another story, another time), and taught us how to tell a story with words and camera. There was little he could do with our photos. That aspect was left to Jim Clark to sort out. However, Tex would put his pencil to our stories and straighten those crooked sentences. His gift has turned into a decades-proven skill continually crafted to this day. He thoroughly enjoys telling stories about the early days and especially about my ineptness, which he believes I have capably maintained over the years!
The first issue debuted in May 1972, and in reality we had it in the works from early 1971. The first Street Rod Nationals had taken place in Peoria, Illinois, in 1970 under the direction of staff and supporters of Rod & Custom magazine. The second Nationals was about to take place in Memphis during the summer of 1971, again under R&C support. It was here that Tex and Jim Clark of SR attended in the hopes of shooting the first features and cover for the May ’72 SR. My first tenure predated the first issue. I wasn’t the editor but more like a “go-fer”; “go-fer this and go-fer that.” The earliest days working on SR meant for roughly one week per month you were a car guy and the other three weeks you were working on the sister publications, Street Chopper, Hot Bike, and Chopper Guide. Well, the rest, as they say, is history. Tex and I were around for the first three issues.
The first stories were typed on manual typewriters. We hadn’t moved up to the big leagues and the ultimate—the IBM Correcting Selectric II—until midway through 1973. If you had the “II” you were in “tall cotton” as it had the backspace correction key. We went through bottles of “white out” with the manual ’writers, so when the correcting typewriter came out, well, this was technology gone wild—or so we thought.