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.
The first days saw Richard Bean in the editor’s chair but under the guiding eye of Tex. Bean served as editor from May 1972 until August 1973. Rick Clark took over in September 1973 through January 1974 when Jim Clark (no relation) served as editor. Not sure where Rick Clark is but Jim is living in Utah and heavily involved in hot rodding on the Internet. Jim Clark left the editor’s chair in February 1975. Jim Clark’s friendship with McMullen boarders on legendary, as the two of them were inseparable for much of their adult lives. Jim held just about every job in the company and oversaw many of McMullen’s private affairs outside the office.
Pat Ganahl became editor around April 1975 and stayed until July 1978. Ganahl is a regular fixture in SoCal rodding and currently enjoying his ’32 highboy roadster. Afterward, Ganahl served time (the good kind) as a journalist outside the auto industry. Upon his return he served as the editor of Rod & Custom as well as a stint at Hot Rod, both under the Petersen Publishing banner.
It was during Ganahl’s tenure that a very young hot rodder from the East Coast showed up named Steve Coonan. While he worked on staff for a few years, his time in the editor’s chair was relatively brief from August through December of 1978. Today Coonan is highly respected in the hot rod industry for The Rodder’s Journal, a quarterly publication dedicated to the history and look of traditional hot rodding. Coonan was known from the earliest days as a “shooter” and it is this talent, coupled with much more of the publishing business learned along the way, that has allowed him to make his mark.
To say 1979 was an interesting year for editors would be an understatement. McMullen was listed as the Editorial Director in January 1979 but there was no editor until April when Jerry Slattery sat in the editor’s chair. One month later Slattery would go back to tech editor in May 1979 while McMullen took over the coveted editor’s title in May. Go figure?
Around June 1979 Bud Lang, an old R&C staffer, became editorial director and served in that position until August 1981 but the reality was he served as editor once Slattery and McMullen tried their hand. McMullen became publisher and Slattery was listed as the senior editor. By July 1979 Slattery had moved on and now lives in the Northwest, still involved in marketing within the hot rod industry.
With the advent of the ’80s the SR editor’s chair would begin to settle down. Geoff Carter was listed as the managing editor back in January 1980 and eventually became the editor in June 1980 and served until March 1988. Although listed as managing editor the fact was he was the working editor. By now SR became a publishing force within the industry, a position it holds still today.
It was April 1988 to February 1989 that Tom Vogele served as managing editor but in reality he was the day-to-day editor. It was in March 1989 Vogele’s title was changed to editor and he served in the editor’s chair until February 1998. He served through SR’s and the industry’s tremendous growth spurt.
It was Vogele who gave me my “second coming”, as I served as associate editor in February 1998, and in March 1998 going forward I’m the lucky one who sits in the editor’s chair and keeper for those to come.