“You are what you eat.” Or better yet, “You are judged by the company you keep.” I grew up listening to my parents spouting these pearls of wisdom as I emerged from a tot rodder, to a car-crazed teenager, to “you’re not my son”, to where I stand today—somewhere between a tot rodder and a car-crazed teenager. (I hope I never grow up when it comes to being passionate and enjoying what brings me so much seat-of-the-pants joy. I believe our cars are part of the recipe that gives many a hot rodder the strength to survive everyday life and do so without going crazy ourselves.) Sometimes truth and fact are lost amidst perception—all of us know that perception is oftentimes substituted for reality, as this occurs all too often.
For starters, I was reading an old issue of the SCTA Racing News (August 10, 1947), one of the few printed pages, other than the 1445 Gutenberg Bible, that actually predate our Senior Tech Editor Ron Ceridono, when I came across an SCTA editorial. It said in part that, “We’re not hot rods. Members of the SCTA, long irked at the attachment of the ignoble hot rods to their sport have resolved to try to discourage use of the name.” The editorial goes on to say, “To the general public, anything minus fenders appearing loud and flashy, or even the old man’s sedan, if driven by a teenager, is classified as a hot rod. Much unfavorable publicity has been reflected upon us, due to the antics of irresponsible youngsters and some oldsters who still like to “make like Indianapolis” on the public streets. Our problem is not so much in controlling our members, but rather in distinguishing our cars and our activities from the HRs. So we’re running Sports Cars! Or anything but hot rods!”
I’m guessing at some later point it became OK to be a hot rodder and to drive a hot rod.
Well, glad to say we’ve survived that bit of history. Or have we? I’m pretty sure we drive our hot rods as responsible adults; at least most of the time. I can remember a time when the NSRA would jerk your window sticker if you spun your tires on the city streets, or brought your car to the Nats on a trailer. This was harsh treatment but in the ’70s, the early days of street rodding, we were hardest on ourselves, and rightly so. It was important then, as it is now, to put our best image forward. Today I think there’s little doubt that hot rodders (or street rodders if you wish) are responsible and pledged to have fun with their cars but also realize there are others on the streets we drive.
I can remember at the earliest STREET RODDER editorial meetings predating the first published issue in May 1972, we had earnest discussions on what the title of our new publication should be. (Here’s a tidbit from the archives, Street Machine was thrown around but held for a later magazine at a later time.) I distinctly remember LeRoi “Tex” Smith, our founder, along with Tom McMullen, recognizing the fact that terms like “hot rod” and “hot rodder” weren’t always looked upon in favorable light. I also remember some of McMullen’s antics and that’s probably why he readily acknowledged hot rodders and their cars weren’t the “apple’s eye” of society. Tex wanted the title to be short and really say what the book was all about. The original title was Street Rod (more on that for a later editorial). The idea was to have a title that brought imagery to the newsstand shopper who was either a rodder or budding rodder about what the magazine was all about. The magazine was about having fun with cars on the street and recognizes our hot rod heritage. Street Rod morphed into STREET RODDER, which in hindsight I believe is a better title, as it recognizes the individual and the car all at once.
Just like the SCTA survived the antics of a few who garnered the adverse publicity, those of us today have benefitted from the work of rodders who came before and still work to this day helping to promote the hobby/sport. Beginning with grassroots’ nightly garage gatherings, to car clubs, to national organizations, to the promoters of both indoor and outdoor car shows these people have always worked at placing our wellbeing first—for the most part.
Today rodding is melded into the fabric of everyday life. You can’t watch television without seeing a hot rod in a cameo appearance or highlighted on a show. Madison Avenue agencies have blended hot rods and their color into major advertising campaigns. There are so many daily or weekly rodding events in local communities that the average non-car person is exposed and the majority of the time these encounters are popular and bring lots of fun.
Perception is said to be reality. The perception nowadays is that street rods and street rodders are a good thing. Let’s keep it that way.