If we reflect for a moment on the life and career of Robert E. Petersen, we have to acknowledge that Pete, as he was known to close friends-along with Wally Parks, the first editor of Hot Rod magazine and founder of NHRA-was responsible for the careers most of us were able to pursue. As writers. As automotive journalists. As aficionados of hot rodding, and, of course, its offshoot-drag racing. We speak casually about the various industry segments, and hot rodding and motorsports divisions of SEMA. However, if you think about it for a moment, you come to realize that, gee, guys, we wouldn't even be here if it weren't for Pete Petersen. That, dear readers, is heavy stuff. But it is reality.
For starters, think about it. "Back when," meaning the late 1940s and early '50s, there was no Hot Rod magazine, no NHRA, no Car Craft, no Motor Trend, and on and on. There were Bonneville and dry lakes speed trials, and there were guys cruising Sunset and Hollywood boulevards in hot rods, but nothing was organized. There weren't any careers; Vic Edelbrock Sr., Phil Weiand, Dean Moon, and countless others were making parts in their garages-a piece at a time, and mostly for friends. Moon cranked out spun-aluminum fuel tanks and then he came up with the Moon discs, the first of what we can refer to as mass-produced wheel covers. But there was still no industry, and startup efforts were iffy. SEMA came along later to organize that which was an industry on the verge of growth.
It took a bunch of guys to really push the hot rod movement-guys like Tom Medley and Stroker McGurk. Tom's cartoon character appeared in the pages of Hot Rod and set some trends, and the first drag chutes appeared on the back of Stroker McGurk's Bonneville roadster to slow it down after a run! It was Tex Smith who brought true hot rodding to Hot Rod, and even Tom McMullen's efforts could be seen by all in the magazine. It was Ray Brock, as tech editor and publisher of Hot Rod (and then organizer of Rod Action magazine, where I furthered my career), who helped perpetuate various forms of motorsports by giving them priority space in Hot Rod (think Pike's Peak Hill Climb, the Indy 500, and so on). Then there was Dick Wells, who gave the NSRA its official start and developed the Street Rod Nationals concept that's still in use today. All were a part of Hot Rod magazine and its spectacular influence on motorsports hobbies. What a glorious history-a history that all came to be because Robert "Pete" Petersen had a vision.
So, when I speak of Mr. Petersen's efforts in the early days, and his legacy, what I'm really saying about this veteran and pioneer is that I don't know what I'd be doing if it weren't for him. Selling women's shoes or furniture at Sears? I don't know. Ponder that for a moment, and ask associates involved in the industry what they'd be doing if it weren't for Pete, Hot Rod magazine, and his ambitious vision. Wow! Talk about a dream come true that could have easily never happened. Remember, Mr. P organized one of the first hot rod-type car shows in the Los Angeles area, and, as the accompanying text reveals, he did a lot more (too much to completely go into here). That includes helping SEMA get its start to thwart the first efforts to control hot rods and modifications to our street-driven cars.
Next time you thumb through the pages of this magazine, keep in the back of your mind that there was a day when these pages didn't even exist. It took a guy-a young guy-with a vision to "put up or shut up," to start a magazine and spread the word about hot rodding. As I understand it, Mr. Petersen borrowed about $400 to start Hot Rod magazine, and for all of us, it's a "Whew. I'm sure glad he took the gamble and tried." I can't help but go back to my original thought: If he hadn't done so, I wonder what I-and most of the readers of STREET RODDER-would be doing for a career, and what the heck would we be driving as our Sunday rides? No, I don't want to think about that, because I have a vision of an AMC Pacer instead of my '29 on Deuce 'rails. That is not a pleasant thought.
Thank you, Mr. P, for setting the table.