Robert E. Petersen was a promotional powerhouse in the hot rod world from the 1940s till he sold his publishing empire in the 1990s.
Wally Parks was a legitimate racer and hot rodder who held the respect of fledgling land-speed racers. He went on to be the voice of what was once the largest car magazine on earth (Hot Rod) and he was the founder of the NHRA.
Both Parks and Petersen would shape hot rod and culture, and through an arrangement that allowed Parks to edit Hot Rod magazine during the week and create and launch the National Hot Rod Association on the weekends, the two men thrived.
Petersen was an early supporter of Parks’ pursuits, and now nearly 80 years after they first began working together, the Petersen legacy returns to the 2023 Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals, and Mike Salinas is the vehicle spearheading that 300-mile-an-hour return.
Gone is the jet-black Scrappers Top Fuel dragster body; it’s been replaced by a red rocket wrapped in Petersen Museum regalia, which close observers will recognize as taking cues from the Petersen Museum’s exterior architecture. The livery, designed by the Petersen Museum specifically for this Winternationals race, pays homage to the Petersen connection to NHRA, and in doing so brought out dozens of Petersen Museum members to the race this weekend, including representatives from its Checkered Flag 200 and members of its board of directors.
“It's a great group of guys,” said Mike Salinas, who grew up looking at car magazines like Hot Rod and Car Craft. “They’re just great people.”
Founding Chairman of the Board of the Petersen Museum, Bruce Meyer, is no stranger to car people. Meyer can often been seen at NHRA races or the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum in his red 200-mph Bonneville jacket. Meyer owns a significant collection of cars, including Porsches, Ferraris, Corvettes, a Cobra, and the 1962 Greer-Black-Prudhomme dragster.
“Meyer is the tip of the needle,” said Salinas. “He is shaping car culture as we know it, and I would say worldwide, because he is the ambassador for most of what we see out there.”
Lots of eyes will be on Salinas this weekend now that the red Top Fuel car qualified number four on Friday with a 3.731-second run at a blistering 334.4 mph. Might we see this car on display at the Petersen Museum in the future?
“Yes, we're working on something. We have a fire suit and a helmet made for it, and we’d like to put the car in the museum eventually. But we need to make it a championship car first. That's what we need to do [laughs].”