If you've ever participated in any aspect of the hot rod hobby, take a moment right now to thank Mr. Petersen. Robert Einar Petersen was born in Los Angeles on September 10, 1926. His mother died when he was 10, and he was raised by his father, a truck mechanic who was the earliest source of his passion for cars
After serving in the Army Air Corps during World War II, Petersen began promoting automotive events in Southern California, including the January '48 Hot Rod Exhibition at the L.A. National Guard Armory, now famous as the first show dedicated to hot rods. That same month, he published an eight-page magazine called Hot Rod that he sold at local races. Hot Rod was followed by Motor Trend, then Honk!, which became Car Craft. The Petersen Publishing Company acquired Rod & Custom in '54, on its way to becoming America's largest publisher of enthusiast magazines and books.
Drag racing was an amateur pastime when Petersen and Hot Rod editor Wally Parks formed the National Hot Rod Association to build strips, hold regional and national races, and promote it as an organized sport.
In '67, Petersen held a trade show at Dodger Stadium for the growing performance aftermarket. It wasn't a huge success, but it eventually evolved into the SEMA Show. In '70, Petersen Publishing Company created an association for street rods, appropriately called the National Street Rod Association, and held the first Street Rod Nationals in Peoria.
The Petersen Automotive Museum opened in '94, made possible by the financial generosity of Mr. Petersen.
In addition to publishing automotive magazines, creating hot rod shows, evolving the sport of drag racing, helping to organize the aftermarket industry, and establishing a world-class automotive museum, Petersen owned businesses ranging from aviation to ammunition, restaurants to real estate. An avid sport shooter, he was the Shooting Sports Commissioner for the '84 Olympics in Los Angeles. He and his wife, Margie, were involved in many charitable, service, cultural, and community organizations.
Mr. Petersen was 80 years old when he died on Friday, March 23. His legacy includes every aspect of the hobby he promoted and sustained, and which we all enjoy.BernsauFeature Editor, Rod & Custom