“How fast does it go?” I asked. “ It hauls buns!” said the overly cheery 20-something-year old sitting next to me. With a wry smile and a huge crank of the comically large steering wheel, the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile gently eased itself onto the surface of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
For the sake of their identities, we shall call the two representatives from your favorite hotdog manufacturing company Jessica and Chris. Why the secrecy? Though the famed Wienermobile had graced the Racing Capitol of the World with it’s presence before, this time around was a little different.
On a crisp winter morning between snowfalls, the Wienermobile was going to take its first flying lap around the famed 2.5 mile oval. In years past the “frank” was quarantined to the parking lot, but today this dog was going to cook up some new history. Track security wouldn’t mind right? (Shhh… don’t tell anyone)
Though the banking in turn one is a slight 9 degrees, you could feel the weight shift to the left side. Chris at the wheel filled me in on the specifics.
“There are six Wienermobiles out there right now,” he explained. “Jessica and I are recent college grads. I was a Communications major and she wants to work in Human Resources. We are two of thousands of candidates from around the country that applied for the job.” Both from opposite sides of the U.S., the two were put together back in June.
“Oscar Mayer pairs us up,” piped up Jessica from the second row of seats as we entered turn 2. “Chris and I never met before then. We are a team for 6 months, assigned a region of the country- ours is the Midwest of course – then we get reassigned a new partner, a new dog and a new region. We do that for six more months then retire as Hotdoggers.”
Two kids in a giant hotdog traveling across the Midwest in all weather conditions for one year – what could go wrong? After their residency they could decide to stay in the Oscar Mayer/ Kraft Heinz family or move on to the next adventure.
The first adaptation of the Wienermobile was built in 1936 by Oscar Mayer’s nephew – Carl G. Mayer. The dog has evolved over the decades and you might have seen the 1952 version at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. The “Hotdogger” program was invented and recent grads like Chris and Jessica were the perfect candidates.
In the early days of the Wienermobile, various actors were hired to play the character “Little Oscar” and hand out whistles and hotdogs. The most notable was George A. Molchan who toured as Little Oscar for 20 years, then dawned the costume for another 16 to greet fans at the Oscar Mayer restaurant in Walt Disney World. Like the rest of his troupe, George had a hard time finding viable work as a little person in the 1940s. The Little Oscar character was a rewarding role for decades before the Hotdogger program was put in place in 1988.
Jessica let out a high-pitched breath like a balloon with a small hole in it as the 27- foot long crossed the yard of bricks. “This is one of the coolest things we have done. Like, ever.” She said.
As we quickly snuck back into the Speedway’s parking lot, Jessica talked about their busy itinerary as ambassadors of the bun. “We go to sports venues – pretty much all ball parks. Makes sense right? We go to schools, museums, grocery store openings and children’s hospitals. Yeah it’s about promoting the product – but it’s more about making people smile.” The following day they planned to hit a local brewery and drive around Circle City.
With a handful of stickers, “Weiner Whistles” and postcards, Jessica and Chris left me outside of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum with a beaming smile and a childlike euphoria. None of my coworkers would understand my excitement of riding around my favorite place in my favorite enlarged novelty food vehicle. No one else had to. The Wienermobile had performed its magic and served its purpose – it brightened my day…. And it made me hungry.