Keep It Sketchy!

Keep It Sketchy!

Paying attention can be hard. I found that to be especially true in school when the subject matter wasn’t engaging. During class, I would look around and see my peers—some zoned out, some zonked out and, on the rare occasion, I remember one knitting. As for me? If I wasn’t taking notes, I’d be drawing.

My parents introduced me to art at a young age. When we would go on road trips, my brother and I would sit in the back of the van with pencils, pens, clipboards and stacks of paper. In our minds, we could draw anything—or least try. Long before I started writing, I was drawing.

By the end of elementary school, my notebook margins were filled with cars of all kinds. These were the hot rods, customs and racecars I saw in the pages of magazines and on TV. There was the So-Cal belly tanker, high-riding “Zingers” and the ’54 Chevy that Jesse James drove on that unforgettable AutoZone commercial back in the early-2000s. The rest of the drawings were based on the Hot Wheels or Johnny Lightning models that filled my bedroom, like the Bill Thomas Cheetah, Dean Moon’s “Moonliner,” Tommy Ivo’s “Giraffe Car,” and others. Even though I appreciated our hobby’s history (as much as a nine-year-old could), I was always coming up with my own hot rod creations.

As I’m sure you can imagine, this continued into high school. I soon discovered that I was far more alert during lectures while drawing. Take some notes. Sketch the front end. Take more notes. Draw more bodylines. Write. Add some injectors. Or slicks. Or a Moon tank. You get the picture. As much as I liked these creations, they hit the recycling bin at the end of the semester. So it goes.

When college rolled around, there wasn’t much time for drawing—and that’s a good thing. “Why draw hot rods when, if I work hard enough, I can write about them one day?” That was my thought process. Other than an occasional sketch here and there, all automotive artwork came to a stop in 2011.


On Monday morning, I woke up and checked my phone. I had a text from my Mom, sent at 6:53 a.m. “Look what I found in the basement!” she wrote. Attached were two of my long-lost drawings from 2011. One was a Cheetah Funny Car and the other was an altered-wheelbase ’65 Dodge. The following day, she unearthed three more pages and sent them my way. They’ve been on my mind ever since.

One of my first diecast cars was a Cheetah, and in high school I wanted to create a mix between the “Stinger II” Kellison and Sheldon Konblett’s “Snoopy” Jag XKE. In my mind, it would have looked something like this. The “fogged” panel paint was achieved by strategic smudging. Hilborn bugcatchers and M&H slicks will always be favorites of mine.


I’ve been trying to pinpoint what it is about these sketches that has gotten me thinking. Yes, they’re basic and, to be perfectly honest, I was pretty apprehensive about sharing them on here. I’m viewing them not as artwork, but rather as artifacts. They’re a glimpse into my teenaged world—a time when everything had to have a straight axle, a supercharger or both.

I was inspired by AMT box art and the technicolor Car Craft “Action Showcases” that hung on my bedroom wall. I was tuned into the H.A.M.B., entering model contests and starting threads about Gassers and altered wheelbase cars. Other than 1/25th scale kits, drawing was my only creative connection to our world of hot rods and custom cars. Are they inaccurate? You betchya. But they sure were fun. And to a kid in Algebra 2 class, fun is something that’s pretty damn hard to find.


For all of us here on planet Earth, the events of the past month are far more serious than math class boredom. School closings. Remote working. Winding grocery store lines. Gloves. Masks. Shelter in place. Where I’m at in San Francisco, it’s very real. Yet, as the situation continues to develop, people everywhere are finding new silver linings. Beyond the bad, it’s given us a unique opportunity to think about hobbies new and old. In these heavy times, seeing these drawings brought a smile to my face.

Whenever I’m writing about someone, I make sure to ask them how it all began. Were your parents into cars? Did you grow up building model kits? Reading hot rod magazines? Regardless of when they were born or where they were from, they almost always mention drawing cars in their notebooks. It’s deviancy as traditional as hot rodding itself.

So, I’ll ask you this: did you draw cars in class? If so, did any of those drawings survive? No risk of detention here—let’s see what you have!

Joey Ukrop

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