The Origin of Flaming Hot Rods?

The Origin of Flaming Hot Rods?

Apologies if this has been covered before, but after Ryan’s post I kept wondering when flames began appearing on hot rods? For the life of me I cannot find a single image of pre-war hot rod with a flame job, but jump to Hot Rod magazine’s first issue in January of 1948 and there is Regg Schlemmer’s flamed 27 Track T smack dab on the cover. Was is the fiery noses of WWII aircraft as they fell from the sky that inspired the young builders? Or something more straightforward? The common belief is that the genesis comes from one or both of the following sources:

  1. The 1935 Indy 500 winning Gilmore Speedway Special of Kelly Petillo. The Cinderella story of his win is remarkable, as Petillo had to beg and heavily borrow just to get a car to run with, doing most of the work himself, only to broke the motor in qualifying. Machinist Karl Kizer took pity on him and got the motor back together in time to make the race and ultimately take 1st place. If he came up with that amazing flame paint job (as subtle as it is), I do not know, but Petillo’s life and career did take a sharp downturn after that Indy win…
  2. A photo taken on June 23rd, 1938 when midget racer Fred Friday’s car caught on fire from a fuel leak at Gilmore Stadium. Being a badass racer, Fred continued to drive the car with fire licking down the sides and still won the race. The picture was snapped by David Carroll, a freelance news photographer around Los Angeles between 1920 and 1947, and his lucky shot made the front page of many newspapers that only added to the sensationalism. In fact, Friday was not badly hurt from the mishap and he returned to racing a month later, capturing the AMA Midget Series Championship for that year. The question is, did this image of a driver seemingly going so fast that his jalopy produced actual flames somehow inspire hot rodders to paint the effect?




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