Take 5 With Sal Fish

Hot Rod - - Contents -

Spend five min­utes with for­mer Car Craft pub­lisher Sal Fish and you’ll hear a run­down of the most fa­mous peo­ple in Amer­i­can mo­tor­sports his­tory: “Car­roll Shelby,” “Bill France,” “Mickey Thomp­son,” “Shirley Mul­downey.” He’s not name-drop­ping, he’s just telling you about what daily life was like un­der Robert E. Petersen in the early days of HOT ROD and Car Craft mag­a­zines. Fish was hired as an ad sales rep at Car Craft when he was about 25, and dur­ing his ten­ure, he at­tended ev­ery race in the coun­try from NASCAR to NHRA and vis­ited ev­ery af­ter­mar­ket man­u­fac­turer from Offy to off-road. He was part of the AMC mar­ket­ing stunt in 1968 that pit­ted three tuner teams on three AMC Javelins against one an­other to make the fastest run­ning car on the Bon­neville Salt Flats, as de­cided by driver Craig Breedlove. “Oh, [ Car Craft pub­lisher] Dick Day thought of that,” he told us when we asked for more de­tails. He’s like this about ev­ery­thing, never tak­ing credit. Rac­ing the wilds of Baja Cal­i­for­nia? “Ray Brock was cov­er­ing it long be­fore I went down.” Leav­ing Car Craft to start SCORE and the Baja 1000? “That was all Mickey Thomp­son.” Fi­nally, we gave up and just threw names at him. Go on then, Sal, tell us a story about _______.

HRM] Linda Vaughn. SF] Linda was truly a nice girl. She was al­ways so available for in­ter­views and pho­tos. She was re­ally a PR per­son. I never saw her not ready to do her job. She was al­ways first class and rep­re­sent­ing Hurst in a pos­i­tive man­ner. I’d like to think I learned from her that if you’re in pub­lic, it’s just as easy to be nice as to be a jerk. I think you have to work harder at be­ing a jerk.

HRM] Dean Moon. SF] Dean was one of the first guys I called on. Here’s Mooneyes, he’s very well known. He was the most dif­fi­cult, neg­a­tive guy. I don’t think I ever got an ad out of him.

HRM] Robert “Pete” Petersen. SF] Pete and Margie were the most gra­cious, gen­er­ous, and phil­an­thropic peo­ple. The way Petersen did things was re­ally first class. You flew first class, you had a ta­ble at the best restau­rants. Well, I came from work­ing in a garage. Af­ter my first month as a sales­man, I handed in my ex­pense re­port. It was $18. Pete called me into his of­fice and I was so fright­ened, like, “Did I spend too much? Am I go­ing to be fired?” He asked, “Are you do­ing your job? Why is this so low? You didn’t take any­one to a boxing match or to see Neil Di­a­mond or to get a steak. Start spend­ing money!” Well, it didn’t take too long to learn how to do that. I don’t think it’s like that there any­more.

HRM] Mickey Thomp­son. SF] Mickey was a smart guy, but he wasn’t pol­ished. You’d go out to eat with him and he was just talk­ing with his mouth full, spilling food all down his shirt. He knew it in­tim­i­dated peo­ple and made them un­der­es­ti­mate him.

He’d show up at a press con­fer­ence with stains on his shirt.

HRM] Car­roll Shelby. SF] Oh man, I could have got a Co­bra for noth­ing back then! I was like, “Why would I want one of those?” Shelby was fan­tas­tic. His pres­ence, his man­ner­isms. He re­ally was big­ger than life.

HRM] Don Prud­homme. SF] All those guys, Bob Spar [B&M Trans­mis­sions], Don Prud­homme, Dick Landy, Tom McEwen, Danny On­gais, they used to go out and ride mo­tor­cy­cles in Woodland Hills be­fore it was all built up. It would start out as a “fun” ride, and the next thing you know it’s full-on rac­ing. One time there was this hill, and I couldn’t get up it. I couldn’t ride like those guys. I kept fall­ing down and they were all laugh­ing. I think Prud­homme had to ride my bike up in the end. You know, they were young peo­ple. They were hav­ing fun, they didn’t know they were mak­ing them­selves fa­mous.

HRM] Ed Isk­ende­rian. SF] I al­ways en­vi­sioned Isk­ende­rian as this ab­so­lutely sano place that was do­ing these great cams. I went over there one day, walked in the door and there was no re­cep­tion­ist, and just boxes and parts ev­ery­where. There was a fish tank, fish up­side down in it, and I could hear all this pound­ing from the of­fice. You al­most couldn’t see Isky be­hind the desk, it was so crowded, but I walk back there and there he is, pound­ing on a cam with a ham­mer. He turned out to be the nicest guy. Still is. And he did buy an ad.

HRM] OK, we gotta hear some­thing about you. How did you get the Car Craft job? SF] I was work­ing as a me­chanic for my fa­ther’s shop and he said, “You know, you’re not a very good me­chanic, but I think you’d be a good ad sales­man.” This was around 1964 maybe? Dick Day was the pub­lisher. I met Bob Petersen, and we hit it off im­me­di­ately. They saw some­thing in me I wasn’t even aware of. Car Craft at the time was just this funky, lit­tle drag-rac­ing pub­li­ca­tion. The HRM sales guys were all build­ing ve­hi­cles and wait­ing for calls to come in. I’m out there mak­ing 30 calls a day, vis­it­ing ev­ery guy mak­ing a wid­get in his garage, try­ing to sell ads. Even­tu­ally, it worked and they made me pub­lisher.

HRM] How did you end up desert rac­ing and run­ning the SCORE Baja 1000? SF] I went down be­cause Revel mod­els was do­ing a Baja Bug build, and I thought it would be a good story for the mag­a­zine. By the end of the in­ter­view, they said, “Would you like to race this?” So I went down and we broke. We broke twice, ac­tu­ally, and came in third. There were only two ve­hi­cles in the class, but I fell in love. It was all cow­boys and In­di­ans down there. It was such a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence than Indy or Day­tona. I never re­al­ized I would be­come so in­volved. I knew Mickey Thomp­son from Bon­neville and NHRA. At the time, the rac­ing was run by NORRA. It was

Mike Pearl­man, Don Fran­cisco, and Ray Brock, I think. Around ’71 or ’72, there was some sort of con­flict with per­mits and a dif­fer­ent group put it on, and it was a dis­as­ter. Mickey says, “I think I want to take over.” For a year, he tried to get me to be pres­i­dent of this new group. “It will be big­ger than NASCAR.”

HRM] So what took you so long to de­cide? SF] I had a pretty good gig. But, even­tu­ally, I fig­ured I’d try it. When I gave no­tice, Pete says, “Mickey’s a pretty tough dude to work for. If it doesn’t work out, you have a po­si­tion here.”

HRM] But it worked out. SF] [Laughs.] Yeah, I guess it did.

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