The hot rod world lost one of its founding fathers with the passing of Tom Medley last weekend. Medley’s impact on our industry was immense. He was 93.
A native of Oregon, Medley moved to southern California after serving in the Army during WWII to attend Los Angeles Art Center College of Design. While attending college, he became involved in the local, burgeoning hot rod scene. It was his hot-rod-themed sketches, pinned on the bulletin board at Blair’s Speed Shop in Pasadena, CA that caught the attention of one Robert E. Petersen – who had just started a magazine called Hot Rod.
As a cartoonist, photographer, and magazine publishing veteran, Medley joined Petersen and Hot Rod magazine on its second issue in 1948 as “humor editor.” He was instrumental in creating Hot Rod’s success, juggling cartooning – the famed Stroker McGurk cartoon – photography (innumerable cover shots), how-to articles, even advertising sales and design. In the mid-1960s he took over as publisher of Rod & Custom, steering the book’s editorial direction toward street rods and “vintage tin” – thus ushering in the modern era of street rodding.
In 1969, Medley and friend/writer Leroi “Tex” Smith organized the first Street Rod Nationals in Peoria, Ill. It was that event that led to the formation of the modern day “rod run” as we know it today. You could argue that Goodguys wouldn’t even be in business if it weren’t for Medley. Today’s massive rod & custom events in large part, stem from Medley and Smith’s vision of a national gathering for hot rod and custom car enthusiasts.
Over the decades, Goodguys founder Gary Meadors remained close to Medley as a friend and mentor. He invited Medley to select the “Stroker McGurk” award at the West Coast Nationals in Pleasanton – an award bestowed to the event’s most bitchin roadster. The bronzed Stroker cap mounted on a wooden base, is still presented to this day in honor of Medley and his legacy. “This is a sad time – it’s hard to accept,” Meadors said on Medley’s passing. “Tom was a GREAT guy and always remained a fan of Goodguys and what we’re all about. Tom wanted guys to enjoy and drive their hot rods. To him, that’s what this whole thing was about.”
After a tragic house fire in the fall of 2011 totally destroyed his ’40 Ford, the industry gathered together to rebuild Medley’s Hot Rod. Spearheaded by Randy & Peaches Clark and the team at Hot Rods & Custom Stuff in Escondido, CA, the complete rebuild was one of the highlights in recent hot rod history. After a marathon 10-month build, Clark and his team, along with dozens of Medley’s dear friends and family stood by as “Stroker” was presented the keys to his rebuilt rod at the 2012 West Coast Nationals. Of course, the ’40 Ford was DRIVEN to the event.
Throughout his life and right up until the end, Medley remained enthusiastic about the hot rod world as well as Go-Karting. He was a proud member of the TIHSEPA Kart Klub. Translated, its APESHIT spelled backwards. He never lost his sense of humor. In a recent documentary film titled STROKER, the interviewer asks Medley what gets him out of bed in the morning. “Well, I usually have to take a piss,” Medley quips.
Jim Jacobs, who along with Bud Bryan worked under Medley at Rod & Custom Magazine in the late 60s and early 70s, then went on to co-found Pete & Jake’s Hot Rod Parts, reflected on Medley’s life with a lump in his throat.
“Just a bitchin guy and a pleasure to work for when we were at Rod & Custom” Jacobs said. “Ya know, I was happy to have been a friend of his. I saw him a few weeks back at a Go-Kart track down in Riverside and it was so cool to hang out again. He had his sense of humor intact. Tom was a humorist. That sense of humor in a person is a positive thing. When I first met him at the Petersen offices in the 60s, I had a big beard. He subtly but in a funny, gentle way, told I might have to shave. I was nervous to meet him at first. I held him in such high esteem. I was just a kid. But again, that sense of humor of his kept things lite and he always made me feel comfortable. He was really easy to be around. The opportunity to work with Tom at Rod & Custom was a stepping stone in my career. It led me to my friendship with Pete Chapouris. Working in the publishing industry under Tom helped me meet lifelong friends I still have today. As far as rod runs go, I’d give Tom all the credit. Driving hot rods to events was what he was all about.”
To share your memories of Tom, the Stroker McGurk cartoon or maybe how he touched your life, you can visit the Stroker McGurk Facebook page here.
For a look at the extensive Stroker’s ’40 Rebuild blog put together by Chick Koszis for Hot Rods & Custom Stuff, click here.
Click here to see the trailer for the film STROKER by filmmaker Manny Marquez.