Small Town News


Belfair resident inducted into Hot Rod Hall of Fame

Shelton-Mason County Journal of Shelton, Washington

- Advertisement -

In 1973, professional drag racer Herman Petersen was involved in a fiery crash that burned large portions of his skin. He was immediately admitted to the Orange County Burn Unit in California, and twice during his three-and-a-half-month stay, doctors told his wife they didn't think Petersen would make it through the night.

But the Belfair resident recovered and was back on the track within six months.

However, he also regularly visited the burn unit and other hospitals wherever he went, giving pep talks and hope to burn victims.

"There are two things I believe," Petersen said. "Everything happens for a reason, and there is nothing so bad that you can't find something good about it."

Visiting the victims and passing on his message was just one good thing that came from Petersen's accident.

Last month, Petersen was inducted into the Washington State Hot Rod Hall of Fame, which honored both his professional drag racing career and his extensive philanthropy work.

This wasn't Petersen's first hall of fame induction, but the drag racer said it is by far his favorite.

"That's what made this hall of fame thing much more humbling and appreciative than any others," he said. "It's much more meaningful than just being a car guy."

Petersen spent decades behind the wheel as one of the top drag racers. Known as the "Northwest Terror," Petersen regularly clocked times more than 235 mph, and won prestigious titles, including the 1972 PDA Race in California, the 1973 Gator Nationals in Florida, the National Hot Rod Association Division Six Top Fuel Challenge in 1974 and the International Hot Rod Association Gateway Nationals in 1975.

He recorded his fastest time in October 1975 in Ontario, when he ran the quarter-mile in 5.87 seconds at 241.96 mph.

Petersen saved the pistons from that record-breaking ride, and later carved the time and speed into the bottom of them.

Earlier this year, Petersen heard about a metalworker who made art from car parts — specifically pistons. Petersen donated his famous pistons to the artist, who created a sculpture from them. The sculpture was up for raffle during the Washington State Hot Rod Hall of Fame awards banquet this year.

"I told my wife when we were driving up there, 'If this turns out anything like I think it will, I'm going to try to win it back,'" Petersen said, adding that he bought more than $100 raffle tickets in an attempt to win.

Without his knowledge though, all of his friends were trying to win the sculpture for him as well.

As Petersen was called up to accept his award, Jim Fox, a friend and fellow member of the drag racing community, also mounted the stage, carrying the sculpture.

"He said, 'I won this and I want you to have it," Petersen recalls. "I said, 'Now there's a friend.' "

The drag racer retired in 1976, after walking away from another crash when his super charger fell off during a race, popping a tire and taking his parachute with it. Petersen eventually was able to stop his car in a field beyond the track, but the experience shook him.

"I got out, kicked the car, didn't curse or anything, just said, 'That's it, you'll never get another shot at me,'" he said. "You gotta have a lot of respect for them (cars) and you cannot have any fear.... I knew if I did go back, every time I stepped on that throttle, I'd be waiting for something to go wrong."

Petersen has been inducted into the National Hot Rod Association Division Six Hall of Fame in 2000, the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 2004 and the North West Motor Sports Hall of Fame in 2008, but said his most recent accolade is his favorite.

Unbeknownst to Petersen, Fox submitted Petersen for the Hot Rod Hall of Fame, but the first time he sent in the application, Petersen was denied entrance to the hall of fame.

"My friends were really upset," Petersen said. "So they called these people and wanted to know why I didn't get in. Well, the hall of fame wanted more; they wanted what you did other than racing."

Petersen said he's been humble about his philanthropy work in the past, so his friends weren't aware of his volunteer work.

So they contacted Petersen, letting him in on the surprise, and asked what philanthropy the retired racer was involved in.

Before his accident in 1973, Petersen took his race car to high schools to talk about the importance of safe driving.

The racer has also been a member of Kiwanis for 26 years, and was instrumental in founding the annual garage sale fundraiser for the group.

"I'm really good at finding moss-covered boats and such, finding the owner and getting them to donate those to Kiwanis," Petersen said. "I like the big things, because it makes it worthwhile."

Petersen has also donated chartered boat trips in Alaska with his fishing company annually to the Boys & Girls Club.

During one fundraiser, Petersen recalls entering a fundraising contest where participants bought raffle tickets for a chance to win $1,000.

Ten raffle tickets were chosen, and each person was given a key to the lock around the box containing the prize money. By luck of the draw, Petersen's key unlocked the box.

"The guy running this thing, he pulled the money out and handed it to me, and I looked at that money, looked at my wife, and I just gave it back to the Boys & Girls Club," Petersen recalled. "It was a real feel-good moment."

"That's what made this hall of fame thing much more humbling and appreciative than any others. It's much more meaningful than Just being a car guy."

Herman Petersen, recent inductee into the Washington State Hot Rod Hall of Fame

Copyright 2016 Shelton-Mason County Journal, Shelton, Washington. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: June 16, 2016

More from Shelton-Mason County Journal