“Hotdogger” Jena Dalykas behind the wheel of the Wienermobile in Boise, Idaho
Everyone loses their minds when they see the famous Oscar Mayer Wienermobile cruising down the highway. How do you not?
A giant delicious hotdog-on-a-bun on four wheels in cartoon bright colors is a delight and has an enduring mojo that never gets old.
The fun concept vehicle was initially created in 1936 by Carl Mayer, a Bavarian immigrant who created a hot dog empire in the United States.
His kitschy wiener “car” turned heads and promoted the brand like wildfire.
Since then there have been several iterations. The 1952 Wienermobile is on display at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, while the 1969 Wienermobile model boasted Ford Thunderbird taillights, a Chevy motorhome frame and averaged 187 “smiles” per gallon.
Now, at any given time, there are six newer Wienermobiles criss-crossing the USA! We got to exclusively meet one of the Wienermobile’s drivers — known as “Hotdoggers” — to get a taste of what it’s like behind the wheel of the iconic vehicle.
Jena Dalykas, aka “Jena from the Cheese Block”, became a Hotdogger after graduating from college. It’s a “bun-afide” job that involves driving a 27-foot-long hot-dog-on-wheels across the country for a year, and Jena is one of the lucky holders of the position in the Western region of the USA.
We caught up with Jena and her copilot, Connor Gray, A.K.A Connie Salami, when they rolled into Boise, Idaho, for an extended stay during the annual Treefort Music festival week. The Oscar Mayer Wienermobile will be parked at various Boise area Walmart Supercenters from now until March 26.
The iconic Oscar Mayer Wienermobile spreads good cheer and salivating stares wherever it rolls. We got the straight wiener insider details directly from the Hotdogger herself!
The classic Oscar Mayer Wienermobile — who wouldn’t want to drive one of these?
Monsters and Critics: How long have you worked for Oscar Mayer’s parent company Kraft Heinz and been doing this?
Jena Dalykas: I started driving the Wienermobile last June. This is a year-long position — we are called “Hotdoggers” and we get to drive the Wienermobile for a year. So this upcoming June will be when we’re done. A little bittersweet but, yes, about a year.
It’s not every day the Wienermobile rolls up on you in traffic
M&C: What kind of training do you get to drive the Wienermobile?
Jena: We actually go through a two-week program called “Hot Dog High”. That’s where we earn our “Bun-dergraduate” degree. Essentially what we learned in Hotdog High is basically how to drive this 27-foot long hot dog. We get trained by the state police in Madison, Wisconsin, because that’s where our program’s based out of.
We will do a little bit of media training and stuff, and basically how to live life on the road and everything and what it takes to be a Hotdogger.
M&C: So one of the things I’ve noticed about the Wienermobile is that people nearly get in accidents trying to take photographs with their cellphone while driving when they see it on the freeway. Have you had any accidents?
Jena: We haven’t been in any accident instances, where we’ve scratched our buns or anybody has scratched their buns beside us.
But we do get people who are always excited to see a Wienermobile…there will be people honking, smiling, waving, taking pictures, the works and stuff. But no, no close calls for us. We’re a safe, safe Wienermobile, so that’s good.
M&C: Where does the Wienermobile go in the United States?
Even on a rainy day the colors pop on the Wienermobile
Jena: There are actually six Wienermobiles. They’re all across the country. So you’re currently speaking to the western Wienermobile. We cover states like Oregon, Washington, California, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, all that region.
But the other ones are in the south, southeast, northeast, Midwest, and central regions, and then the western region. We pretty much cover everything. We’ve even been to Alaska and Hawaii and overseas in Germany before.
M&C: Some of my editors in Scotland couldn’t believe that there is such a thing as the Wienermobile. Will the Wienermobile ever go to Scotland?
Jena: Scotland…I don’t want to say never…there’s always a possibility because we did go to Germany about over a decade ago…so there’s always a possibility to go.
Last summer we went to Whittier, Alaska. It’s like the smallest location, a very remote place in Alaska. Everybody lives [practically] in one apartment building, it’s crazy.
You have to go through like this really long, skinny tunnel to get to it. So it was awesome and that was pretty cool because we took like a barge up there and then we had to drive and everything.
And then we took two Wienermobiles and another barge to the Statue of Liberty too in New York last summer. That was awesome.
M&C: For the gearheads what kind of engine is under the hood?
Jena: Essentially the Wienermobile is on a Chevrolet truck chassis. Similar to UPS trucks, so it has a six-liter V8 Vortec engine in it. Of the 300 series.
Inside towards the front, the seats are embroidered with hot dogs
M&C: Can you hire the Wienermobile for private charter?
Jena: No. I mean, the seats are more or less for when we have sweepstakes where you can win a ride or sometimes randomly like on our personal off days because the Wienermobile is a personal vehicle for our off days as well. So we take it around…but if we so feel as to give someone a ride, we can do that.
Toward the back, there’s a cool sound system and a flat-screen TV!
M&C: Wait. Can you use the Wienermobile to go to the grocery store?
Jena: So, yeah, when you’d normally do events at grocery stores…but we also need to go grocery shopping and do errands for ourselves so, yes, we’ll take it where we need to go…and to go to events. We stay in hotels and stuff, though, it’s not a wienie-bago!
M&C: That’s so funny. Are there any other surprising facts that people need to know about the Wienermobile? How long has it been in existence?
Jena: The first Wienermobile started cruising the roads, or the “hotdog highways”, in America in 1936 in Chicago. I think a fun fact about those of us who drive it, the Hotdoggers, would be that actually more people have been to outer space than have driven the Wienermobile. That’s always one of my favorite fun facts for sure.
It’s 60 hot dogs long, too. So you got to always know those facts…always.
M&C: Has a competitor tried to emulate the Wienermobile in some sort of like kitschy fashion or you guys, I mean, there’s nothing like this anywhere is there?
Imagine seeing this in your rear-view mirror!
Jena: We’re pretty much the only hot dog that’s cruisin’ the road. I know there are other different objects that are also turned into vehicles that cruise around as well. But for the most part, I believe that the wienermobile is pretty much the first hot dog that has cruised the road and is still cruising.
M&C: Take me through the steps. I want to be a Hotdogger. How do I become a Hotdogger?
Wouldn’t you be this happy if you were a Hotdogger too?
Jena: So it’s a little different journey for everybody. Actually, there are some places, some universities…they usually hire recent college graduates from all across the country. So some universities actually take a wienermobile there [on campus] and recruit.
I went to one of those universities and I had two friends do it last year rarely enough, which is like kind of weird…to have two people that you know do it. I just I applied through my school’s application site and landed an in-person interview at my university.
Jena from the Cheese Block plans on meeting a lot of Boiseans this week
They really accelerate things after that, they kind of cut the competition in half. Then they’ll give you a final round interview in Chicago and you just kind of go through another series of interviews.
But for my partner [Connor] out there, he actually did not recruit at university, he actually applied online. I think he did a phone interview and then went off to the final rounds and stuff.
It is definitely open to anybody to apply, though. All you really need is a bachelor’s degree, just because we do handle more aspects than just driving and stuff, there’s a lot more that goes into it.
M&C: Where does the Hotdogger go from being a hot dog driver, what’s the next step in Kraft Heinz?
Jena: So you could actually choose to stay with the company if you wanted, if positions open you can obviously get interviews and stay with Kraft-Heinz, or you can choose to move on.
We do have a large alumni base of people who have done this, people who were Hotdoggers before us who are always looking out…we’re always looking out for each other, and if our company, their companies are hiring, they are making sure that we’re aware and stuff.
There are endless opportunities afterward. We all come from similar backgrounds in communications and advertising and marketing and stuff. So I know a lot of us usually choose to go into the agency life just because we’re so young.
The Oscar Mayer Wienermobile will be parked at various Boise area Walmart Supercenters from now until March 26.
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