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The Communicator


Alumna relishes role as 'hotdogger'

Rachel Aul headshot
Rachel Aul, a 2020 alumna, spent the past year as one of 12 'hotdoggers' driving the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile across the country.

Imagine: you’re driving down the highway and all of a sudden, a giant, 27-foot-long hot dog passes you! You do a double-take, wondering if this is real or your hungry stomach is making you see things. Quickly you realize this is real, your eyes are not deceiving you and are left laughing yet also in awe.

That hot dog driving down the highway and making its way cross country is not just any hot dog — it’s the famous Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. At the driver’s seat is Rachel Aul, a 2020 Penn State graduate from the Bellisario College of Communications. Known in the hot dog world as Relish Rachel, she’s one of 12 “Hotdoggers” driving one of the six Wienermobile’s the company owns. She’s fulfilling her role of spreading Oscar Mayer cheer as part of her first job out of college, whether it be while parked or cruising down the road. “While you’re driving, everyone waves at you and honks at you. You know you’re driving an American icon so it’s pretty cool,” said Aul.

Oscar Mayer, the founder of the famed meat company, moved from Bavaria to Chicago in 1873 and opened up his first meat shop 10 years later. The Wienermobile was created in 1936 by Carl Mayer, Oscar Mayer’s nephew, as a fun marketing tool and a way to get people smiling during the Great Depression. The original car was 13-feet-long and drove around the streets of Chicago, promoting the “German-style Wieners.” During World War II, the car was taken off the road due to gas rationing but made its return in 1952 with five more vehicles in the fleet. The car went around to different events and was driven for the longest period by George Molchan, more commonly known as “Little Oscar,” who served as the company spokesperson. The name “Little Oscar” was retired in 1987 after Molchan retired and now the drivers are known as “Hotdoggers.” The current “Wienerfleet” includes the famous Wienermobile, the Wienermini (a hot dog on top of a Mini Cooper), the WienerRover (a remote-controlled car), the Wienercycle (a vespa-like vehicle) and the Wienerdrone.

Wienermobile visit, February 2021

The Wienermobile made its annual visit to Penn State in early February.

The Wienermobile is known for making its way to Penn State’s campus each school year, always bringing smiles and laughs with it. However, it comes to State College for a specific reason: to recruit students to be part of the next group of Hotdoggers. Each driver is typically only a year or two out of college and is only allowed to drive the vehicle for one year. After that, a new group of 12 Hotdoggers come in and take over. Aul saw the vehicle on campus her freshman year and thought, “Wow, this seems really cool, really intriguing,” but didn’t think much more until her junior year. That’s when she learned Oscar Mayer likes to hire students with her degree, advertising/public relations, so she applied. “I love the adventure so I thought a big road trip around the United States would be great,” Aul said while driving to in the vehicle to Richmond, Virginia.

Each car stays pretty much in one region of the United States. Pre-pandemic, they’d drive around to different conventions, festivals, fairs and giant parades. Now, visits are limited more to drive-by events and smaller community gatherings to comply with all COVID-guidelines. Still, the experience of seeing a hot dog on wheels isn’t lost on Connor Griffin, a junior at Penn State who got a chance to ride in the vehicle when it came to campus in early February. Griffin is a broadcast journalism major but says seeing all the fun, professional experiences the drivers get to do almost made him change his future plans. “It did make me rethink for a second, yeah, maybe year after college I try this because I would love to travel across the country and meet a bunch of different people,” said Griffin.

Aul’s regions have been mostly in the southern and eastern parts of the United States, although she spent a bit of the fall out west in Colorado, Idaho, Utah and Wyoming. The car goes everywhere, from small towns to major cities, and everywhere it goes, it tends to draw a crowd. Aul even drove the Wienermobile through Arches National Park in Utah, saying it was “quite the adventure.” No matter the destination, it’s the experience for customers that matters. “Our main goal is to make people smile, create memories and just making people happy,” Aul said.

As expected, seeing a hot dog car can turn many heads and Aul’s favorite reactions are the unexpected ones. “You’re driving down a neighborhood street and someone will be doing yard work or getting their mail and they don’t expect to see the Wienermobile in front of their home. They’ll do a doubletake and then their jaw will drop.” There are even fanatics — known in the hot dog world as “Frank Fanatics” — who in turn brings smiles to the faces of Hotdoggers. “One time I had a guy who was wearing Wienermobile underwear and he pulled down his pants to show me. The people you meet are so ridiculous but it’s so funny,” Aul said.

Griffin described the role of a Hotdogger as being fun, informative and eye-opening. “They’re cracking hot dog puns like every single second; they’re wearing the red ketchup-like uniforms and handing out wiener whistles. It’s professional, it’s their job, but it was definitely a little more lighthearted,” said Griffin. And to Aul, who is pretty much always moving around and living out of a suitcase, the job can be tiring, but it is also incredibly rewarding. “You kind of never get bored because you’re always on the move. Even if I am exhausted, it’s ok because it’s the experience of a lifetime,” said Aul.

Aul said she couldn’t have asked for a better first six months out of college and loves being a mini-celebrity. The opportunities to constantly make people laugh and smile while being goofy are just some of the many highlights that being a Hotdogger brings. Keep an eye out for one of the vehicles the next time you’re driving- you never know where you might next find the American icon!