What it’s like to drive a giant hot dog on wheels

by Tallahassee Table
Drivers bring joy and jingles while traveling the country in the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.

Ashley Ferrera and Tommy Derkin truly relish their jobs. That’s because Ashley — aka All American Ashley — and Tommy — Tommy Salami — are Hotdoggers, which means they are official drivers of the iconic Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. 

Their “lamborgweenie” is one of six driving across the United States at any given time.

“It’s the best thing to be,” said Ashley. “I’ve been to a lot of places I would never get to visit if I wasn’t driving a giant hot dog.”

On Nov. 6, the pair brought the colorful Wienermobile to the North Florida Carnival Food Fair. The Wienermobile isn’t stocked with actual hot dogs but you can pick up stickers and the most sought-after novelty item, the two-inch-long weiner whistle. 

Tykes at the fair were mesmerized by the site of the enormous, 27-foot long dog on wheels. You’re allowed to peek inside, where you can see the vehicle’s many playful touches, like a hotdog-shaped dashboard, and floors painted in catsup red and mustard yellow.  A “bun roof” (sun roof) is painted a bright blue with floating clouds to signify that there’s always blue skies in the Wienermobile.

The horn plays the Oscar Mayer jingle, which Ashley and Tommy had to learn and can sing for you (more on that later).

When the Wienermobile is on display, you can stand outside by a chart and find out your height in hot dogs. Ashley stands at 10 hot dogs (or 5-foot-six), for instance. Tommy is at 11 dogs (he’s 5-11.)

When people ask if they sleep in the car, they have a ready answer: “It’s not a weenie-bago.” Learning hot dog puns are also on the agenda at Hot Dog High. 

To learn more about Ashley and Tommy, you can pick up baseball-type cards with fun facts, like Ashley’s favorite hot dog toppings, which are “Whiz and chips baby.” Tommy prefers a “Victory Dog: Bacon wrapped, with caramelized onions and green peppers, ketchup and mustard.”

The two vivacious Hotdoggers are 22 and recent college graduates. Ashley, who is from Philadelphia, was a public relations major at Penn State, which is where she was recruited to drive a Wienermobile and attend Hot Dog High in Madison, Wisconsin. Tommy is from Barrington, Ill. and attended University of Southern California, where he studied marketing and film.

“This has been a great way to gain experience as a marketing content creator,” said Tommy. 

He and Ashley both run their own official Instagram accounts, describing their adventures. 

Photo courtesy of Ashley Ferrara and Tommy Derkin. The pair riding horses in Lexington, Ky.

They were chosen from among thousands of applicants, all recent college graduates who commit to a full-time job spending a year on the road. Because of the pandemic, all their interviews had to be done by Zoom. 

At Hot Dog High, they learned all about their motor vehicles, about greeting the public and learning to drive the Wienermobile, which is 60 hot dogs, oops, 27-feet long. It weighs seven tons or 140,500 hot dogs and stands 11 feet or 24 hot dogs high. It’s powered with a Vortec V8, 6.0L, 300 hp engine and has two solar panels

“I thought it would be super scary but it’s actually super easy,” said Tommy. “And everyone’s so happy to see you.”

Sometimes it’s a truly touching moment. “They may have seen the Wienermobile with a loved one who has passed,” said Tommy. So seeing the giant hotdog on a bun has a special meaning. “They tell us how seeing it brightened their day.”

The Wienermobile was launched by Carl Mayer in 1936 when the country was in the midst of the Great Depression. “The original goal was to bring surprise and joy to the people of Chicago, where Oscar Mayer was founded, during those challenging times,” according to the firm’s website.

As a new addition, Ashley and Tommy wear masks, they have hand sanitizer on the table and they’re often wiping down the interior of the vehicle. Because of the pandemic, they no longer give rides in the Wienermobile. 

But the Hotdoggers still do a lot of driving. They visited 11 cities —  including Nashville, Tupelo and Atlanta — in 12 Southeast states in the four months they’ve been on the road.  

“We go to a new city about every week,” said Ashley. “We may spend two weeks in some cities. A lot of places are not what you expect.”

For instance, she thought of Tallahassee as a college town but “we’ve met so many families. People are so friendly.”

In January, they’ll switch with another pair and travel to another region, though they haven’t been told where yet.

As for the hot dogs, Oscar Mayer stresses that they’ve taken out artificial preservatives as well as added nitrates and nitrites (except those occurring naturally in celery juice) and by-products for a better dog.

The Weinermobile will be making two more stops in Tallahassee before leaving for their next trip on Monday. 

They expect their year on the road will be a memory they’ll savor all their lives.

“It’s important to try new things,” said Ashley. “And it’s been such a great experience.”

As for Tommy, “As a recent college graduate, it’s a great way to see the country and get paid for it.” 

“When you’re on the road, everyone is your best friend,” he said. “Everyone has their own story and connection with the Wienermobile. It makes it the coolest experience.”

The Oscar Mayer jingle

In case you’ve forgotten it:

Oh, I wish I were an Oscar Mayer wiener

That is what I’d  truly like to be. 

‘Cause if I were an Oscar Mayer wiener

Everyone would be in love with me.

Here’s where to find the Wienermobile:

Saturday, November 7:10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Tallahassee Museum and Tree to Tree Adventure,  3945 Museum Rd.

Sunday, November 8: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Tallahassee Antique Car Museum, 6800 Mahan Dr.

You can contact Ashley on Instagram at @allamericashley and Tommy at @officialtommysalami

Find out more about the Wienermobile at oscarmayer.com/wienermobile

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