- The Washington Times - Monday, July 28, 2003

Ask Julie “J-Dog” Nocella and Michelle “Mustard” Norton about their plans this summer and they’ll bubble with excitement as they describe work that mixes travel and marketing into a job they can really relish: driving a 5-ton hot dog across the Midwest.

The dog-loving duo will spend this year cruising through half a dozen states in the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, an RV-sized hot dog with a V8 Chevy engine, global-positioning system and stereo that plays the company’s classic jingle. The renowned company car, with a license plate reading WEENR, captures attention on highways, in midtown traffic and just about everywhere else, Miss Nocella said.

“It’s amazing how many people carry cameras,” the 23-year-old University of Colorado alum said. “People bring them out everywhere; people honk, people wave, some people will pull over a little bit and take pictures as we pass.”

Their journey continues as July — named National Hot Dog Month by the Arlington-based Hot Dog & Sausage Council — winds to a close.

Americans eat roughly 7 billion hot dogs between Memorial and Labor Day, enough to stretch around the equator 27 times if laid end to end, according to the group.

Miss Nocella, who graduated in December with degrees in marketing and management, was one of the 12 top dogs selected from a pool of more than 1,000 to attend ‘Hot Dog High,’ a two-week wiener boot camp of sorts. Trainees took courses on Oscar Mayer’s history and philosophy at its Madison, Wis., headquarters while learning to drive the Wienermobile.

Driving the vehicle through cones on the company’s training grounds and parking at appearances is like maneuvering a van, Miss Norton said. It’s not difficult, but “you have to watch where you go so you don’t scratch your buns.”

The hot dog duo have visited cities in Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois. Miss Norton is trying to line up an appearance at the University of Iowa’s homecoming parade this fall.

“I really just became obsessed with becoming a Hot Dogger,” said the 22-year-old University of Iowa marketing graduate. “My final year at Iowa, I just wanted to see the country, and this was a great opportunity.”

The hot doggers are making promotional appearances. Working in six teams of two, they travel up to 500 miles per week to visit grocery store openings, parades, festivals and auto exhibitions. Hot doggers have appeared on the “Tonight Show”, “Oprah Winfrey Show” and at the Super Bowl.

The most obvious sign of their presence, though, is the 27-foot-long wiener that lumbers into towns across America, Spain and Japan. Miss Nocella and Miss Norton drive one of four 1995 models, with a hot dog-shaped dashboard. The Wienermobile, built on a truck chassis and designed by a California auto designer, gets 15 to 20 miles per gallon and can travel faster than 90 mph.

The most recent Wienermobile, the 2000 model, marks the sixth generation of its kind since the first Oscar Mayer vehicle hit Chicago’s streets in 1936. Equipped with two exterior cameras for checking blind spots, it comes with a “bunroof,” six “relish-colored” seats, a “ketchup-colored” walkway and a carpet designed to look as if it came with “everything on it,” according to the company.

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