Long before there was ever such a thing as a pair of smelly Nads, an angry Rikdaddy, hearts filled with Seoul, or a JDM checking out his Wong, there were monkeys-staff monkeys to be precise. Spearheaded by the original. Petersen Publishing, two dorky and very out of place white guys began reporting on a burgeoning Southern California and soon to be nationwide phenomenon-oh yeah, and they brought a local street racer along for street cred. Meet Matt Pearson-the very first editor-in-chief, Karl Brauer-feature editor extraordinaire, and Ed Eng-tech guru and token Asian guy. These three represent the very first Super Street staff, which is responsible for all things nuclear and then some.
Super Street: What brought you all to Super Street? Surely it wasn't the fine pay we'rereceiving these days.
Ed Eng: My college roommate's cousin's sister, who was working for Petersen, told me that the company was about to launch a new magazine and the guy they hired to run it didn't really know anything [about import cars] (laughs). I was wrenching at Dynamic Autosports at the time and couldn't see myself as a writer or photographer, but they wanted writing samples from me anyway. I had another friend, shoot some photos and copyedit my story before I turned it in.
Karl Brauer: Mine's easy, I just wanted out of the editorial assistant's job-badly. I asked Matt if it covered big block, rear wheel drive cars, and he said "Nope." I took it anyway (laughs). The truth was, I had known Matt about two years when he was an editorial assistant, before the magazine was created, and was calling from Denver to bother him about getting a job within the company. Ironically the guy I first spoke to about getting a job at Petersen wound up becoming the boss of the book that I would be reporting to two years later.
Matt Pearson: The short version: It was '95 and at the time I was driving a '90 Civic Si while working as an editorial assistant for Hot Rod. Every day those guys would come around with no ends of crap for the car I was driving, saying I should trade it in. It finally got to a point where John Dianna (former Petersen VP/publisher) teased me because I drove a Honda. I told him he should come up with a new book, especially since Sport Compact Car and Turbo were doing so well. He said a book like those would never work in Petersen. There was a Battle of the Imports that weekend and I said I would be going up to take pictures, so he asked me to bring them by after they were developed. He saw the pictures and was impressed by the size of the crowd, so he asked me to put a proposal together on what I thought would be a good magazine for this type of scene. I put a 14-page proposal together on what departments and features should be included. I didn't hear anything for weeks and finally he came to me saying, "We're going to do this. Don't screw it up." He took a hell of a chance on me because I had only edited SIPs (Special Interest Publications) until that point, not monthly magazines.
KB: You mean, in order to simplify, you got the job because you drove a Honda Civic (laughs).
SS: What sort of background do you come from?
EE: I'm just a street racer from So Cal. Some friends of mine (who are still involved with this industry) and I used to race for a crew called Speedline.
KB: Much like Ed, I raced a 400hp '69 Plymouth GTX before I even had my license. I raced all the time throughout my high school years.
MP: I haven't done much of anything on wheels.
SS: Super Street was originally going to be called Street Power. What happened and who came up with the name Super Street?
MP: Yes, it was originally slated to be called Street Power but the name was essentially "stolen" by McMullen Argus (now owned by Primedia), who used the name to create an SIP. Apparently one of our ad sales people leaked the name and they snatched it up right away. [Argus] wound up killing the book after two or three issues, but we had to stick with Super Street.
KB: Well, back in those days, it would be uncommon to find any Petersen title without the word "super" in it. "Super" this! "Super" that!
SS: And at one point, wasn't the magazine going to be killed off?
MP: About the third issue in, they cut our budget down to a bi-monthly budget even though we still had to produce a monthly magazine. It was tough because SCC and Turbo were on top of the game but at the same time we fit this niche that still holds true today for you guys. Nobody else featured real, everyday cars. You'd be hard pressed to find the cars we featured in Turbo, unless it was a Grand Am.
SS: Matt, would you say it was your idea to shape the magazine's editorial direction by injecting humor into it? Plastering your faces all over the place, the snide comments-that sort of thing?
MP: Why yes, I take full responsibility (laughs)!
KB: It wasn't his idea; that's his personality.
MP: There was a conscious effort to place personalities into the magazine because we wanted the magazine to reflect our own selves at the time.
SS: Where did the biohazard symbol come from?
MP: From the equivalent of a clip-art book. We were looking for a symbol to use as a end-bug so you knew the story was over. We looked at the skull-and-crossbones and a bunch of different ones until we saw the nuclear symbol-we knew that was it, perfect for the end. It looked like the end, the bomb.
EE: Remember back in the day, we used to say "That's the bomb"?
MP: It just worked because it was a cool looking symbol so when we made stickers of it, people wanted to put it onto their car. They wouldn't put Super Street because they didn't know what it was at the time, but they'd put the nuclear symbol on. After a while it just seemed to catch on because we saw it everywhere.
SS: What were some of the challenges in getting this magazine off the ground?
MP: Just starting a magazine that was predominantly based on import performance cars was tough already. If you wanted to start a Chevy title at Petersen, it was a no-brainer; you could pick up photos and stories from other archives. But for us, there were no Acura or Civic files. The closest thing was Motor Trend and all they had were stock archives. Back then, they wouldn't even give us the time of day.
SS: Although we're now part of the same company today, the first real rivalry to Super Street was SCC. Have they always taken cheap shots at us?
MP: What rivalry (laughs)?
KB: Back when we were the new kids on the block, I can remember Matt saying that they looked at us in this light, like "Oh, that's cute-they have their own magazine." It was very fulfilling that after a year's time, we'd caught up to a book that had been around much longer than us-what was that, nine years or so?
SS: Any good pranks?
MP: I think there was a couple events where they would wind up with our stickers on their rental cars and vice versa, but it was all good-natured fun. Competition's good. When we started out, we told them, "We're not in this game to be number two or three" and granted we were below that, but my intent was to have the number one book in this segment.
KB: We're still waiting for that to happen! (laughs)
SS: So you really thought you could achieve the number one position in the marketplace?
MP: Without a doubt.
KB: Whatever it took, we had to be the best. Matt was really good at sending that message from the top down.
SS: What were some of your ideas to get to number one?
MP: Just addressing a part of the market that nobody else was, and again, that was beginning at the street level. Nobody could figure out why we were taking pictures of the 17-second cars at the street races but the guys who owned those cars would see their cars in the magazine and it meant the world to them. It was a magazine for real-world enthusiasts and we weren't fixating on what was going to be cool next; we were just covering it from a street level perspective., making it about the readers. It shouldn't be and it wasn't about what was cool to the editors. Except for Karl.
SS: Compare the current Super Street to the way it used to be. What do you like or dislike about it?
KB: A lot more girls.
MP: You guys get away with a lot more than we did.
KB: I don't get to read it as often as I'd like to but every time I pick it up on the newsstand or wherever, I just think you guys are doing a great job. You're having even more fun than we did.
EE: You want to read it because there are so many things in it. The other books, you know what's going to be in there. It's something different.
MP: You've managed to maintain its irreverent feel, so I hope you don't lose sight of that because, as you know, there are enough magazines out there that take themselves too seriously. When you think about it, we're fortunate enough to work in an industry where people are passionate about their cars. Somehow you guys are still able to communicate that.
SS: What were some things you liked or disliked about working on Super Street?
KB: I really liked that we were the black sheep of the entire company. We got to play with some really cool cars and just had a lot of fun overall. None of the other books were like us, which is probably why we were so successful. The thing I didn't like, I guess, was the pay. I left because my wife was pregnant and I needed a job that was going to pay more than what I was getting.
SS: C'mon Ed, you won't get fired. (laughs)
EE: I know Super Street was geared more for the every day guy, but I wanted to feature higher horsepower cars. I loved that I had this job that paid me to do what I loved doing, which was being around cars. All those free parts.
MP: I think for Ed and I, we both grew professionally being at Super Street; this was his first job out of college and it was my first managerial position. I hope I've learned from it. I didn't like the volatility of upper management coming in to tell me that our budget was being cut. Now I look at the magazine's content and say, "Wow" this is stuff that we used to dream about. You purposely shoot editorial photos for your columns. That was unheard of back then.
SS: Matt and Karl, did you guys feel awkward being the only two fashionably challenged white men in a world of cool, hip Asians?
MP: I'd be the odd guy out and not even know it. I mean, how many years did I go around shaking Jonathan's hand in what I thought was a normal way and he'd turn around saying "Yeah, that's my boss, I have to do the white man handshake." (laughs) I'd say, "Hey, what's the white man handshake? You gonna teach that to me?" (mimicking Jonathan) "Uhhhh, sure." (laughs) I think I'm extremely fortunate and I'm sure it's trite and clich to say all of this, but if people were talking about us that way, I didn't notice. I never encountered that. I didn't street race; I wasn't from a crew but I loved Hondas. I was passionate about it so I think that came through.
EE: It was hard to find anyone who would accept the import culture back then. For any company to acknowledge us was tough.
KB: I would call manufacturers trying to get our hands on a new car for road testing and...
MP: Hello? Hello? (laughs)
KB: Yes, I'm calling from Super Street. "Super what? What are you guys covering?" Well, we're covering the modified Civics and Integras -"They're modifying Civics and Integras?" Yeah, they are. "Well, don't call us; we'll call you." I had a lot of that.
SS: What are you doing these days for a living?
EE: I'm working towards my masters degree at Pepperdine University.
MP: Do you need a cover letter? (laughs)
KB: I work at Edmunds.com, which is where I went after leaving Super Street.
MP: (in his best white man's voice) I'm at SEMA, the Specialty Equipment Market Association, located in Diamond Bar, California, where I am the editorial director for SEMA, that's the Specialty Equipment Market Association, located in Diamond Bar, California.
ALL: That's www.sema.org. (laughs)
SS: Working at Super Street is often times a surreal experience. Can you give us a few of yours?
EE: The worst experience I ever had was the first time I traveled back south. It must've been Alabama and I got the runs from eating a burger from the track.
MP: Get the shot! Get the shot! I didn't care. Walk it off!
KB: I can remember the very first Super Street Tour and I was sitting in the lead car. I'm sitting on top of the passenger side window, shooting over the roof of our car and there are 400 cars behind us, each one of them trying to get into the shot. A cop pulls us over and all 400 people follow us and pull over, too. The cop got really mad because all those people pulled over with us, but Mike Robleto (former ad sales) talked his way out of a ticket for us. We went from being these guys who could just show up at a show and not be bothered to being these guys who could go to a show and suddenly not get a thing done. It was really a "be careful what you wish for" thing.
MP: The whole idea of the Tour, showing up to the first stop and seeing all the hundreds of cars that were there, I thought: Holy crap; all these people are going to follow us. Meeting everyone who read the magazine and how we touched their lives in some strange way. I could never fathom anything like this. I just thought I'd put things that I thought were cool into a magazine. I've been fortunate in many, many ways-the whole experience has been mind blowing, so it's hard to narrow it down to just one. What a strange and amazing trip.