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Driving the Wienermobile brings smiles to both witnessers, riders

Every year a UW alum is a part of the group of recent college grads traveling the country aboard Oscar Mayer’s iconic 27-foot hot dog on wheels — Madison’s 2019 member Mitch McMahon reflects on his experience. 

Every year a UW alum is a part of the group of recent college grads traveling the country aboard Oscar Mayer’s iconic 27-foot hot dog on wheels — Madison’s 2019 member Mitch McMahon reflects on his experience. 

Image By: Courtesy of Mitch McMahon

While most Grainger finance and economics majors end up spending their careers in business or financial consultancy, 2019 UW-Madison grad and Green Bay native Mitch McMahon decided to take a different route after graduation.

He became a Hotdogger.

Hotdoggers, a term coined by the Oscar Mayer meat company, are the 12 recent college graduates who spend a full-time, one-year assignment as a brand ambassador for Oscar Mayer.

While traveling around the country, these ambassadors are not selling hotdogs, McMahon clarified, but promoting the company and spreading smiles. 

“We manage a PR firm on wheels,” McMahon said. “[We try to] make people’s day brighter in the hopes that when they experience the Weinermobile it is something that stays with them for the rest of their life.”

A longstanding tradition

Oscar Mayer has deep roots in Madison and McMahon is joining a long line of past UW Hotdoggers — since the brand started recruiting college students to drive the Wienermobile in 1988, there has been a UW grad in the vehicle every year.

Even before Oscar Mayer recruited college students for the Weinermobile’s annual national tour, the hotdog car was still spreading joy to Americans. It debuted in 1936 in the midst of the Great Depression. 

“They literally just paraded it in downtown Chicago because people were very sad,” McMahon explained. “Carl Mayer Jr. and Oscar Mayer who came up with this idea were like, ‘Everyone deserves happiness no matter who you are, and this is how we can do that in a very small way,’ and people loved it.”

The company’s first major processing plant and headquarters were built in Madison in 1919. Although Kraft Heinz acquired Oscar Mayer in 2015 and relocated the plant and headquarters to Chicago in 2015, Oscar Mayer’s Madison roots remain strong.

“Even when the Oscar Mayer plant in Madison closed, they kept the Weinermobile program here because it’s such a staple of our town,” McMahon added. 

A day in the life

Like many before him, McMahon was drawn into the Oscar Mayer program at UW while looking for a more creative post-graduation opportunity.

After attending a career fair, McMahon’s roommate was interested in the Hotdogger job, and he encouraged McMahon to join him at the information session.  

“I tagged along and I fell in love with the job because the Weinermobile is kind of the catch-all for a lot of different roles,” McMahon said. 

Along with driving the Weinermobile, McMahon’s job mainly consists of speaking on behalf of the company during radio and television interviews, attending events and talking about the company’s promotions. 

“Obviously you drive the Wienermobile, but that’s a very small aspect of what we do,” McMahon said. “You get the opportunity to work for a very large company and their marketing department.”

Though marketing is a key aspect of the job, McMahon emphasized it’s his everyday interactions — where he has the opportunity to brighten someone’s day — that he most enjoys. 

He described one individual from the road who has stayed in his memory: Anne Marie.

Marie, a breast cancer survivor currently battling MS and taking care of her husband on kidney dialysis, has dreamed of seeing the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile since she was a child.  

“We got 25 of her closest friends to meet at one location and we paraded up the street to her house. She came up screaming, crying, kissing the Weinermobile — and at that moment it was like this entire job was worth it,” he shared.

Calling future Hotdoggers

Last week, McMahon and his colleagues collaborated with SuccessWorks to host their annual information session to recruit Hotdoggers from UW’s 2020 graduating class. 

All in all, they’re expecting a couple thousand graduates to apply from across the country.

When deciding who will be behind the wheel in 2020, Oscar Mayer looks for individuals who are people-orientated and ready for adventure.  

“The Weinermobile is something that people want at their events, and you’ve got to be willing to do whatever it takes to get out there and make people happy,” McMahon said. “Being able to be on the fly, live out of a suitcase for an entire year — it takes a certain type of person to be able to do that.”

Even though McMahon’s time as a Hotdogger ends in four months, he’s not ready to give up living out of a suitcase quite yet. He hopes to travel around Europe before pursuing a TV career  in Chicago or Los Angeles. 

McMahon noted the impact a positive mindset can have on others; it’s one of the main things he will carry with him after his year on the Weinermobile.

“Having a positive mindset, even if you’re in a bad mood, just makes the day better and that’s been a big lesson that I learned,” McMahon said.

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