Hangin' with Hot Dog
When FenderBender finally got a hold of Pete “Hot Dog” Finlan, he was relieved to take the call.
“Oh, I’m just pinstriping for 15 hours today, so I can take a break,” he says.
It’s good to be busy. It’s seemingly all Finlan has ever been—he’s painted for over 30 years. He was born in South Carolina but his family switched coasts when he was just
one year old, and that’s where he’s been ever since. Known as one of the best custom painters in the world, Finlan owns and operates Hot Dog Customs, a paint shop north of San Diego, south of Los Angeles, east of the Pacific and west of everything else. He spent two years at Hot Rods & Customs, where he painted a car that won the vaunted Ridler award, and eight years with West Coast Customs, where he painted over 40 of the vehicles featured on the TV show Monster Garage, from 2002–2010.
As told to Jordan Wiklund
Art class in high school was boring. The teacher had an airbrush, though, and I immediately loved it. I started painting surfboards and that transitioned to cars and bikes; I was a professional skateboarder and could care less about surfing. Once per week, there was a note on the door that said, “Waves are good, be back tomorrow.” Surfers wanted everything for free, and I said, “I’m out of here.”
Everything I work on is hand-drawn, hand-cut, and handpainted. I don’t know anything else. That’s part of having your own business. My favorite time being the painter was when I was at a shop; I did what I did and went home. Now I have to juggle all the balls in the air. I love painting but don’t always like the business part of it. But without the business I wouldn’t have the opportunity.
Hard work yields results. I’ve been fortunate to work all over the country and even the world. I painted a Hummer in Iraq during the second war there—no other painter can say that. One of the projects I’m most proud of was showcased during the 2017 SEMA convention in Las Vegas. There, I painted a roaring 1930 Ford Tudor model A sedan nicknamed “Bully.” Top to bottom, the entire car was covered in green neon paint and flake, aswirl with orange highlights and trim and offset by gleaming chrome wheel covers, aggressive side pipes and a 540 ci. aluminum Hemi 871 Blower engine erupting from the engine bay, a silver dragon leaping from the neon forest.
That was 3,000 hours of paint, no fenders and no hood. There was no carpet in it; the floor was painted. The seats were painted. The roof was painted. A few years later, I painted a ’32 Ford pickup for the same customer. The only direction was, “Make it better than Bully.”
For painters aspiring to achieve more than they ever thought possible here’s some easy advice:
1. Practice. Whatever you’re trying to learn, practice. I still practice after 39 years. The variety of training classes from PPG is astounding and will help you get where you want to be. You can never practice enough.
2. Keep up to date. No matter whether you’re a painter in custom or collision, it is important to keep up to date with the latest products and application techniques. Take advantage of certifications available to you. A shop with certified painters is a shop that can boost throughput and increase profit for its highly qualified (and certified!) work.
3. Be bold. Don’t be afraid to try something, whatever you do. The best designs and discoveries often emerge from letting your imagination be your guide. Whatever you
learn through trial and error will translate on all your shop’s customers’ cars, no matter the make, model or nature of the collision.
I think all painting excites me all the time. I’m fortunate to be in a position where people bring me projects and say, “make it cool.” I still enjoy every new project and challenge, from motorcycle helmets to surfboards, cars and trucks and more—on my website, look for the Star Wars stormtrooper helmet. It’s a weird thing—people say, “I didn’t know you painted that!” or, “I could tell you painted that,” and both are compliments. You don’t want to do the same thing over and over.
The most common question I still get is “Why ‘Hot Dog’?” It’s super simple—I like hot dogs! A stripe of red and a stripe of yellow. Every Wednesday, we do Wiener Wednesday, and even the wiener cart is custom painted. We have one of those hot dog rollers, and we’ll go through 50 hot dogs in an hour. Also, my first shop was called Paint by Pete, which became boring real fast. It was also nondescript—I’d get calls to paint kitchens, to paint garage doors. “Hot dog” is also a showoff term in skiing and surfing and I thought that goes right along with it. Just by the name of the shop, customers would say, “Hey, is Hot Dog here?”
To see more of Hot Dog's finest, check out @HotDogKustoms on Instagram.
The Painter's Playbook is presented by PPG and SATA/Dan-Am Co.