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Pete Paulson staging car show Saturday
Pete Paulsen a legendary local hot rod promoter and business owner stands with Candy Clark, left, who played Debbie Dunham in the 1973 epic American Graffiti and his daughter Doreen Paulsen Linza. - photo by Photo Contributed

FRENCH CAMP – Pete Paulsen loves hot rods. 

The rumble. The flair. The attitude that goes along with the culture. 

And while he appreciates a good classic car as much the next automotive enthusiast, Paulsen has always enjoyed things a little bit off-kilter – taking something that’s beautiful and putting a little bit extra on it. 

And on Saturday that will be on display when he and his wife Pat host their annual picnic at their French Camp home – a laid-back gathering featuring both music and machines. 

“For me it’s about the four-speeds and the style,” said Paulsen – a Hall of Fame inductee to the Grand National Roadster Show. “I remember I bought a 1957 Ford in the fall of 1956 and the first thing I did was take it to get some teardrops on it and some hubcaps and get a lowered a little bit. I like the customs – there’s something to that.”

To say that Paulsen has a colorful past would be an understatement. 

A San Francisco native, he spent a large portion of his youth in Beverly Hills before moving with his mother back to Oakland. In 1961 he opened his first shop – the House of Wheels – in San Leandro, and experienced the era embodied in American Graffiti firsthand. 

For a stretch in the early 1990s Paulsen owned and promoted the Delta Speedway, and until last year was an active circle track racer with strong roots. His son and his granddaughter have both raced, and he maintains a strong reputation amongst those close to the sport. 

Of the dozens of cars that he’s owned and built in his lifetime, the 78-year-old still has the 1940 Ford Pickup that he bought when he was 17 years old, and still appreciates those with a penchant for taking something classic and making it their own. 

While some of life’s hurdles have slowed him down in recent years – he had a triple-bypass six-weeks ago – and he’s nearing retirement, Paulsen looks at events like Saturday’s picnic and next month’s show at the Stockton Metro Airport as something that will keep him plugged into the community that he loves. 

“There have been things that have put a damper on my personal life in recent years, but as long as I have something to play with – a few car shows and maybe a game of golf every once in a while – I’ll be good,” he said. “I love the Raiders and I’m looking forward this season – we’ve got a great coach and a helluva quarterback. I’ve got a lot to look forward to.”

Pete Paulsen’s annual Pete and Pat Hot Rod Picnic takes place on Saturday, June 20, from 2 to 8 p.m. at Paulsen Motorsports – located at 1504 Bowman Road in French Camp. Tickets are $15, and food and drinks presented by Rich Hogan of Haven Acres and Windmill Cove will be available. Music from the Rev-Tones and Gayle Sutherland and Sweet Talk will be showcased, as tracks provided by DJ “Wild” Wayne.