March twenty-first of this year marked my seventieth year on planet earth. For about fifty-five of those years I have been around drag racers and their families. One of those racers that stood out from the crowd was the late Dale Emery. Emery was a one of a kind human being in the world of grease, oil, and nitro. This slow moving, slow talking guy from Stillwater, Oklahoma, was one heck of a guy to be friends with and was very entertaining to bench race with.
Dale came to California when he was a youngster and his family settled in Livermore, California. At an early age, Emery got the "car" bug that many an early racer developed living in California. His driving career began with a 1939 Chevy that he purchased for a whopping $10.00. That started the ball rolling towards being a race car driver in the world of drag racers. Dale's first serious race car was a rear-engine chop top '34 Ford with a blown fuel Chevy with six Stromberg carbs. Emery won fuel altered at Bakersfield in 1960 with that car. At 21, Emery had already driven his first altered before, Pure Hell.
In 1962, at the age of twenty-three, Dale Emery went top fuel racing with partner Woody Parker. Their car was a blown Olds-powered on a nitro slingshot sponsored by K&P automotive. Dale built the engine and drove the car; Parker was the crew chief. Together the duo raced at local tracks and did okay but money was tight. When they hurt their powerplant, the AA/FD had to be parked.
Meanwhile, down the road from Livermore, in Pleasanton, California, Rich Guasco readied his unpainted, unnamed blown fuel burning roadster at Fremont, California, in 1964. While his AA/FD ride was parked, Emery opened up a small machine shop not far from Guasco's base of Pleasanton, California. At the start of 1965, Guasco's Pure Hell roadster was driven by Don "The Golden Shoe" Petrich. Petrich was smashing track records up and down the West Coast with Pure Hell but Petrich wasn't satisfied piloting Guasco's roadster, he wanted to be a top fuel owner/driver. After only a short time behind the wheel, Petrich left to pursue his top fuel dream.
As luck or fate would have it, Guasco was a customer of Emery's one-man machine shop. Guasco knew of Emery's brief top fuel career and asked Dale if he would consider Pure Hell as his next nitro ride and of course, the rest is drag racing history. On Emery's first pass, he got out of shape and shut off. However, on the second pass Emery and Pure Hell were straight and true, running the quickest ET the car had ever run at 8.86. Guasco was thrilled and almost giddy; Dale thought it was no big deal. Heck, he had gone quicker in the Olds AA/FD.
For 1966 and the first part of 1967, Pure Hell became the fuel altered to beat. Not every weekend was peaches and cream for the NorCal duo. While testing his new steering at Fremont in February of 1967, Dale and Pure Hell ended the trip down the track upside down in a culvert of mud and water. The steering had failed and the car drifted off the side of the track and plunged into the culvert.
As Dale was upside down in mud and water, he tried to unbuckle and get out of the car. Fortunately for him, help arrived in the form of the Del Rio Brothers, Tony & Wayne. The Del Rio's were close pals of Guasco and Emery and they were not about to let their pal drown. The car was swiftly turned upright and they got Emery out of his mud filled cockpit. EMT's arrived and started yanking on Dale's facemask and helmet but his chin strap had not been undone. They were strangling Emery with every tug of the helmet. When Tony Del Rio saw what was happening, he promptly knocked out the EMT with one punch (he was an ex-wrestler and bodyguard) and down went the EMT. Del Rio unbuckled Dale's helmet and the underwater driver could then breathe fresh air. Dale was fine but Guasco ended up in the ER when he stressed out so much that he passed out. Isn't drag racing fun!
Pure Hell debuted in 1968 with a big bad Guasco built 392 Hemi in the engine compartment. The Chevy was gone so now the altered in the class had to deal with a Hemi-powered Pure Hell. Then in April of 1968, Emery set the mph record for altered's at 207 mph. This was at the Hot Rod Magazine Championships at Riverside, California.
Guasco and Emery continued to crank out 200 mph runs in 1968 and 1969. I asked Emery how he knew if the car was going better than 200 mph. Could he feel it? His answer, "Well, I just look down at the small windshield on Pure Hell's Bantam body and if its laying down on my hands, then I know I'm over 200 mph!"
Pure Hell's last event was the NHRA US Nationals at Indy in 1969. Of course, Pure Hell put on a great show, winning their class. Unfortunately, on the tow home, an accident almost totaled the famed AA/FA. Guasco decided not to rebuild. Pete Ogden repaired the car and sold it to NorCal racer Jim Peace. Peace made changes and ran in AA/FA class as Berserk AA/FA.
Emery packed up and with his wife Brenda, headed for Texas. A couple of Texas top fuel rides and Emery was hooked up with Gary Watson, the Texas Wheelstander king. Dale took the job of driving Watson's second team car, the Flying Red Baron Mustang. Just after Emery took on his new ride, I ran into him at the 1971 AHRA Winternationals in Scottsdale. Emery wanted to know what I was doing for the next couple of weeks and would I like to tour with him, Watson, Richie Hutchens, Tommy Maras, Bob Perry, Bill Schrewsberry and the Trevino Brothers. They had this tour lined up and Emery wanted magazine coverage of their tour. With cameras and suitcase in hand, I went on tour with drag racing's court jester's the wheel standers. Yeah, it was fun, but I only could do part of their tour. It proved to be enough because I got them a great six page spread in Drag Racing USA Magazine. Emery and the guys were very happy about their magazine ink.
Since Dale drove the Flying Red Baron like a fuel altered, it wasn't long before he crashed it and Watson decided not to rebuild it. That will do it for this segment of Emery's story. In the next segment, we will pick up with Dale in Ohio where he went to work for another wheel stand legend Bob Riggle.
If you wish to purchase prints of the photos below or any others, they may be obtained by contacting us at email@example.com. Other photos for purchase may be viewed by following the links at www.reyesontour.com.
Dale's partner in this car was Woody Parker.
first time in Rich Guasco's Pure Hell at Fremont. Dale was the third driver for Pure Hell.
Fred Cerutti and Don Petrich both had driven the Bantam bodied roadster. There was a
fourth driver, Hugh "Putzel" Osterman, a journeyman top fuel driver from Los Angeles who
filled in for an absent Emery one weekend at Sacramento in 1969.
a top gas owner and good friend of Emery's who helped push Pure Hell onto the fire-up road.
was on when Emery put the roadster upside down in a culvert full of mud and water at Fremont.
Steering failure caused the crash but Emery recalled how the crash was like a part of a
Three Stooges film - car upside down, EMT punched out and car owner Guasco being treated at
the hospital for stress over the crash, not to mention, the driver walked away unhurt.
This is a photo of a repaired Pure Hell doing its wheel stand thing about three months after
the crash. Yes, that is its old injector scoop!
Naw, he jumped into the Walsh and Hay Wailer AA/FD for a few laps and also raced
the Emery and Fuller AA/GD in 1968.
At the 1968 NHRA Winternationals they debuted the Hemi-powered Pure Hell. A few months later
at Riverside, Emery and Pure Hell set the mph record at 207 mph vs. Pure Heaven.
when the AA/FA was on a 200 mph pass. Emery calmly explained that when the little windshield
on the Bantam body lay down on his hands at the finish line, he knew he was over 200 mph.
After the race, the car was badly damaged in a towing accident while returning
to California. Chassis builder Pete Ogden repaired the car and Guasco sold it to
NorCal racer Jim Peace who raced the car as the Berserk AA/FA in 1970.
Dale truly thought that wheel standers were not race cars but circus acts. However, it was a
paycheck and the owner Gary Watson paid the bills so in 1971, Emery was a wheel stander driver.
Dale thought I should suffer also, so he invited me along to tour with him and a bunch of other wheel
standers. It was a blast and I got the group some great ink in Drag Racing USA Magazine and Drag News.