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Mon, 02 Jan 2012, 13:17 PM

Fuel Altered's Forever Part 1
By Steve Reyes
Photo copyright 2011 Steve Reyes

So last year I was watching the NHRA Chicagoland race on television and the subject of discussion is how hard it is to drive a funny car. Some of the best in funny car racing are interviewed about the degree of difficulty to muscle a funny car down the drag strip. These drivers get me to thinking about a class in drag racing that makes driving a funny car look like a Sunday drive.

Take a 98 inch wheel based roadster bodies race car and shoehorn a 392 Hemi on a big block Chevy into said chassis. Put a 6-71 blower with 98% nitro in the fuel tank and "wahla" you have a AA/Fuel Altered. Put one fearless or mindless (your choice of words) driver into the drivers seat, point the car at the nearest guard rail and stand back. Back in the mid 1960's and early 1970's this was the class that funny car and top fuel drivers went to the fences to watch run. Watching these 98 inch nitro burners race down the quarter mile was like watching a horror movie. You want to turn away, but you can't.

This was the class that had drivers nicknamed "Wild Willie", "Dangerous", "The Snail", "Nasty", and "Golden Shoe." The cars were named Winged Express, Pure Hell, Pure Heaven, Monkey Motion, Hot Stuff, Bad News and Groundshaker. Just these names give some insight into how exciting these cars were to watch traverse the quarter mile. When I say traverse, I mean that literally, they didn't often make a straight run down the track and every once in a while they tried to run me over.

Enjoy your peek at some fun cars and if you wish to purchase prints of the photos below, they may be obtained by contacting us at Other photos may be viewed by following the link at the bottom of the page at

Leroy Chadderton broke in the original Magnificent 7 in a big way at Irwindale in 1966. On his first full pass in the Magnificent 7, Leroy had a stuck throttle and hit both guardrails and went off the end of the race track into a creek.

There wasn't a guard rail safe when the Winged Express lined up for a half mile pass on a quarter mile track. Willie Borsch was a one of a kind driver. He even tried driving a top fueler for a couple of passes but he didn't like the view and went back to the 'Express.

Northern California's entry to this class of moving mayhem was Rich Guasco's Pure Hell and here Dale "The Snail" Emery put the Chevy powered roadster through its paces. Emery is the driver most remembered for driving Pure Hell. But Guasco drove as did Fred Cerutti. Don "The Golden Shoe" Petrich took the reins in 1965 but soon decided he would rather go racing with his own top fueler. So ex-top fuel driver Dale Emery found a home in Guasco's Bantam roadster.

After a crash at Fremont in late 1967, the Pure Hell Bantam sprouted a 392 Hemi for the 1968 season and after that, the altered cranked out 200 mph and mid-7 second passes at every race.

The Winged Express at night was scary but so much fun to watch. The fans loved this car, especially at night.

Northern California's Fred Sorensen had his own ideas about the fuel roadster class. This is his 1965 version of his Warlock roadster. Two Northern California top fuel drivers shared the driving chores, Don Argee and Jim "Lizard" Herbert both drove the big black roadster.

One of my favorite nitro burning roadsters in Northern California was Fred Cerutti's Quality Auto Bantam. Cerutti was a Fremont regular and would race anything in the next lane including dragsters, altered's, or whatever. Cerutti also helped Guasco get the new car bugs out of Pure Hell.

Another Northern California duo were the brothers Burkholder, Pete and "Hairy." The first time I saw the Burkholder's they had a Fiat body on their altered and soon a Bantam body replaced it. Then a 1920 something touring body replaced the Bantam. Then a Fiat body replaced the touring body. Still with me? They went from a gas burning Olds engine to a nitro gulping 392 Hemi. They may have changed bodies, etc, but Pete and "Hairy" always thundered down the quarter mile, period!

One of the original racers in the Fuel Altered class in Southern California was Leon Fitzgerald. First with his Anaheim Speed Shop Fiat and Bantam. Then with his Pure Heaven nitro burning Bantam. Named Pure Heaven to offset Rich Guasco's Pure Hell, the two would match race up and down the West Coast. Good vs. Evil put fans in the stands between 1967 and 1969.

A mainstay of the Fuel Altered wars in Southern California was Randy Braford's fuel burning Fiat. Bradford's Hot Stuff Fiat was also part of the first Fuel Altered Nationwide Tour in 1969.

A show and go Fuel Altered belonged to Walker and Geary. This blue roadster was one bad hombre during 1966 and 1967.

Dave Bowman's Mental Cruelty Bantam was a Southern California favorite. He mainly raced at race tracks in an around the southern California area and did very well in the Fuel Altered wars.

Beautiful car, not so good driver. The DiMatteo Brothers had the best looking Fuel Altered. However, the driver Bart DiMatteo could not get the Bantam from point A to B. I never saw him complete a quarter mile run under power. I would have loved to see Tom Ferraro make a pass in this Bantam.

This was one bad ass Fiat. Mondello and Matsubara's Fiat was feared by all in the Fuel Altered class. The late Joe Mondello told me this was his favorite photo of his Fiat, so here's Joe's favorite photo shot at Lions in 1969, racing the Winged Express.

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