A Man who Helped Shape our Sport

Drag Racer - - Contents - Text and Pho­tos by Bob McClurg

WITH OUR SPORT MIDSTRIDE THROUGH ITS SEV­ENTH DECADE, MANY OF THE GREAT­EST DRIV­ERS AND PER­SON­AL­I­TIES WHO EVER STRAPPED ON A HEL­MET OR TURNED A WRENCH ARE LEAV­ING US AT AN ALARM­ING RATE. Sadly, Dale “The Snail’ Emery is one of the lat­est to go to that great drag strip in the sky. Drag Racer Mag­a­zine had the op­por­tu­nity to sit down with Emery just prior to the 2017 British Drag Rac­ing Hall of Fame Bench Race Ses­sion and Gala, where he was a fea­tured guest, and talk about his life with cars.

It’s a toss-up as to which achieve­ments have brought Dale Emery the most fame: His role as crew chief to Ray­mond Bea­dle and the fa­bled Blue Max, or his driv­ing tal­ents, es­pe­cially at the helm of Rich Guasco’s in­fa­mous Pure Hell ’32 Ban­tam AA/ Fuel Al­tered road­ster. Emery was also one of the movers and shak­ers be­hind the early-’70s Funny Car revo­lu­tion, both as a driver and a tuner, and he pos­sessed one of the great­est me­chan­i­cal minds in the sport.

Drag Racer: When did you be­come in­ter­ested in hot rods?

Dale Emery: Around 1956 I bought a ’41 Chevy coupe. I took the body off the frame, did all the body­work and com­pletely re­built all the me­chan­i­cals prior to in­stalling a 283 Chevy that had a ½-inch CT stro­ker crank, Howard’s rods and cam and Jahns

Emery was also one of the movers and shak­ers be­hind the early’ 70s Funny Car revo­lu­tion, both as a driver and a tuner, and he pos­sessed one of the great­est me­chan­i­cal minds in the sport.

pis­tons. I raced it around the Bay Area in the Gas class un­til around 1962 when I built an Oldsmo­bile-en­gined Top Fuel car with Woody Parker. We were mod­er­ately suc­cess­ful, and af­ter that I started driv­ing for Rich Guasco; the rest is his­tory.

DR: When did that hap­pen?

DE: We’d hurt the old block in my Top Fuel car in early 1963 and sat out for a while. At the time I had a lit­tle ma­chine shop in Rich­mond [Cal­ifro­nia], and Rich used to come over and I would fix things for him. One day he asked me if I would drive his new blown Chevy-pow­ered AA/HR. I said that I had never driven any­thing with that short of a wheel­base be­fore, but all I could do is try. We took the car to Fremont Race­way, and I got kind of out of shape and shut it off on the first pass.

On the next run I ended up mak­ing a full pass and ran an 8.86, or some­thing like that. Back in those days al­tereds ran in the low nines, so Guasco got all ex­cited. I couldn’t fig­ure out what all the ex­cite­ment was about be­cause it just seemed like—keep­ing in mind that I was used to driv­ing a Top Fuel car—just an or­di­nary run to me. We ended up get­ting to­gether and form­ing a team.

DR: Not ev­ery run was a record-breaker was it?

DE: Over the win­ter of 1966, we re­placed the worn-out Cross­ley steer­ing box with a new one from P&S. In Fe­bru­ary 1967, we went to Fremont to run the car. It had rained hard the night be­fore, so there was wa­ter all over the place. Some­one for­got to pin the steer­ing box at the steer­ing shaft. With no pin hold­ing the shaft in place, the steer­ing wheel came off in my hands right off the start­ing line at about 65 miles per hour.

I tried to jam the steer­ing shaft back into the box, and that didn’t work, so I pulled back hard on the brake. The car slid off the track into the wet grass and flipped over in about 2 feet of wa­ter. I had to de­cide re­ally quick whether I wanted to drink wa­ter or hold my breath!

I had al­ready un­done my lap belts, but the cowl was hold­ing me in, and I was hop­ing that some­body would get there quickly and pull me out of the car! Then I started to feel some­body rock­ing the car. When it fi­nally turned back over I jumped out, but I couldn’t see a damned thing. There was mud all over the place and my gog­gles were packed full of it. All I knew was some­body—it turned out to be the am­bu­lance driver—had me in a wrestler’s head lock and they were try­ing to pull off my hel­met. Only prob­lem was I hadn’t un­fas­tened my chin strap, so it felt more like they were try­ing to yank my head off.

Tony De Rio came along and quickly sized up the sit­u­a­tion. He smacked the am­bu­lance at­ten­dant and knocked him into the wa­ter. Later the guy asked me who was it that had hit him, and I said, be­lieve me, brother, you don’t want to know.

Any­how, they took me to the hos­pi­tal and I was fine. I rode back to the track in the am­bu­lance but didn’t see Rich Guasco any­where. They said that he had chased the am­bu­lance all the way to the hos­pi­tal. By the time he ar­rived he was so stressed out that they had to give him a shot just to calm him down. The whole thing felt like an episode straight out of the Three Stooges.

DR: You guys ran a ca­reer best of some­thing like a 7.27-218.00 in Pure Hell af­ter switch­ing to Chrysler power, didn’t you?

DE: We raced Pure Hell for five years, set the mile-per­hour record in 1969 at 207 dur­ing the Hot Rod Mag­a­zine Cham­pi­onship Drag Races at River­side Race­way, and had our­selves one heck of a good time.

DR: What hap­pened af­ter Pure Hell?

DE: Af­ter Rich parked the car, I moved to Texas, and I’ve been liv­ing there with my wife Brenda ever since.

DR: But you con­tin­ued to race?

DE: I briefly drove the Rousin & O’Hare AA/FD prior to get­ting hooked up with Gary Wat­son of Paddy Wagon wheel-stander fame. He had built a sec­ond wheelie car, a blown Chevro­let en­gine 1970 Mus­tang called the Fly­ing Red Baron, but on one run the car came down on one wheel and went into a bar­rel roll and was to­taled.

Af­ter the ac­ci­dent Gary wanted to re­build, but I’d had enough of wheelie cars, which I felt were noth­ing more than cir­cus acts, so I went to work for Bob Rig­gle. He had bought Don and Roy Gay’s old Log­ghe Chas­sis ’68 Pon­tiac Fire­bird Funny Car and re­named it Hemi Un­der Glass, but all he wanted to do was match race the car and make money with it.

Trou­ble was that the car was so out­dated that it was any­thing but com­pet­i­tive. Even­tu­ally Rig­gle and I parted ways and I got a job work­ing with Sam “Cha­parral Vega” Har­ris who owned the Cha­parral Trailer Com­pany in Dal­las, Texas.

Then Jeg Cough­lin con­tacted me about run­ning his Log­ghe Ca­maro Funny Car, so I thought that I would give it a try. We raced Jeg’s Ca­maro for about a year or so and did pretty well. We won Sanair and were run­nerup at the NHRA meet at On­tario Mo­tor Speed­way. That was the event where I blew the body off. Over the win­ter we fixed the car and won Funny Car Elim­i­na­tor the fol­low­ing Fe­bru­ary of 1974 at Pomona Race­way. Then we built a brand-new Sarte chas­sis mini Ca­maro and ran the car at Gainesville be­fore things got a lit­tle crossed up.

DR: Crossed up in what way?

DE: Jeg and I had made a deal where he was go­ing to pay me a big bonus at the end of the year if we [Emery, D. Gantt and “Waterbed Fred” Miller] did well. I went into his of­fice to talk to him about col­lect­ing that bonus, and he said that he didn’t owe me any­thing. I said, Do you mind if I use your tele­phone for a minute? I called Sam Har­ris in Dal­las and said, Sam, I need a job. He said, ‘Get your­self down here,’ so I left that af­ter­noon and went back to work at Cha­parral Trailer again.

DR: But you’re driv­ing ca­reer wasn’t quite over yet was it?

DE: I signed on to drive for ‘Big Mike’ Burkhart for a while and drove his new mini Ca­maro, but I ended up wreck­ing the car and al­most killing my­self at the U.S. Na­tion­als at Indy.

The next week, Ray­mond Bea­dle came over to the trailer shop and said that he and part­ner Harry Sch­midt were break­ing up and he wanted me to work for him. I said, Well, I don’t know. I need to go over and talk to Burkhart and see what he plans to do.

DR: Was that around the time Ray­mond and Waterbed Fred took the car to Eng­land?

DE: Yes, they spent a cou­ple of weeks there, and I didn’t think any more about it. A cou­ple of weeks later, Ray­mond came back over to Cha­parral again and asked me if I was in­ter­ested. I said, Well, I no­ticed that you guys were hav­ing trou­ble get­ting the car down the track, and I don’t know whether I can fix the prob­lem or not. He said, ‘Let’s give it a try.’ We ended up fix­ing the prob­lem [in 1977], but it took us over a year to do it. I tried all kinds of dif­fer­ent stuff, but noth­ing seemed to cure the prob­lem, which turned out to be the fuel tank and fuel sys­tem.

Once we dis­cov­ered the cul­prit, we smoked it out to Jim Hume’s H&H Race Craft shop out in Tarzana, Cal­i­for­nia, and had a new fuel tank built. Then we took the car to Seat­tle and ended up win­ning the 1964 Funny Car fea­ture event. Then we went to Boise, Idaho, and won that deal too.

DR: Then it was on to Indy?

DE: We won the U.S. Na­tion­als at Indy and ran our first five-sec­ond pass, which paved the way for three con­sec­u­tive NHRA-Win­ston Funny Car World Cham­pi­onships in 1979, 1980 and 1981, with me as crew chief.

DR: How long did you and Bea­dle and crew race to­gether as a team?

DE: I stayed with Blue Max Rac­ing up un­til 1990 when Ray­mond quit. Then I built a flow bench and started do­ing fuel pump and in­jec­tor work and still do some of that to­day.

DR: What about your early Chrysler Hemi en­gine pro­gram?

DE: I started help­ing Jim Cullen and Den­ver Schutz run a nos­tal­gia Top Fuel car. The first race we ran with a brand-new Dono­van 417 mo­tor. The car left the start­ing line, went about a hun­dred feet and kicked a rod out. The ex­plo­sion was so in­tense, it split the block in half and dam­aged it to the ex­tent that about the only thing it was good for was Coors Beer cans. I said to Jim, Why don’t we make a cou­ple of 392-style en­gine blocks out of bil­let?

John Rodek got wind of what I was think­ing about do­ing and con­tacted me. He said he wanted me to bring the project in-house. It took us about a year to do it suc­cess­fully. At first, we did four blocks, two of which we turned into all-out race en­gines. Then John talked me into do­ing a dozen more of them [aka D.E. forged

392 alu­minum blocks] and sug­gested that we start sell­ing them. Once word got around, we had them sold even be­fore we had them fin­ished. Gene Adams was one of the first guys to buy one, and the thing just sort of snow­balled from there. I think we made a to­tal of 78. Then when NHRA and the Goodguys started al­low­ing nos­tal­gia cars to run 426 Hemis, sales started ta­per­ing off and we quit mak­ing them.

DR: Are you re­tired to­day?

DE: More or less. I helped nos­tal­gia racer Jack Har­ris in Salt Lake City, Utah, for about a year. Then I helped Frank Mosley from Illi­nois for about six months just to get him go­ing. I just love drag rac­ing and al­ways have. When I was 16 years old, my dad used to drop me off at the Rich­mond ship­yard where they’d Out­law drag race on the week­ends. I just loved it. As soon as I got my own wheels I was on the go and have never stopped.

I for­got to men­tion, af­ter my ’41 Chevy I built a rearengine chop-top ’34 Ford with a blown fuel Chevy and six Stromberg car­bu­re­tors. I ran as a Fuel Al­tered and won Bak­ers­field in 1960, so I guess you could say that I’ve al­ways been sort of an in­no­va­tor.

King­don Drag Strip, Lodi, Cal­i­for­nia: A ju­bi­lant Dale Emery poses with a tro­phy queen while hold­ing a con­grat­u­la­tory can of Valvo­line mo­tor oil and his first tro­phy.

Around 1962, Dale and part­ner Woody Parker cam­paigned this Oldsmo­bile-en­gined Top Fuel Drag­ster with mixed re­sults.

Af­ter park­ing the Olds T/F, Emery pi­loted one of the most fa­mous cars in the an­nals of drag rac­ing, Rich Guasco’s Pure Hell.

At Fremont in 1967, helm­ing Pure Hell, Emery went snor­kel­ing af­ter the steer­ing shaft came off in his hands un­der hard ac­cel­er­a­tion. He skid­ded off the track onto wet grass, rolled over and came to rest in about 2 feet of wa­ter. Photo by Les Welch.

In 1973, Emery be­gan a suc­cess­ful multi-year re­la­tion­ship driv­ing for Jeg Cough­lin. Their first ef­fort was the JEGS-Log­ghe mini Ca­maro.

Af­ter re­lo­cat­ing to Texas Emery hooked up with ex­hi­bi­tion racer Gary Wat­son to pi­lot his Fly­ing Red Baron Chevro­let-pow­ered ’70 Mus­tang. The car was ul­ti­mately to­taled in a freak ac­ci­dent and Emery moved on.

The leg­endary Blue Max (L to R): Emery, Waterbed Fred Miller, D. Gantt, Ray­mond Bea­dle and un­known. Photo by Whit Baze­more.

Once Emery joined Bea­dle and the Max, the pro­gram turned around, and they won nu­mer­ous cham­pi­onship ti­tles.

In the spring of 1975, Emery re­turned to Dal­las and be­gan driv­ing for Big Mike Burkhart. Emery’s driv­ing ca­reer came to an abrupt end when he crashed the Ca­maro at the 1975 U.S. Na­tion­als.

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