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Combustion Chamber-Part II of the Dale Pulde Story


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Dale Pulde Career Highlights 1977-1999
“At the beginning of the ’77 season we brought out the first “War Eagle” car. I think the hardest detail was coming up with this name. Mike went to the library and came home with a bunch of names but we were still undecided. We both liked the effect that the “Blue Max” had with the people, so we were determined to do the same. One night Mike came in late while I was watching a cowboy movie. Ironically, the Indian character’s name was “War Eagle” and was a real bad ass in this movie. I told Mike that was a fitting name for the Pontiac body. We talked to Bill Carter and came up with a paint scheme that had colors only Carter could come up with. We did not want the standard Pontiac Indian logo but we were short on time so we were stuck with it. We went to the AHRA Winter Nationals to debut the car and it ran 6.38/238.00 on its first pass but we were beat in the first round. We prepared the car for Pomona and ended up qualifying third. Won first round but got beat in the second due to tire shake. After that event Mike and I had talked about going on tour. I told him if I could get the car to quit hurting parts I would go. We agreed and prepared for the Bakersfield March Meet. image

1978-Leslie Lovett

We unloaded off the trailer with an awesome 6.02. The officials would not give us the time because they thought it was a fluke. Our next run was a 6.24 shutting off early as it had hurt a piston. It was all down hill from there, as the car shook and kept killing itself.  We made it to the final round against Johnny Loper, but the block was hurt so we just threw it back together hoping he would red-light. I left the line, went about 150′ and shut it off. Loper’s car went into a wheel stand and then the body came off. They disqualified ME and said I crossed the centerline. (NO WAY!) Garlits taught me a few weeks prior not to let them run anymore cars when you have a discrepancy like that. When we went back to the starting line the track manager and I had some words. The next thing I knew we were on the ground with about 50 people on top of us. When we got up, Hamby had the manager in a head lock and about had him knocked out when someone pulled him off. So there we were, all of our stroker motors burnt up and thrown out of the race! As we were loading up a woman came into our pit area all pissed off and wielding a butcher knife because we wouldn’t talk to her! What a race! We had two match races coming up at Irwindale and Orange County. So I built a stock stroker just to get us by. In the meantime, I had to find out why we were killing parts so bad. As it turned out, we noticed the fuel tank vent had come loose in the tank from all of the shake and was hitting the inside of the cap, causing the engine to go lean and shake more. Long story short…we fixed it.  That year we hurt a total of 20 pistons, won the IHRA Championship, set the IHRA speed record, finished 6th in NHRA, and set the NHRA speed record. We ran 247.93 and backed it up with a 245.45. So we got the record at 245 along with 18 other track records. The funniest thing about the whole season was how when we first went out east looking for match races, the tracks and promoters said they already had too many funny cars booked and to stay home. By mid summer though, we could race all we wanted as all of the tracks wanted this car. I was calling the shots tuning, and Mike was handling the clutch and t-shirt sales. I would have to say that was the best summer we ever had.”

1979-Auto Imagery

“In ’78 we built a whole new car, and what a mistake that turned out to be. The idea was good but Plueger changed his chassis jig for a newer, stronger car. We opted for a new car since the ’77 version had so many runs on it. From the very start I never liked this car. The engine was higher, and the frame was narrower at the bottom thus working the engine real hard. We managed to win the Gator Nationals and the IHRA Winter Nationals, but it was very hard on parts. Along with the car acting different, I had purchased 200 sets of bad oil rings from a manufacturer and they were killing the cylinder walls.
After destroying several thousand dollars worth of pistons and sleeves, it finally hit us what it was. This car just never gave us a break. Every time we thought we had it close, it bit us again. At this same time, other people were using this same chassis and had the same problems. At the end of that season, we sold the car and were lucky to locate our ’77 car in Dallas. The owner was kind enough to let us borrow it back so we could take it to Plueger and have him copy it. 1978 was a very humbling year to say the least. To cap the season off, Gene Beaver bought our motor and asked me to go on tour with him in Australia. I went over and got the motor combination set up in his car and did some match racing for a couple of months. Despite all the negative rumors surrounding Gene at the time, I was paid back every nickel he ever owed me.”
“By the beginning of ’79 we were killing two duallies a year. We decided to build our own 18 wheeler, the first to store the car on the upper level and equipped with the machinery we needed since we spent most of the year on the road. We ended up running the borrowed car at Pomona but did not qualify. By the time the Gatornationals rolled around we had our new car and rig ready. We lost in the first round there, but wound up winning the IHRA Winter Nationals in Darlington. For some reason we always ran better at the IHRA races, yet we raced the same people. That year we started to get our act together and I changed our combination around to handle the new concrete pads better. Just before Columbus we started to run as we probably should have sooner, but 11 rainouts hampered our efforts, not to mention just about ruined us for cash flow. image


We were lucky enough to win the IHRA Spring Nationals at Bristol, which was one of the highest paying races at the time. I believe it was $20,000. We raced Kenny Bernstein in the finals at 2:00 A.M., then loaded up and headed to Denver. We did a lot of match racing that year and just tried to recover from all of the rain outs.”

1981-Auto Imagery

“In ’80 we ran the same chassis but switched to the Dodge Challenger body on it. We never cared for the look of the new Trans Am and wanted a different approach. We got away from our old look, tried something different, and found it was not “us”. We managed to win the NHRA Winternationals, went to the Bakersfield “Fuel and Gas Championship”, then off to Gainesville where we were running real well, but were shut off in the second round for an oil leak that we never saw a drop of oil on the track or anywhere else from. We matched race just about every weekend and also won the Molson Grand Nationals in Montreal.
While we were heading towards the end of the season, we realized that the car we had would not take another season of touring. We contacted Plueger who had quit building cars for a while and was just getting started again. We weren’t too sure about what we wanted, but the “Blue Max” and several other top cars were built by Tony Casarez. After a bunch of set backs, we finally bought a car he built for the Carrol Brothers but wasn’t finished yet. It was really different from what we had…longer wheel base and a higher engine angle.”
“We stuck with the Dodge body and went back to our old colors from ’79. Once again, Michelle Benzamin painted the Indian on the hood. We won the Bakersfield race and then traveled to Gainesville for the Gators. We ran good numbers qualifying but the car wanted more fuel than I could give it. It was at this race that a lot of cars made it into the Cragar Five Second Club. Mike wanted to run the last qualifying session, but I elected to wait until Sunday’s eliminations. I should have listened to him as I would probably be among those in the Five Second Club. image

1982-Gary Nastase

We lost to Gordie Bonin in the final round due to a broken rocker arm. We went back home after that race and with the help of Pete Jackson, we built the first dual pump drive to run two fuel pumps and one metering valve. It worked great the first time we used it, then we ran into some problems. Good steel heads were becoming hard to find. Mike had a friend from Arizona that made billet aluminum heads and he claimed they really flowed a lot of air. We tried them, they ran pretty fair, and then I got totally lost.  We black-deathed pistons so bad it was sickening. Most of the time it was just Mike and I pulling it apart and changing pistons between rounds. At some events we had good friends like John Pott, Jim Subler, Eddie Sain or Kevin Cox to help out but I think I burned them out. Hell, I burned myself out.  When it came time to go to Indy that year, I told Mike it was a waste of our time. We made an agreement to make one run each day and I would make major changes to try and figure it out. The first day we ran a 6.30. I came back pulled off the dual pumps, borrowed a good single pump from Doug Kerhulas, made a major clutch change, and switched piston manufacturers. The damn thing went out and ran a 5.97! When I turned off of the track, Jerry Heroux, of Center Line Wheels, gave me the “thumbs up” and put out five fingers! At that point it was like the whole summer had been one bad nightmare and somebody just woke me up. We lost in the second round at that race due to a sheared off crank key. We managed to run well the remainder of the season though.”
“Prior to the start of the ’82 season, we spent the winter building a trailer for Tom McEwen which, coincidentally, was still still being used by Jim Dunn until the end of 1998. That helped give us the funding we needed to get our parts together for the new season. We went back to our original look with the Firebird body and the butterscotch colors. We qualified well at Pomona only to have the chute fall out from tire shake in the first round. We lost in the first round at the Gators due to a broken rod, then won the IHRA Winter Nationals in Darlington. ’82 was a pretty good season despite the fact that we weren’t running well. It looked like it was going to be the last season for Mike and I just due to the rising costs of racing. In the middle of the season we were traveling through Kentucky at around 10:00 P.M. when the Peterbuilt burnt a piston climbing a hill. We drove it slowly until we happened across a Holiday Inn. We pulled it around back, got a room, and proceeded to pull the pan on the truck to inspect the damage. Sure enough, just like the race car, you could see it from down below. The next morning we pulled the rest of the motor down and inspected the damage. We loaded the parts into the pickup, went into town, found a truck dealer that had the parts, and borrowed a large torque wrench to torque the heads. The guys at the dealership told us that we had to take the whole engine apart to clean it, as it would be full of metal from the burnt piston. I assured them that I had burned a lot of pistons in my time and that this was not that bad. Around 5:00 P.M. that evening, three mechanics from the dealership showed up to laugh at us. Mike and I had it running and we were cleaning up our mess so we could get back on the road. Needless to say, they were plenty shocked. Our next event was in Bristol where we ended up beating Billy Meyer in the finals. At that time a man named Warner Hodgdon was into NASCAR, and was looking into buying the Bristol race track or the IHRA. He was also looking to sponsor a race team. IHRA sent him our way and by Indy we had set up a one year deal for the ’83 season. While we were still in Bristol, the folks from Miller Brewing Co. were dealing with Billy Meyer and Kosty Ivanoff trying to figure out what they were going to do in drag racing. Billy had already made his full commitment to 7-11 and had to decline the offer. When Billy was telling them that he had to pass on the deal, he mentioned that they should look into Mike and I, since it looked like we were going to lock up the IHRA Championship but would not race the following year without proper backing. The gentleman from Miller told us that if we were interested to have a proposal on his desk by that Tuesday. Mike went to a phone and called Jon Asher who knocked it out and had it there on time. Not hearing from Miller and having a verbal commitment from Hodgdon, we had the car lettered for Warner at Don Schumacher’s shop in Parkridge, Illinois. (During this whole two or three week period, we allowed a young photographer by the name of Whit Bazemore the chance to come on the road with us for a few weeks. He stripped off about every bolt he touched, was caught racing our tow truck at Brainerd, and drove us nuts wanting to drive the semi! Gotta give him credit…he made his dream come true after a lot of hard work!) So, going into Indy we had a sponsor for the rest of the year and all of ’83. As we pulled into the track Jon Asher came over and told us he received a call from Miller and that they wanted to meet with us on Thursday night. We did so, and when we got up from the table we had a commitment for the rest of ’82 and the following three years…and for a lot more money. Seeing that our agreement had not been signed with Warner and no money had exchanged hands, we felt we were alright by doing this. Warner was not happy, but being a businessman he understood. (A year later, Warner Hodgdon was out of all motorsports.) By the next morning and without ever saying anything, everybody in the pits knew we made the deal. So following that race, we went back to Schumacher’s and had the car re-lettered for the next race at Rockingham…which we won. That race clinched our second IHRA Championship.”

“Despite starting off 1983 with the Miller sponsorship, I’d have to say it was probably the beginning of more difficult times within our camp. Mike was diagnosed with diabetes, which began to limit his capabilities on the car as well as change his own lifestyle. Anyone that knew Mike at the time could probably recall him being able to handle one of those 72 oz. steaks at the “Big Texan” in Amarillo, not to mention anything else that was around him without even giving it a second thought. Although the season was not so successful performance wise, we did manage to make it into the Crane Cams 250 MPH Club. By the end of the season though, it became obvious to the folks at Miller that we needed to hire a second Crew Chief since it was becoming more difficult for me to do the promotional things I needed to do for Miller and work on the car too.”

“In 1984 we hired Bill Schultz on. It was necessary but at the same time just an odd situation, considering Mike and I had always handled our own deal. When Bill started with us, we were in the process of trying out the new dual mag set-up while testing in Phoenix. Second pass out it blew the blower off, ripped all the fuel lines and caught the body on fire. I got the car stopped, jumped out and literally kicked the side of the body off to escape the fire. For the better part of the season we just kept chasing ourselves with the tune-up. It got to the point where if I didn’t lift at the 1000′ mark it would throw the rods out. By the time Englishtown rolled around we had made enough serious changes to where the car started to finally haul ass. It looked like we were on to something, but as time went on we were tearing equipment up again. It was a very frustrating season for all of us.”

“As we were preparing for the ’85 season, Mike, Bill and I, sat down and discussed what the cause of all the breakage could be. We finally came to the conclusion that the motor was just hopped up too much and we needed to back it down a bit. In the meantime, Jon Asher had worked out a deal with Buick for us and that meant switching over to the new Somerset body. While we were waiting on our new Jim Hume-built body and chassis, we took the previous Pontiac car out to Fremont, lowered the compression and made some other little changes, and the car never hurt anything. We were making a pretty good run of things on the NHRA tour, but we really emphasized our presence on the IHRA circuit for several different reasons. The t.v. coverage from ESPN allowed us the opportunity to talk about our sponsors, the races paid double the money, and we were allowed to sell our own t-shirts. This made a big difference to us, the sponsors, and also helped put more cash in our pockets. Lance Larsen, Crew Chief for Skuza now, delivered our new chassis about the same time we received our new Somerset body a week prior to an event in Bristol. Despite the controversy over how poorly this new body style was supposed to be, we went on to win the Bristol event and set the new MPH mark at 263.00. Boy, did that wake some people up. We took the body to the G.M. aero-lab and the body proved to be equal to, if not better than, the popular Firebird bodies being used then. Our next event was in Denver, and on our first pass the car carried the front end to about half track, came down real nice and set both ends of the track record at 5.74/252., which for Denver was real good. Kenny Bernstein was commentating up in the tower when I ran and when asked what he thought of the run, he just set the “mic” down and left the tower. It was just “one of those runs” that looked real special. The last half of the season went on very well, as we were second in NHRA points behind Bernstein and vice versa with him in IHRA. There ended up being conflicting races between both sanctioning bodies towards the end of the season, and since IHRA had been so good to us and Strohs was putting up some big dollars we opted for the IHRA event. We clinched our third IHRA Championship and ended up third for NHRA that season. Between both sanctioning bodies, we were in about 45% of all final rounds while running both cars that year. Despite the great season we had though, our three year relationship with Miller had ended and Hamby wanted to get out of racing. Mike and I parted ways. Mike Kloeber and Randy Green, who were crewing for me at the time, moved on and to very good careers to this day. I kept the car around to see if I could get anything going again.”

“My race schedule became very limited in ’86 which consisted of the Winternationals, about eleven match races and the World Finals. I did get some backing for the Pomona events from Roger Sound Labs, and for the World Finals Stephen Pearcy and the rock group “Ratt” assisted as well. That proved to be a real experience and  if nothing else, a fun race. I had asked Lex Dudas, who was in charge of pit parking at the time, to save some extra parking space for us since there were going to be a lot of people. They didn’t even know who “Ratt” was, and to be honest neither did I. Before we knew it, the pit area was overflowing with people all weekend. The younger crowd thought it was awesome and we had a great time.”

“At the start of the ’87 season Bill Schultz convinced me to park my car, sell off some parts and drive the “In & Out” car. The car didn’t have the best of everything but it was a player. We did well enough the first few races out, that Rich Snyder, the President of In & Out, decided to put up some more money for the car. At the ’87 World Finals we made it to the semi final round and wound up with two flat tires after the burnout. Come to find out that someone had left a pair of needle nose pliers on the back of the engine and they fell off during the burnout, puncturing one tire, and as it went up on the other slick that was sliced as well. What a deal.”

“We started off the ’88 season with a win at the Winter Nationals, ran the Bakersfield race, and wound up grenading the blower and tearing the car up pretty bad. It was at this time that I was contacted by Billy Meyer, who had just bought the IHRA and wanted me to drive his car for the majority of the season. Schultz was trying to convince me to stay home and race the “IN & Out” car on a limited schedule. Obviously, I wanted to be out racing fulltime rather than driving a truck in my off time and just racing here and there, so I opted to drive for Meyer.  Dave Settles was the Crew Chief for Meyer at the time, and we were fighting a car that really didn’t have the proper backing that it needed to have, since Billy was tending to the IHRA. Nothing seemed to work out real well, even with the talented crew we had. One thing that did come out of all of that, was learning that reaction times are not always driver related, that the car has a lot to do with it too. When I drove Billy’s car, I was constantly in the .500-.520 range, but when I’d drive the “In & Out” car, I was right back to my .460-.480 deal. Settles and I fought on and off about this, which provoked a lot of thought and discussion on how Crew Chiefs, drivers and crews, need to relay information better. I’m finding this bit of experience to be quite useful in the Cannon camp right now.”

“Schultz came out in ’89 with a brand new car, utilizing a new direct drive which everyone was switching to at that time. We qualified on our last shot at Pomona, which became a typical deal for us and that car. Bill seemed to change everything from race to race, and to this day he still does that. The car kinda flogged on through the majority of the year. By mid summer, “East-West Bob” and Schultz built the first air cannon clutch set-up. We worked and fought with it, as the car really tried to run but we just couldn’t get a handle on it. After not qualifying at the Seattle race, the guys were preparing to load the car up and draining the fuel tank when I noticed there was only about a gallon of fuel left in the tank. Come to find out that Bill had told one of the crew members to cut back on the fuel a bit to help take some weight off of the car. So instead of cutting back a gallon, it ended up being more like four or five gallons.  So all along the problem wasn’t around the clutch assembly, it was because it didn’t have any fuel in it!  Here we ran a couple of races and kept banging the blower off, only to find out there was no fuel…that was something else!”

“In ’90 we started off the season with a win at Phoenix. Bill and I made an agreement that we wouldn’t change anything on the car prior to our next event, which wasn’t for a couple of months down the road. Well, that agreement didn’t last, as we barely qualified at Sonoma and Seattle. By the time the World Finals came around, the car never sounded or acted right. Bill denied changing anything in the motor or the clutch. After sitting in one of these things most of my life, you can pretty well tell when you push the clutch in or at the hit of the throttle if anything has been changed from what it’s normally run. Here again, Bill had been working on a dragster out of North Carolina and whenever he made a change to it he did the same thing to the funny car. So when we ran at the World Finals, the dragster wasn’t running well and neither were we. Bill and I always had a good working relationship in the past, but it just got to the point where we had to go our separate ways. To this day, I still feel that Bill is a heck of a tuner, it’s just that I believe his interest had diminished and that was the downfall of the “In & Out” team.”

“My motorcycle business began to take off at the beginning of ’91, so I stayed home to maintain that. I received a call from Joe Pisano in late spring just to catch up on things, and I ended the conversation with him mentioning if he needed a driver at anytime to call me. They went out to Columbus and Glen Mikres, who was the driver at the time, proceeded to drive the new car off the track and tear it up pretty good. Joe called me around the 4th of July and we discussed my coming over to drive. The next event was in Denver and I just showed up much to the surprise of a lot of people. It was after my first pass in the car I lost a lifelong and dear friend, Joe Pisano. He had passed away coming down the return road. It was devastating. That pretty much parked us for the remainder of the season.”


1992-Gary Nastase

“Joe’s brother, Frank, contacted me at the end of the season, as he, Gary Slusser and the rest of the family decided to run the car after all. For the next couple of years we ran the car on a limited basis. The car ran consistently, we managed to go some rounds here and there and not tear anything up. All in all we did well with the parts and equipment Joe had left behind. By the end of ’94 though, the car started to stumble a bit basically due to the fact that Frankie was not able to keep up with the expense of upgrading parts and the normal maintenance. In ’95, Frankie had just finished a new JP1 block and we used that for the first race at Pomona. The car still was not running real well, and Gary and I had our disagreements about what needed to be changed. I felt I was a little further ahead of the tuning end of things than Gary was, but he got real stubborn about it all. Since I felt that things weren’t going to get any better there, that’s when I decided to part ways with them.”
“I sat out the remainder of ’95 and much of ’96 until I received a call from Whit Bazemore’s partner, Tim Buckley. Whit had been injured in a motorcycle accident and they wanted me to drive the “Smokin’ Joe” car. I flew out to Indy to make some test passes and made the next event in Topeka. We qualified well there, running a 5.000, but ended up being beat by Del Worsham in the first round with a 5.05 to his 5.07! (no need to explain why) Whit chewed my ass out over that deal, and I told the guys I wouldn’t let that happen again. We headed off to Dallas and won that event. Ran another 5.000 in the final against Cruz Pedregon. image

1996-Ron Lewis


1996-Ron Lewis

The “Smokin’ Joe” team had won their first race ever, and that proved to Whit that he had a winning team but he just needed to come back with a winning attitude. I’d have to say that to this day that was probably the best crew I have ever worked with. Rob Flynn, Chris Cunningham and the rest of the guys are just super! Whit and the guys went on to win five events in ’97!”
“I sat out as a driver in the beginning of ’97 and I helped Freddie Neely for about six races, qualifying at all but one. I was Crew Chief along with the assistance of Tim Ferrell. We did fairly well at the events we did run and really didn’t hurt anything. After the Dallas event, I stayed on and did some testing of my own and ran a 5.03, which was the quickest it had run. I ended up driving in Topeka, qualifying with a 5.08, and then was beat by John Force when my car went into a wheel stand. Freddie ran the car for a few more events, but slipped back into the 5.20 range. At the World Finals that year, I drove the “Geronimo” car just long enough to learn why some people should not own race cars. The car was excellent and had a lot of potential, but the owner didn’t know what it took to maintain the operation, nor how to treat the people that were working for them. I hung it up again after that, kept working away on my motorcycle business, and developed a new cylinder head program for Edelbrock.”

“In ’98, Gene Christensen decided to run his car at the World Finals and asked if I’d like to drive. I agreed and brought on Kirk Roberts, Marty Glen and Jimmy Glen to crew with me. We only qualified 13th and were paired up in the first round with my buddy Bazemore. Whit was giving me a hard time in the staging lanes, telling me how “he” was going to show “me” how it was done! I flat out told him, “Don’t worry, that’ll be the last time you’ll have to put on that Winston firesuit.” Sure enough, I got him on the tree and ended up running a 4.893 to Whit’s respectable 5.05! We ran well up until the semi final round when the clutch started to act funny and we just couldn’t get a handle on it. We smoked the tires in the final round against Chuck Etchells. The team was very happy about the weekend though.”

“Gene brought the car out again for the ’99 Winter Nationals and was planning on a few more events after that. Then that plan changed and the car was put up for sale. I went back to working on my motorcycle business for a couple of months when Oakley called me about the Crew Chief position for Scotty Cannon. Since having joined the team we have developed some consistency, made some progress on the tuning side of things, and can now work the car around Scotty’s driving. I truly believe that Scotty is a good driver, we just need to tune the car to react accordingly, since that’s a bit of experience I’ve run into before. People ask me if I miss driving…and yes, I do, but since nobody was hiring me as a full time driver, this opportunity seemed to be just as appealing and rewarding and I see this as being a thing of the future for me. Stay Tuned!” -Dale Pulde

© M & H Photography -All text, photos, graphics, artwork and other contributed material within the Combustion Chamber  are copyrighted and may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without express written consent. 

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