Hot Rod Heroes – A Day in Guasco’s Garage
We recently spent a day in Guasco’s garage, as in Rich Guasco – the man behind “Pure Hell.” Rich’s 1932 Austin Bantam-bodied AA/Fuel Altered is one of history’s most prolific drag racing machines – a car that set world records and made legions of fans across the globe.
Sitting next to Rich was John Paxson aka “Rocket Man.” John made his name streaking down dragstrips in rocket cars, not jet cars. Big difference. While jet cars aka “weenie roasters” run on kerosene-like jet airplanes, rocket cars ran on compressed hydrogen peroxide. We say ran because they were outlawed on American drag strips as the 1980s approached.
Between these two men, they have a combined 110 years of hot rodding and drag racing experience. That’s a lot of spent fuel. When we went into Rich’s kitchen to look at some scrapbook photos, it was like a trip down memory lane for everyone.
Rocket Man: John Paxson is one of America’s fastest men. His career best in the quarter mile driving a rocket dragster was a 4.20 second elapsed time at over 350mph. That was when the hydrogen peroxide powered dragsters screamed down the full quarter mile trailing a plume of spent peroxide as you see below (John was approaching 350mph when this image was snapped!).
Following his stint in the Armor All rocket, Paxson was hired by Hal Needham’s rocket-powered land speed car. Needham partnered with movie star Burt Reynolds on his LSR effort. Paxson shook the car down at Bonneville and approached the 500mph mark in testing. Once that car was squared away, Needham himself drove it to 620mph across the desert in Tonopah, Nevada. Eventually, the car ran 739mph at Edwards Air Force Base with Stan Barrett at the wheel.
Pure Hell: Rich Guasco needs no introduction. With a decorated dragstrip career which began in 1963 with a homemade dragster – a car in which he was gravely injured when the rear end housing broke loose inside the cockpit (Guasco is seen here holding the housing that injured him).
But he couldn’t stay away from the quarter mile and began a career as an expert crewman on Raymond Beadle’s “Blue Max” in the early 80s followed by a role on Dan Pastorini’s top fuel cars on the late 1980s. In 1994, he brought Pure Hell back out to run vintage drags and continues to race the reborn roadster today with Brian Hope at the wheel. Last October in Bakersfield, Guasco tuned Pure Hell to a 5.92/223mph – a career-best elapsed time. The car has run as fast as 245mph.
Rich oozes hot rod history. He’s also won America’s Most Beautiful roadster (1961) with his popular purple 1929 roadster. He stays active in rod runs driving his current fleet which includes several 1940 Fords and a purple ’32 coupe-like Paxson’s.
While racing has killed many brave men, it also keeps men like Rich and John very much alive. They are so immersed in fast car culture and it is such an overwhelming presence in their daily lives they would most likely perish without it.
Thanks to nitromethane, hydrogen peroxide rocket fuel, a great garage and some great friends, Rich Guasco and John Paxson have enjoyed a life that others could only dream of. Hot Rod Heroes indeed!