1936 – 2006
Racer Driver Innovator Craftsman Friend
Pete Ogden was born in 1936 in Berkeley California.
Berkeley California was the place to be and the 1930s
and 40s were the times to be there to capitalize on the mechanical
industrial for intellectual based career. However if you were going to
become pivotal in the California car culture. And specifically in the
emerging Hot Rod/Drag Racing culture, San Francisco East Bay i.e. Berkeley,
Oakland and Hayward in the 50s was the virtual “Hog-Heaven” for the
automotive entrepreneurial mindset.
Berkeley was just miles away from Oakland, and the
center for post-World War II industrial growth. Based on the rapid expansion
of the military-industrial complex in its formative years, a myriad of small
businesses and industries mechanical grew like the proverbial weeds. If it
could be cast , machined, molded, welded brazed, fabricated or refined
refigured or reengineered it could be found somewhere in the industries of
the greater San Francisco East Bay. Including the growth of aftermarket
manufactured speed equipment. As well as the and blatant modification of the
Druids of Detroit.
Pete Ogden grew up in a town full of freshly bonafide
hot rods and custom cars and what was to be the center of automotive growth
including the soon to be imported sports car venue.
Pete grew up in drag racing during the years of its
early transition from illegal Street racing to the organized sport that it
is today. He was originally introduced to automotive compensation sports
while working at Rhett While Ford in Walnut Creek. His brother, John, a
mechanic there was involved with a group of employees racing a hardtop on
dirt tracks (Pacheco Speedway) his father a Fuller Brush sales manager
sponsored one of the cars.
With what would have to be called a family automotive
addiction, he went to work at the local Ford agency doing what ever menial
jobs were yet to be fulfilled. He went on to build his first hot Rod and 23
T powered by 24 stud Flathead race motor garnered from his dirt track racing
With this linkage he went to work for Jim’s Muffler
Shop in nearby Pleasant Hill. Jim’s was the quasi meeting place for the
Concord Accelerators a drag racing oriented club of relative renowned.
And the local affiliate of the Cal Neva Timing
Association, an upcoming drag race/dry lakes racing Association.
Consequently, Pete was discovered by well-known drag
racecar: Romeo Palamedes while he was building his 36 Ford fuel coupe at
Jim’s Muffler Service.
Palmedes, a well-known racecar builder in Oakland, saw
Pete’s fabrication talent, and hired him immediately. Working for “Dago” in
his ship was like an Italian adolescent male being hired by Enzo Ferrari.
While working for Palamedes he got all the fabrication
experience, and the race car knowledge that he could absorb. And became
Palmedes driver du jour for his beautiful top fuel dragster “The Romeo”.
Which led to his inclusion in the so-called Cam Grinders Shootout a Houston,
Texas, when he was part of the California contingent to race the legendary
(He was nosed out by Garlits in the final round at
after having a valve cover gasket fail.)
while at Romeo’s shop in Oakland Pete worked on some of
the got rods and drag race cars that would define the sport in the following
decades. One of which was the personal 29 fuel roadster that was featured in
the “Lodi Strop Star”. Forerunner to Tony Nancy’s “22 Junior”
After his mandatory two years in the service, he
returned to the Concord area to start his own business building dragster
chassis. For some of the front runners in the sport.
Denny Millani, and Cow Palace Shell, Rich Guasco’s Pure
Hell, to name but a few.
Then in the mid 1960s he was asked to go to work for
Woody Gilmore’s Racecar Engineering in Signal Hill with longtime friend and
Muff Shop cohort, Paul Sutherland.
It seems that Southern California had the cutting edge
of drag racing and racecar technology.
So Cal honestly gave Pete the better venue for not only
his fabrication skills but also his interest in driving. While in the
Southern California drag racing scene he drove for Jim Ward, trouble shot
for Ed ‘The Ace” and was instrumental in the development of the
‘Flexi-Flier” that made Racecar Engineering into the icon that it is in drag
After having enough of the LA smog, he returned to his
home ground of Contra Costa County and took on the running of his shop in
Alamo. During this productive time he built numerous cars for some of the
best known names in drag racing a top fuel for Jerry “King of the North”
Ruth including a “Giant Killer” for the Forsberg Brothers, and one of the
ultra light weight gas dragster for Mike Fuller. He went on to build one of
the first Funny Cars (a 64 Dodge for McCubbin & Guine a prototype model T
Roadster that would become “Andy’s Instant T for Andy Brizio, and a host of
other innovative projects, both automotive and architectural.
At this point Pete was contacted by Craig Breedlove to
help build, in Torrance, what was to be a proper, legal LSR car for AMC/Breedlove.
The car was to be push-stated by the present holder of the Jet LSR driven by
Breedlove’s wife. When this didn’t quite pan out, Breedlove opted to use an
additional rocket motor to accelerate to speed, start the supercharged 390
AMC engine, and wheel power the vehicle through the ‘flying mile” to set the
legal “wheel driven” Land Speed Record.
When this too seemed to show less than appropriate
potential, the car was turned into a exhibition rocket dragster under the
names of ‘The Screaming Yellow Zonker” , and English Leather and was a
successful exhibition tour piece for Breedlove. Never making an noteworthy
In the meantime ”Brave SpeedLove” (as the in crowd
would call him) when on to start designing his next “supersonic” LSR car.
And Pete returned to life in the smog-less environs of
the Bay Area.
Reopening Pete Ogden Chassis at the top of the hill in
Concord. And taking on a far greater breadth of projects. From building of
dedicated drag race roadsters, suspensions both Street and Track and Sports
car/road racing and all other things fast and furious. And the new
“off-road” racing trend that had come the rage in Southern California,
Pete Built a serous off-road racer for the Baja 1000
for a local race team “Green Gem” and then was asked to copilot the
resulting vehicle in the desert road race through the wilds of the Mexican
peninsula. This ultimately lead to an involvement with the Chevrolet truck
division of General Motors. More accurately” The Northern California
But in the meantime there were plenty of projects
automotive to be addressed. Street roadsters to be built for a growing
number of people with an ever-growing amount of discretionary funds.
There was a influx of motorcycle work that began to
appear. Local motorcycle minions such as Bob Dron Arlen Ness, etc. came up
with ideas like “The Cyclotron” and a number of other show bikes that would
put Pete’s expertise in front of a while new venue. This was to be
highlighted by Don Ingles’ show stopping “ Inglecycle” the center-steering
front hub motorcycle.
Along with developing new and exciting projects etc.
Pete still entertained a “driving job” or two from such as Terrible Ted
Gotelli and a test ride or two in a neophyte project or vehicle of personal
interest to him.
However there is a time when the ever present question
of whether to be a race car builder or a racecar driver raises its ugly but
persistent head. Pete decided to sell his business, tooling and all to his
more than able assistant” Chuck Delu.
Delu moved Pete Ogden’s Innovation Engineering to a
more workable new building in Pleasant Hill. And proceeded on with
automotive projects. Among these are the Chevrolet S-10 off-road racer
project, and a new excursion in interest to the field of serious dirt track
sprint car racing.
Although Sprint cars became a shop specialty, hot rods,
drag racers, sports cars, road racers, and all things of interest were still
accomplished with the help of the now quasi-expatriate Pete.
Pete Ogden, his longtime coworker, Chuck Delu, and
their mutual friend Dennis Craig set about developing a business whose
clientele and expertise would reach into the far extents of the automotive
field. And in doing so initiated techniques and designs that will provide
Some of the projects included such things as a six
wheeled Mazda powered Street Rod reminiscent of the Tyrell Formula One racer
a number of sports car suspension innovations, and a veritable myriad of
unique customers demands. While building and repairing Sprints cars by the
As if Pete did not have enough to do, the off-road
racing for Chevrolet became a full-time on the road occupation for Ogden, DC
(Dennis Craig) Chuck Delu, and it’s initiator and founding Father overseer,
Dave Robb. And Pete was busy doing one of things that he does so well
solving mechanical problems with well thought out solutions. Race teams are
a constant source of logistic and mechanical challenges.
We re-enter Breedlove’s LSR obsession observation.
While Pete had been working, jerking, racing, and
generally innovating. Brave Speed Love had been plotting his reinvention.
Now in an ex-Ford dealership in nearby Rio Vista, Breedlove had designs on
the LSR again.
Having had been happy satisfied and content with Pete
and Dennis’s work on the AMC/Zonker project when working with Paul LeMar,
their old friend Paul Sutherland and veritable host of engineers. And Pete
managed not to murder any of the engineers, although out of character.
So being stalwarts of the Breedlove LSR contingent,
Pete was asked to fabricate Breedlove’s new project.
The building of the about to be land speed record
holder and it’s support equipment is a time-consuming job. So as Breedlove
finished the massive lofting drawings Pete and Denny worked preparing a
proper chassis jig for a 27 foot long supersonic missile to be built in a
drafty 1930’s era Ford dealership garage.
This was to proceed throughout the design and
development and running of the “Spirit of America” LSR speed attempts. With
a slight change in venue from Rio Vista to Bonneville and finally to Black
Rock Desert. The design and development and constant redevelopment of the
prototype racecar is only limited by the amount of funds available.
After the original vehicle rolled over on its side a
700 plus miles per hour and an ongoing duel between Breedlove and Noble in
the Thrust II there was little left to do but break the sound barrier. And
preparations still proceed to that goal.
With breaking the sound barrier as the immediate goal.
Breedlove went about modifying his racecar to a new goal of approximately
750 mph (1100 feet per second adjusted for the ambient temperature pressure
and altitude equivalency of the speed of sound) as did Richard Noble.
As we previously stated the most critical dimension is
the thickness of one’s checkbook. The reality is that the Queens checkbook
is sizable. And what she wants is what she gets. Just how the money was
delegated is not for us commoners to know, but is within the possibilities
of the UK and it’s business structure.
While the reddish industry moguls wrote the underside
of English speed the ongoing debate of who supports Amercans, the lingering
question is who steps up to fund the Breedlove Endeavor? While maximum
amount of energy and interest going to the gathering of sponsorships funds.
Meanwhile the Spirit of Amerca team is temporarily out
funds and out of work.
As a fill-in positioning Pete, our hero, returns to
more mundane areas of auto sports/need fabrication and technology. Pete
began working on such things as a 34 roadster for Chuck Salmann a long time
fan of Pete’s work. Chuck’s plan was to have the world’s fastest roadster
(altered, 25%) unsupercharged gas powered roadster. And then probably reset
the fuel record, with a backup plan of an almost unassailable fuel roadster
record to match.
To do so Pete built a car that so impressed the safety
committee of SCTA and FICA as to reexamine some of their previous ruling. As
well as with Chuck’s applied scientific running of the resulted roadster set
enough records in so many different classes as to question the ultimate
legality of the car itself. It was not only legal is was so legal as to have
them rethink their lesson structure.
Previous to his working for Leonard Lopez’s Dominator
Motorsports headdone a streamliner chassis for Rudy Perez. Here was another
longtime fan of Pete’s renowned workmanship and had known Pete since his
early days with Palamedes.
A longtime top fuel drag racing: Perez had grown up
watching Pete driving Romeo’s early top fuel dragster effort, the Romeo.
Knowing that there was no one that had known better the
construction of the now classic drag racing icon that its original
fabricator and most noted driver. Rudy employed Pete and his interim
employer, Dominator Motorsports to re-create the original Romeo.
Having the full-length aluminum body rebuild by the
legendary Jack Hagemann in his Alamo ship. Down to the one-off unique
Plexiglas cockpit cover. And the original Palamedes cast magnesium wheels,
more carefully machined this time. The result was a show stopping success
and a nostalgia memory stimulant of early 1950’s northern California drag
racing at its best.
Now in place at the Museum of automotive industry in
Meanwhile while he was reproduction 1950’s drag racing.
The world turns and Pete keeps right on building memorable pieces of rolling
automotive artwork. At this point constant back-and-forth between Hot Rods,
race cars, and the inevitable fall back: the ever present custom motorcycle.
At his “Pete Ogden’s Innovation Engineering” in Vallejo
next to “Chopper Guys” he oversaw and educated a staff of production? Staff
in the field of custom motorcycle chassis construction. Sidelining in
reconstructing nostalgia race cars, any number of unique racing venues” Mud
Truck, etc. etc. etc. and nausea. After all a fabrication-or?
In his Slavic quasi retirement on the venue of get
cars, Ogden returned to his grassroots well wherewith drag racing in the
form of resurrecting the “killer cars” of the front motor, rear-driver, 671
supercharged fuel-burning, tire-smoking 1960’s show stopping era of top fuel
drag racing. For the top fuel reality show of Armageddon drag racing.
The presentation of Tim Condors, a well-known artist
and painter. Soon to be seen at your local drag racing venue.
For those drag racing fans tired of four-second
“over-before-they-start” drag races that are hardly observable to the
overpaying race than spectator of today. A welcome veritable necessity in
today’s “Wonderful World of rag Racing” he for it loses what ever fan base
it has left.
Meanwhile in the ongoing world of international ultimate speed competition”
we have the Breedlove versus Noble round to or three or what ever?
At the Desert, Black Rock: Te largest airplane in the
world lands with 2 18-wheelers, a number of support vehicles and the
redesigned re-advocated reinforced and multiplied (2) jet engined Noble
super car with a new feature air Force test pilot in the form of Andy
SO with the advisory assistance of Craig Breedlove,
Pete, Dennis Craig, ant the full Spirit of America crew the ultimate speed
record challenge we commences.
With an additional underpinning of literally multiple
inch thick steel plate on its underside for uncompromisable supplemental
anti-aerodynamic stabilization of massively overstated bull our new young
hero: the international Andy Greene sits down between two screening turbojet
(with full refire on!) And sets off across the 11 miles of alleged race
track that sometimes is known as the great Black Rock Desert.
After doing it n one direction, the fearless Mr. Greene
regierds his lines (or whatever) and sets off to break windows The Sound
Barrier and the world record at the same time, as a throatily sonic bomb
heard world round.
Not only had a new record been set, but also
Breedlove’s “first person to break the speed of sound” title had been
eclipsed by a limmie intruder. This was not in “Craig Breedloves Plan” it
was time for a little rethinking.
Craig surmised” in that he had been the first man to
set the record at over 400 miles per hour, the first person to set it at
more than 500 miles per hour, the first to officially go more than 600 miles
per hour, and the first crash at over 700 he concluded that it was only
right that he be the first one to set the record at over 800 miles per hour.
Ant that was that!
So 800 mph he was going to be! Adequate horsepower or
no! No Problem!
800 or Bust!!!
As we speak: Time will tell!
And now, with Pete’s passing, it may well be that
barrier became a lot more formidable. Perhaps impassable.
Of Pete’s legacy he writes himself, probably more
highly on the people that he mentored than the hardware that he left behind
as his legacy. And rightfully so! As Palamedes, and Hagemann: and Quin
Epperly and others taught”
The new breed:
Paul Sutherland” Sutherland Race Cars,
Racecar Engineering.? Race cars, The Muff, too many to
Chuck Delu: Chuck Delu Race Cars (mentor,
friend collaborator and student?), replacement of state-of-the-art
Dennis Craig, (deceased)
Formally of: champion, Spirit of America,
Proformance Associates, The Muff, a much to list
Bob Munroe, Bob Munroe Bodies & Fabrication
Bob Sbarbaro: Bob Sbarbaro Hot Rods
Leonard Lopez: Dominator Motorsports
Roy Brizio, Roy Brizio Street Rods
Phlash Van Buren: