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West Valley City • Legendary drag racer Dale Pulde returned to the track this weekend for the first time in eight months.
After nearly losing his battle with a rare lung disease known as Valley Fever, Pulde watched his car and crew compete in the Salt Lake Nitro Jam at Rocky Mountain Raceways.
"I haven't done much of anything because the energy level isn't there yet," said Pulde. "But watching the car run and being with the guys has been very therapeutic. ... I couldn't be happier."
On Friday night, driver James Day piloted Pulde's car, "War Eagle," to victory in the Prostalgia Nitro Funny Car class.
Pulde and Day didn't have similar success Saturday night, when "War Eagle" was eliminated in qualifying.
Pulde is back, resuming a career that started in 1967, shortly after he graduated from high school.
Over the next 44 years, Pulde claimed three IHRA world championships. He was inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 2007.
Almost a year ago, however, Pulde became violently ill after a race in Bakersfield, Calif.
He was eventually diagnosed with coccidioidomycosis, or Valley Fever.
The illness is caused by a fungus that becomes airborne when agricultural land in the southwest U.S. and Mexico is disturbed.
The fungus is spread by the wind, inhaled by its victims and becomes embedded in their lungs.
Symptoms are often mild, like those associated with a common cold. But the disease can be fatal, too.
That's what almost happened to Pulde.
He spent weeks in the hospital and, after a brush with death, he realized his road back would be long.
"I'd made commitments to run the car and do some things and I'd already taken some money," Pulde said. "I didn't know what I was going to do."
Pulde turned the car over to crew chief Mark Leigh and hired Day, a young crew member, as the driver.
Looking to break into the profession, Day jumped at the opportunity to drive for his boyhood idol.
"He's someone I've looked up to my entire life," Day said. "I've patterned my driving after him. I've always wanted to be like him and now, to drive for him, is special.
During Pulde's worst days, however, a dark cloud hung over the race team.
"The reason why we're all put together is Dale," Day said. "He's the glue that holds this whole deal together and, to watch your captain get sick and fall down, it just tears you up."
By March, Pulde's health had improved and Day drove to victory at the Arizona Nitro Jam at Tucson.
Still, Pulde wasn't well enough to attend any races until this weekend's Nitro Jam.
"It's great to see the fire back in him," Day said. "To watch him working on the car and giving him the trophy [Friday] was special. He's excited again. You can see him getting better."
Storylines Salt Lake Nitro Jam
R Bruce Litton defeats Bobby Lagana in both rounds of the Top Fuel class Saturday night.
• Jason Richey wins the Nostalgia Fuel Altereds and Todd Lesenko takes the Prostalgia Nitro Funny Car class.