Bona Fide: Life and Hot Rodding with Hale’s Speed Shop
You’ve not seen him on TV or competing in high-profile builder competitions. In fact, you’ve probably never seen him before, but you’re going to want to get to know Nathan Hale and Hale’s Speed Shop builds. Based in Lewisville, Texas, the ex–motocross racer first made a splash in the DFW area with a turbo’d ’36 five-window that would show up and blow the doors off Vettes. He just might be one of the truest versions of a “hot rodder” we’ve met in a long time, and his builds are only getting better.
“A hot rodder evolves with time,” Hale explains. “What they did is what I’m doing now—taking the latest and greatest and putting them in this [he says while eyeing his old, beat-up pickup].” Hale builds them to drive, not to look at. “Anything that elevates heart rate, that’s good enough for me.”
So while you’ll not find a single equation for a Hale car, there are some common themes that run across them. Late-model pickups aren’t the only type of car he builds, but they are the most common. Hale uses TJ Akins–built turbocharged LS engines. These powerplants are the only area of the entire build that he doesn’t work with his own hands. He has no employees, no shop manager, no broom sweeper. A Hale Speed Shop car is born based on the chassis setup, which is completely engineered and fabricated by Hale. By the time he’s finished with a build, you can bet it’ll be ready to run hard and low—many customers drive them daily.
Coming from a professional motocross background, Hale was schooled in suspension dynamics in a much different way than most car builders. “Grafting the suspension concepts from dirt biking into the hot rod world,” Hale says, “I knew that was going to be the make-it-or-break-it difference to getting the power to these things.” His geometry and setup evolved in stages, with Hale targeting full wheel motion through the entire range of ride height. While he uses some Viair components for air ride, you won’t find a kit for what he’s building.
Hale’s throw-the-rules-out-the-window attitude extends through all of his life, all the way down to how he runs his shop. He’s got a years-long waitlist for builds, but almost zero web or social presence, he won’t talk to you over the phone and his shop is in an as-near-as-you-can-get-to-top-secret location. So much so, that some customers take years to track him down. What gives?
Hale’s builds speak for themselves. And while most people would be prone to go big and make bank, Hale would rather focus on what he loves. “I have to keep progress evolving,” he exclaims. “If you’ve accepted you’ve peaked, you have nothing more to give. I don’t plan on peaking until I’m in the ground, I’m just gonna keep grinding. I’m a grinder for life.”
C10 Shop Truck
If there’s any one way to describe Nathan Hale’s own ’70 C10 pickup, he’s the one who puts it best, “The whole build is a complete oxymoron of how it looks on the outside.” Put plainly, judging by the imperfect patina’d body, you may not look twice at the truck if you didn’t hear it coming. But the engine is just one piece of the fully custom “shop truck” build that’s been Hale’s daily driver for more than five years now.
Open the hood and you’ll first see the LS-based 408 hopped up with nitrous and other goodies. With air conditioning, air ride and wiring plumbed to perfection, you almost don’t notice the rusty underside of the hood. But it’s when you get down to the suspension that the truck really begins to shine. Utilizing as much as possible of the original straight rails, the front suspension is heavily modified—as are the chassis’ dropped front crossmember and rear ladder bar set-up.
Hale likes to hold his cards close to his chest in the way an old stock-car racer would’ve done when it comes to suspension setups; even if you had the blueprints, you’d be hard-pressed to reproduce a Hale’s Speed Shop build.
With every build being custom and Hale working alone, figuring out how to fabricate them like this has been a process. It’s not knowledge you can get in a book or by attending a trade school. You won’t get it by purchasing fancy tools. “People are really misinformed from what they see [of people building hot rods on tv],” Hale explains. “Nothing replaces hard work—period.” And by hard work, he means putting in the years of pushing boundaries, seeking solutions and testing in real life whether or not a concept will work. It’s part of the reason his builds perform consistently and don’t come back in for fixes.
Taking a ride in the C10, you’d quickly recognize that work. Generally, with a car rolling inches from the ground, ride quality and performance are largely compromised. Not this truck. Put your foot into it hard and this truck is like a crouching tiger leaping into action. Make a quick turn or stomp on the brakes and it continues its cat-like reflexes. “When some people say ‘purpose-built’ cars, they mean it’s good at doing one thing or another,” Hale says. “Not me, I build cars to be able to do anything.”
And while we didn’t see this one taking on any jumps (though we wouldn’t put it past Nathan to do it), the current ’50 Chevy build he’s working on is designed and braced to be able to, all while churning out 1,200+ hp with a dual-turbo LSX.
While you’ll likely not see Nathan Hale on reality television any time soon (the networks have already tried to nab him, and he won’t have any of it), you’ll be able to catch a documentary about him soon. You can be sure it captures the hot rod lifestyle and how he builds ’em out of Hales Speed Shop, but there’s a deeper story going on here, too.
Stemming from his adolescence in motocross, Hale suffered multiple bodily injuries through the years. As his body got older and the drugs got stronger, he found himself dependent on medical opioids. “That shit, it grabbed me,” says Hale. “Nobody knew I was on it. I didn’t want to be high, I was just trying to manage my life.” After deciding the dependency had to stop, Hale pulled himself out during a years-long recovery process, only sharing about it after he’d come out the other side.
He’s now targeting lawmakers in Washington with hopes that he can help to improve the system and assist with placing safeguards to work to prevent abuse. “Just because you’re getting this stuff from a doctor, doesn’t mean they’re on your side. I’m targeting the next generation, somebody needs to tell them how it really is and this addiction is gnarly. Nobody can talk about it, because everybody dies—but I've come out of it.”
There is a hot rodding tradition of under-the-radar builders creating standout cars in a private environment that, when finished, demand outside attention. “There’s only one thing for certain in life, and that’s that we die,” says Hale. In life as in hot rods, Nathan Hale is a no-excuses, tell-it-like-it-is, live-to-the-fullest original. Watch for the documentary coming to a screen near you or visit thenathanhalestory.com for more info.