Joe Reath was born in Alabama but grew up attending high school and San Pedro, California where he concentrated on his studies and love of cars. Del was born in Oklahoma but finished her high school years in nearby Compton, California. The two first met in 1956, were married in October 1957, and opened the first speech shop in Long Beach California that same year.
After his discharge from the Army in 1945, Joe went to work for Earl Evans porting flathead engine’s and learning his way around operating various machines. In 1947 he changed jobs working at Douglas Aircraft in its punch press department during the day and building engines for friends at night. During this same time period, Joe was honing his racing skills at both the local drag races and the dry lakes. Like many earlier enthusiast Joe’s first car was one that he drove on the street during the week and raced on the weekends. In 1953 Joe teamed up with Harvey Haller to build a highly modified flathead V-8 powered “belly tank” for competing at the dry lakes. Harvey was killed in a crash at the dry lakes that same year and Joe purchased all of his machinery from the estate and began making plans to open a speech shop.
In 1947 Joe join the Road Runners Car Club where he rubbed elbows with fellow members that included Bob Peterson (Hot Rod Magazine founder), Wally Parks (NHRA founder), Vic Edelbrock Sr., Ray Brown, and Ak Miller to name just a few. He was also a member of the Arabs of Long Beach and the Lancers Car Club from Long Beach. It was from these men that he learned a lot about building engines, producing speed equipment, parts, and operating the speech shop.
While Joe was dating Del, he soon had her attending the local drag races with him and even got her to the dry lakes once to see what he did for fun. After Joe opened Reath Automotive, in January 1957, he and Del were married. Joe retired from racing and concentrated on building a strong reliable speed shop business. By 1965 they had outgrown the original shop and moveed to a new location at 33rd and Cherry in Long Beach. This new location gave Joe and Del an opportunity to build what Joe deemed to be the ultimate speech shop and this is where they conducted business until 1966 when they decided to downsize their operation. The move to downsize was driven by the changing times in the speed performance world, speed shops becoming large automotive parts stores, everything becoming computerized, and major corporations becoming involved.
Over the years Reath Automotive employed some of the best racers, machinist, and salespeople in the industry including: Jon Garrison, Gary Slusser, Henry Velasco, Neil Leffler, and Jerry Ballard to name a few. Reath Automotive also supplied sponsorship for a large number of outstanding racers that included: George Bolthoff, Ratican/Jackson & Sterrns, Tom McEwen, Jim Dunn, Vance Hunt, and Gordon Collette. However, Reath didn’t turn away many of the upstarts that had big dreams, but little money and gave them a lot of deep discounts for both parts and services. Joe and Del’s involvement and contribution to the sport and its many personalities has not gone unrecognized. Their honors include the following: Honoree for the Hot Rod Reunion in Bakersfield California in 1955, Honoree at the first Lions Dragstrip Reunion in 1996, and the Dry Lakes Racing Hall of Fame in 2015. Joe and Del’s contribution to the sport are second to none and will always be remembered by all involved.