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Garlits in 1987

Donald Glenn "Don" Garlits (born January 14, 1932, Tampa, Florida) is considered the father of drag racing. He is known as "Big Daddy" to drag racing fans around the world. Always a pioneer in the field of drag-racing, he, with the help of T.C. Lemons, relating at least in part to the loss of a portion of his foot in a drag racing accident, perfected the rear-engine "top fuel dragster design". This design is notably safer as it puts most of the fuel processing and rotating or reciprocating parts of the dragster behind the driver. The driver is placed in "clear air" and a catastrophic failure, explosion or fire cannot immediately engulf the driver. Garlits was an early promoter of a full-body, fire-resistant suit - complete with socks and gloves.
Garlits was the first drag racer to officially surpass 170, 180, 200, 240, 250, 260, and 270 miles per hour in the quarter mile; and he was also the first to top 200 in the 1/8 mile. (Note that all official NHRA records require a "back-up" run to verify the newer, higher level of performance.) He has been inducted in numerous halls of fame and has won numerous awards during his career.

Contents

Career

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Early days

In the early days of drag racing, the post-World War II Western United States provided a large number of militarily obsolete airfields, many of which became available for conversion to racing while desert lake beds and Nevada's Salt Flats were a natural home for straight line styles of racing. Don Garlits, being from Florida, was something of an outsider. He was sometimes referred to as the Floridian, before permanently adopting the nickname, "Swamp Rat," which also became the theme for each generation of his innovative dragster designs.

In 1959, Garlits traveled to Bakersfield, California for the March Meet, then called the U.S. Fuel & Gas Championship, to show that the times he was setting were as legitimate as those set by the west coast racers. His presence helped to grow the sport of drag racing beyond its California base. In 1964 after winning the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, Garlits travelled to England, with Tommy Ivo, Tony Nancy, Dante Duce and other racers to participate in the First International Drag Festival, a six-event series that did much to promote the sport of drag racing in the UK.

Accident leads to innovation

In 1970, Garlits, driving Swamp Rat XIII, a mainstream front engine, rear cockpit drag rail, had a catastrophic failure. The two speed transmission that Don was developing exploded and took a piece of Garlits' right foot. While he was in the hospital, a Florida native Marvin Schwarts and Connie Swingle finished out the rest of the season. He returned to Pomona in 1971 with Swamp Rat XIV, a brand new rear engine, front cockpit drag rail. Rear-engine dragsters like Swamp Rat XIV have since become mainstream in drag racing.[1]

Further accomplishments

Swamp Rat XXX

Garlits won three National Hot Rod Association world championships, the last coming at the age of 54. He won a total of 144 national events. On October 20, 1987, His self-built Top Fuel dragster, Swamp Rat XXX, the sport's only successful streamlined car, was enshrined in National Museum of American History, a branch of The Smithsonian museum in Washington, D.C., which also houses The Spirit of St. Louis and NASA's first manned space capsule (These are housed in a different building of the Smithsonian, The National Air and Space Museum). In true Garlits style, during the press conference submission and placement ceremony, the dragster was fired on the Smithsonian "porch."[2]

Retirement and post-racing career

"Big Daddy" retired in 1992 due to separated retina, a product of the 4g deceleration produced by a Top Fuel Dragster's braking parachutes.[3] Garlits resumed his career briefly in 1998, and again in 2003. His last qualifying race was in May 2003 at the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series, 23rd annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals presented by Pontiac in Atlanta, Georgia. At the age of 71 years, 5 months and 19 days he qualified 16th setting a personal best speed in the quarter mile with a time of 4.788 seconds at 319.98 miles per hour. Garlits had reached 323.04 earlier in the year at the 2003 Gatornationals. Mr. Garlits lost in first round competition with his Summit Racing-Mono Winged Dragster with a 0.064 reaction time, a personal best 4.737 elapsed time, at 307.44 miles per hour to Brandon Bernstein's (son of racing legend Kenny Berstein,) Budweiser/Lucas Oil Dragster 0.079 reaction time, a 4.615 elapsed time, at 321.42 miles per hour. The difference at the finish line was 107 thousandths of a second.

Garlits operates the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing on the grounds of his home in Ocala, Florida. He can also be seen from time to time on ESPN and Speed Vision doing commentary at racing events and performance expositions [4] His popular column, Winning the Race, is featured on www.mybestyears.com. [5]

Always at the forefront of driver safety, in the wake of Funny Car driver Scott Kalitta's fatal crash, Garlits declared "I am 100-percent in favor of it", regarding NHRA's proposal to trim the race distance for Top Fuel and Funny Car from the traditional quarter-mile to 1,000 feet, also suggesting that he would support a ban on rev limiters and a return to a 70/30 nitromethane to methanol ratio[6]. He has later had second thoughts.[7]

In September 2009, Garlits returned to the quarter mile, racing a specially prepared 2009 Dodge Challenger in the stock eliminator class at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, IN.

Political affiliation

In 1994, Garlits was the Republican Party nominee for Florida's 5th Congressional District. He was defeated by incumbent Democrat Karen Thurman [8] He supported the Republican candidacy of Ron Paul for President in 2008.[9]

Awards

References

External links


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