Record setter, cool car guy, Don Garlits

I used to watch a LOT of drag racing, all of the 1996 and 1997 NHRA top fuel and funny car championships particularly, and during those seasons a lot of car show programming was getting onto cable tv, the Speed Channel or ESPN 2 I think... getting back on topic, Big Daddy Don Garlits was a feature of one of the show, and the show would spotlight whichever car or truck Don would choose as his "pick of the week".

At the time I had a 69 Superbee, and remember how Don told about the features of the car and how they came about due to the NASCAR evolution of the racecars in 68-69. He pointed out the slight ducktail on the rear edge of the trunklid, the smoothed rear window (in contrast to the 69 Charger's), the wide hips on the sides of the car above the rear tires, and he might have talked about the down force caused by the upward sloping gas tank that used a airflow dynamic to cause suction under the car.

All 4 of these had an additive effect of increasing traction by pushing and pulling the rear of the car down onto the tires for designed aero effects that were incorporated into the looks of the car, while increasing traction. Nice detailed description from the expert that was there from the pioneering days of drag racing, and still is the most recognized drag racer, record setter, PR personality, and frankly- all around nice guy. He is now part of the contributing writers for Hemmings Muscle Cars, that I subscribe to and recommend to you as well, and he's a very good writer.

I won't be filling pages, which would be easy, telling you his current and historical racing life, but want to show a few things you may not know about him, and the Dodge truck that bears his name. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a thing on the net... big surprise since I try for the rare and unusual that you are more likely to be interested in. But I'm going to keep trying, and wanted to post about that truck. 1996 full size Dodge, with an animated looking rat waving a finish flag, if I remember correctly.

By the way, just to blow your mind, had a few items that really are knockouts.

Born in 1932.

In 2001 (at 69 years young) he returned to racing, and ran a top fueler at 4.720 and 303, then was also voted the #1 drag racer of the last 50 years, in 2002 he pulled a top fuel race car of his out of his museum... museum.... for pete's sake he used a museum piece for this next one.... and nailed a career best 318 mph and 4.76 second pass.

In a museum car.

Because he's that freaking good, and this was at the NHRA US Nationals.

Kinda makes you want to be that effing cool when you retire don't it? That's just inspirational.

He's got grandkids for krineoutloud, and did 323 mph in the Gator Nats in 2002. Think that over. First guy to manhandle a dragster to 170, 180, 200, 240, 250, 260, and 270. Pioneer is putting it mildly, trail blazer of the 1320 is more apt.


He was inducted in the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1989 as the sole representative of drag racing. Probably for the redesign and paradigm shift of the top fuel dragsters layout, which he realized made more sense to drive if you're not going to die from an engine explosion when the motor's behind you instead of just in front of you. When you're doing better than 200mph, all the broken parts and flaming fuel just want to clobber and burn you in the original slingshot design, Don redesigned the way all dragsters are built by getting the engine behind the driver 'cause it's just better to be upwind of all that destruction 'ya know... moving away from it instead of into it.

In 1987, Garlits' record-breaking 300 m.p.h. car, "Swamp Rat XXX" was inducted into, and enshrined at The Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. Best part, he fired it up and gave them a cacklefest of one... at the Smithsonian.