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If you’ve ever looked into drag racing for even a few minutes, you’ll know who Don Garlits is. His name is as linked with Drag Racing as Einstein’s is with the concept of genius. He is quite simply the greatest drag racer of all time. Let’s find out why that is.
Don “Big Daddy” Garlits
Of course, when you’re considered a legend in any sport, you’re given a nickname or a title of sorts. Maradona had the legendary “Hand of God” kick, Donald Bradman was called “The Don”, and so forth. Don Garlits was christened with the title of Big Daddy. You’ll find out in a minute, why he deserves that title.
Don Garlits’ Various Drag Racing Records
Garlits came in to the limelight for the first time in 1964 when he won the US Nationals at Indianapolis. He then traveled to England with several other racers for the International Drag Festival in the UK. From then on it was record after record. Don Garlits started demolishing the competition. He was the first drag racer to top 170, 180, 200, 240, 250, 260, and 270 mph. He was also the first to 200 mph in the 1/8 mile. He has also won 10 American Hot Rod Association Championship and 4 International Hot Rod Association Championships. In total, he has won 144 national events. His last win was when he was 54.
While this in itself is impressive, these are the least of his achievements. Let’s get to why they really call him Big Daddy.
His Accident and The Swamp Rat XIV
On March 8, 1970, at the Lions Drag Strip, Garlits was racing his Swamp Rat XIII or Wynnscharger. The car suffered a catastrophic failure which resulted in an accident. The two-speed transmission exploded and took off a piece of Garlit’s foot. The car also broke in half.
You’d think his career would be over after something like that. However, Garlits saw this as an opportunity to get to work designing a car that would hand him a win. He returned to the drag strip in 1971 with the Swamp Rat XIV, a rear-engine dragster.
While he lost his first time back, that didn’t deter him. He won the next two of his three Top Fuel Eliminator titles in the new car. Since then, rear-engine dragsters became the rule, not the exception in drag racing.
So, Don Garlits has everything. His is a story of overcoming an obstacle that could’ve ended his career, but took him to new heights. That’s why he’s the greatest drag racer of all time.
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Garlits came in to the limelight for the first time in 1964 when he won the US Nationals at Indianapolis. He then traveled to England with several other racers for the International Drag Festival in the UK. From then on it was record after record. Don Garlits started demolishing the competition. He was the first drag racer to top 170, 180, 200, 240, 250, 260, and 270 mph.