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‘Big Daddy’ Don Garlits, 82, comes out of retirement to set another national drag racing speed/elapsed time record

May 2, 2014, 6:58 PM EDT

(Photo courtesy Devastation Motorsports) (Photo courtesy Devastation Motorsports)

Even though he’s now 82 years old, legendary “Big Daddy” Don Garlits can still wheel a dragster.

Garlits on Wednesday came out of retirement to add yet another national record to the long list of accomplishments – including 17 national championships and 144 career wins – that he’s achieved in a nearly seven-decade drag racing career.

And of course, it was in the latest in a long series of Garlits’ fabled Swamp Rat dragsters – this version being Swamp Rat 37.

The first driver to break the 200 mph barrier in a gas-powered dragster (as well as 150 and 250 mph marks) in 1964, Garlits on Wednesday set the national record for an electric-powered dragster, covering the 1,000-foot racing surface at Bradenton (Fla.) Motorsports Park in 7.26 seconds at 184.01 mph.

The previous mark for an electronic car on a dragstrip was 7.95 seconds and 156.00 mph, according to National Hot Rod Association records.

Had it not been for a parachute malfunction on the record-setting run, Garlits and the rest of the Devastation Motorsports team had hoped to break the 200 mph and six-second barriers that day, according to DragRacingOnline.com.

“The team will do a teardown like any other dragster and check the motors, drivetrain, and safety equipment. We all learned a lot,” SR-37 creator, co-owner and former NHRA crew chief Mike Gerry told DragRacingOnline.com. “I think we’ll tinker with the gearing and be looking for more power control to the motors so that we have full current delivery.

“We hope we can turn it around soon for another test and record attempt. We should get 200 next time out and I think we can break into the sixes.”

What made Garlits’ efforts even more notable is this was the first time that Swamp Rat 37 – in development for two years – had ever made a complete run down a dragstrip.

Garlits’ first time behind the wheel since 2009 was to shake off the rust, covering the length of the track in 10.90 seconds at 129 mph.

The next run, Garlits proved to be even more comfortable, with a run of 8.75 seconds at 151 mph, which was followed by two runs that were aborted due to fuse issues.

On his fifth run, hitting 0-to-60 mph in less than one second, Garlits motored on to break the existing national record of 7.956 seconds at 158.85 mph with a run of 7.53 seconds at 178.42 mph.

But he still wasn’t done yet, as his final run in the 1,500 kilowatt machine (close to 2,000 horsepower) left him just 16 mph short of the 200-mph milestone.

It may not have been the 8,000 horses and sub-four second runs that are commonplace in drag racing today, but it was definitely an impressive start.

Garlits had not driven a dragster in more than a decade. He runs the Museum of Drag Racing in Ocala, Fla.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

  1. extavernmouse - May 3, 2014 at 1:02 PM

    Big Daddy was always an innovator. Good to see him doing this. Go Big Daddy!

  2. techmeister1 - May 3, 2014 at 2:37 PM

    Actually Garlits is just driving and has had almost nothing to do with the project. It’s still a cool deal and all. Electric vehicles are in vogue at the moment. They are however pretty impractical for most folks and their best use is for the city. If they ever develop battery tech that can store more energy then EV’s might have a greater value.

    Most people aren’t going to drive 100 miles out of their normal travel and spend an hour recharging their battery or 20+ minutes changing a battery so they can drive back a 100 miles to their normal scheduled route of travel and continue to their original destination. At the moment EVs are toys for the tree huggers.

    • dollyj007 - May 4, 2014 at 10:52 AM

      Not sure how you can call yourself ‘tech’meister’ – electric is hardly ‘in vogue’, it’s on the rise, and improving continually. As the Tesla cross-country should have shown you, they are not all just ‘best use for the city’ (and I’ve proven that ever day of my nearly 3 years of ownership of a very non-Tesla EV). I don’t know where you get the idea that anyone would need to drive 100 miles out of their normal travel route to charge their battery….no, wait, I think I do know – typical right-wing talking point. It’s not accurate, and if you spent the time it took to read this article doing a bit of investigation of your own, you’d know it. I’m no tree hugger, and my car is no toy – and btw, I make my car payment on what I do not spend on gasoline.

  3. ralphwilsonisrich - May 4, 2014 at 1:58 PM

    Most folks out there wouldn’t know who he is. Been the man for years in drag racing. A true drag racer not these rich guys with a big bankroll who want to drive a race car.

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