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

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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

Cooper solidifies PWC GT presence with Callaway Corvette

Callaway, Cooper, Gill. Photo: PWC
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Pirelli World Challenge could use a “face” of the series from a driving standpoint, and American Michael Cooper is a good candidate to fill that role for 2018.

Cooper, 27, has won PWC Touring Car, GTS and, most recently the SprintX GT titles within the series and has quickly blossomed into one of the series’ top GT stars.

It’s been a rapid rise for the Syosset, N.Y. native, entering into a world filled with series stars and champions such as Johnny O’Connell, Patrick Long, Alvaro Parente and a host of others.

But under O’Connell’s tutelage, Cooper admirably filled the rather gaping shoes vacated by Andy Pilgrim at Cadillac Racing, steering the Cadillac ATS-V.R to multiple race wins in the last two years – including a sweep of this year’s season finale weekend at Sonoma.

Cooper and Jordan Taylor were the model of consistency in SprintX this year, winning once at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and surviving contact at Circuit of The Americas to take that title.

With Cadillac withdrawing its ATS-V.R program at the end of the year though, Cooper was left a free agent for 2018. Fortunately with one door closed another opened, in the form of the GM-blessed but full Callaway Competition USA effort with its Callaway Corvette C7 GT3-R that will come Stateside next year. Cooper and Daniel Keilwitz will be in the team’s two cars for the full season; the car was fully unveiled last week at the PRI Show in Indianapolis.

The Callaway is a proven commodity in Europe but couldn’t run in the U.S. unless the path was cleared by one of GM’s factory programs to end a direct, potential head-to-head competition.

Moving from the Cadillac to the Callaway Corvette should be a natural transition, Cooper said last week.

“It worked out incredibly well that GM decided to allow Calloway to run the car in the United States and it created an opportunity for me that wouldn’t have been there otherwise,” he told NBC Sports. “I talked to a lot of other GT teams and at the end of the day, I felt like this was the best direction for me to be competitive next year and to also continue furthering my career with General Motors.”

Indeed Cooper has graduated from the Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R in GTS to the Cadillac and now to the Callaway Corvette. Cooper hailed the Cadillac team for what they did for his career growth.

“Working with Cadillac Racing has been instrumental in developing my abilities both on and off the track,” he said. “So I’m definitely a much more well-rounded driver now and have a lot of experience in the World Challenge GT field, so I kind of know what to expect going into that first race and going into that first corner in St. Pete.”

As noted, the car’s success in Europe means it’s a well-oiled machine by the time Reeves Callaway has worked with PWC to bring it Stateside next year. And as Cooper explained, discussions had been underway for a bit of time to ensure his presence in this car and team.

“I think the car is going to be extremely capable. It’s already won championships and races in Europe. I think, in bringing it over here, we’re going to hit the ground running straight away,” he said.

“Calloway had wanted me to come drive for them in July or August. We always kept in touch since then, and there was a lot of work trying to put together a program before they decided that they were going to do a fully fledged factory program. So once they made that decision, I think the pieces were kind of in place already, and the conversations had been had to be able to say ‘You’re going to be our guy.’”

December is late for IMSA programs to get finalized, but it’s relatively early for PWC, with the season not starting until mid-March in St. Petersburg. An extensive testing program should follow, as Callaway establishes its U.S. base and infrastructure.

“It’s definitely early for a Pirelli World Challenge program to be announced in December when we start racing in March. So that’s very good,” he said. “But, the team has a lot of work ahead of them in terms of getting infrastructure set up here in the United States, because a lot of their racing program has been in Europe. So, there will be a testing program, but they have to get the infrastructure in place first. But, we’ll be well prepared for St. Pete, I’m certain of it.

“Last year was the first year when I could sit back, kick my feet up, and know what I was doing next year. So, to be able to have everything done and be able to announce it this early on makes my life less stressful and now I can just focus on preparing myself and my team for next year.”