‘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

MRTI: Barber Motorsports Park Preview

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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After a month break, the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires is back in action this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park, with two of its series tacking the 2.38-mile road course in Birmingham, Alabama.

Both the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires have double-headers this weekend, with Pro Mazda returning to Barber after not running there last year.

The season-opening weekend in St. Petersburg was a tale of two completely different stories, with two different winners – Pato O’Ward and Santi Urrutia – and more than a fair bit of chaos for Indy Lights, while Pro Mazda saw Rinus Veekay sweep the weekend.

Talking points for both series heading into Barber are below.

Indy Lights

Santi Urrutia heads to Barber leading the Indy Lights championship on the strength of finishes of second and first in St. Petersburg. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Santi Urrutia displayed great patience at St. Petersburg, finishing second in Race 1 and winning Race 2 after rivals like O’Ward and Colton Herta faltered. However, Barber has not been one of his better tracks, with finishes of 11th, 15th, and 13th in three of his four Indy Lights starts. Yet, he did win Race 2 at Barber 2016, so he has had success there before, and he will be one of the favorites heading into the weekend.
  • Pato O’Ward looks poised to be a title contender in 2018 and will look to avenge a somewhat disappointing outing at St. Petersburg. O’Ward had the speed to sweep the weekend, winning Race 1 handily and dominating Race 2, but a mistake late in the race saw him overshoot Turn 4 and briefly stall before he could rejoin, relegating him to seventh. If O’Ward can show the pace he showed at St. Pete, he might end up being the man to beat.
  • Colton Herta will look to rebound from a St. Pete weekend in which he flashed the speed that caught everyone’s attention last year, but also committed the same mistakes that ultimately prevented him from taking a championship. After finishing third in Race 1, Herta crashed while chasing then leader O’Ward in Race 2. Herta won Race 2 at Barber last year, and getting another win this weekend, along with staying mistake free, would go a long way to erasing his problems from St. Pete.
  • Aaron Telitz is also looking to rebound after a down weekend, as his St. Petersburg weekend lasted all of two corners across both races – he won the Pole for Race 1, but crashed in Race 2 qualifying, and the Belardi Auto Racing team could not repair the car to allow him to race. After the team borrowed a chassis from Carlin for Race 2, Telitz get collected with Juncos Racing’s Victor Franzoni right off the start, and he crashed again, this time in Turn 2. Telitz finished on the podium at Barber in 2016, the year he won the Pro Mazda championship, and he’ll look for more of the same this weekend.

Pro Mazda

Rinus VeeKay swept the Pro Mazda weekend in St. Petersburg. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Rinus Veekay had a perfect weekend to open the Pro Mazda season. The Juncos Racing driver outdueled Exclusive Autosport’s Parker Thompson for the Race 1 victory, and then ran away with Race 2 to complete the weekend sweep. Veekay was expected to be a title contender after moving up to Pro Mazda in 2018, and if he can repeat his St. Pete performance, then he may leave Barber as the heavy favorite in the championship.
  • Not to be forgotten, Parker Thompson sits second in the Pro Mazda title chase, and looks to avenge losing out to Veekay in St. Pete Race 1, and then fading somewhat to finish fifth in Race 2. Thompson was the only driver to regularly challenge Veekay and Oliver Askew in the 2017 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda season, and he and Exclusive Autosport have adapted nicely to the new Tatuus PM-18. If they can show the same form at Barber, and then finish the job with at least one trip to Victory Lane, then it could set the stage for another titanic Pro Mazda championship fight.
  • Last year’s USF2000 champion Oliver Askew had a quiet weekend in St. Pete, finishing fifth and sixth in the two races. He swept the Barber races in USF2000 last year, and will need a similar performance to vault himself forward from his current place of sixth in the standings.
  • Carlos Cunha and David Malukas head to Barber third and fourth in the championship after solid St. Pete weekends – Cunha had finishes of fourth and third, while Malukas had finishes of seventh and second. Neither was necessarily looked at as a title combatant entering 2018, but repeat performances in Barber could vault them into title contention.

A full weekend schedule, including the Mazda Road to Indy sessions, can be viewed here.

**Note: NBCSN will broadcast Sunday’s Indy Lights race (Race 2 from the weekend) on Monday, April 23.**

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