‘Big Daddy’ Don Garlits heading to Canada to be race grand marshal — and he’s bringing Swamp Rat with him

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It’s a well-known fact that many Canadians like to come to Florida for vacation.

Well, one of Florida’s best-known treasures will be heading north of the border soon.

Octogenarian “Big Daddy” Don Garlits – one of the most legendary names in drag racing history – will serve as Grand Marshal of the International Hot Rod Association Mopar Nitro Jam Nationals, June 20-22 at Grand Bend Motorplex (about 110 miles northeast of Detroit).

Garlits, who owns the Museum of Drag Racing in Ocala, Fla., has earned 17 world championships across three sanctioning bodies in his six-decade career, including four Top Fuel titles in the IHRA. He also has 144 national event wins and became the first drag racer to break several speed barriers, including 170 mph, 180, 200, 240, 250, 260 and 270 in a dragster.

“I loved racing with the IHRA. They were always really good to me,” Garlits said. “(IHRA founder) Larry Carrier was always one of my favorite guys. In fact, the largest contract I ever signed in drag racing was signed with the IHRA and Larry when I inked a contract worth $100,000. It was a great time with a lot of memories. It is really a wonderful organization and I am looking forward to being back.”

Although he likely won’t race it, Garlits is bringing one of his fabled “Swamp Rat” dragsters — he’ll likely fire it up for fans to hear its earth-pounding power and sound — with him to Grand Bend to be displayed. He’ll also be on hand to sign autographs and pose for pictures, in addition to his other Grand Marshal duties.

“I am really looking forward to the trip to Canada,” Garlits said. “It has been a long time since I have been up there and I think it will be a great event and a great time for everyone involved.”

While other drag racers his age have been long-retired, the 82-year-old Garlits continues to challenge the pavement. He recently set a world record at Bradenton (Fla.) Motorsports Park by taking his battery-powered dragster down the track at 7.258 seconds at 184.01 mph.

Garlits is hoping to break the 200 mph barrier in a lithium battery-powered car in the coming months during more test attempts. If he does smash that mark, it would come on the 50th anniversary of Garlits becoming the first driver in drag racing history to hit 200 mph in a fuel car.

“This barrier is very important to me,” Garlits said in an IHRA media release. “It has been 50 years since I broke the 200 barrier in Top Fuel and I would like to do that again this year, hopefully before the 50-year reunion celebration of that run in August.

“But more importantly, it is important to me to show the world that there is another avenue that drag racing can take that is cleaner and much less expensive allowing more people to get involved.”

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INDYCAR announces several rules and protocol changes for 2018 season

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The 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series opener is still more than six weeks away (March 11, St. Petersburg, Florida).

But several rules and protocol changes that will impact much of the 17-race season were announced today by INDYCAR officials.

First is related to Indianapolis 500 qualifying on May 19-20, one week prior to the 102nd running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing:

* Driver and entrant points will be awarded to the top nine qualifiers for the race. The pole winner earns nine points and the second-fastest qualifier eight points, with awarded points decreasing by one point for each position down to one point earned by the ninth-fastest qualifier.

* Race points for the Indianapolis 500 and the 2018 season-ending Grand Prix of Sonoma on Sept. 16, will still pay double the normal points for driver and entrant.

There are several other changes on tap for the season, as well.

Here’s a quick rundown of those changes (information courtesy of INDYCAR):

  • The qualifying order for all oval track events except the Indianapolis 500 will be determined by entrant points entering the event. The qualifying order will run in reverse order of entrant points, with the highest in entrant points qualifying last. A car without entrant points will be placed at the front of the qualifying line. If more than one car has no entrant points entering an event, a blind draw among those cars will determine their qualifying order at the front of the line. The qualifying order for the Indianapolis 500 will still be determined by a blind draw.
  • Times have been set for the series-wide open test at ISM Raceway (formerly Phoenix Raceway), scheduled for Feb. 9-10. The track will be open to all cars from 3-6 p.m. and 8-11 p.m. ET both days. INDYCAR has also added four hours of track time on Feb. 8 (3-7 p.m. ET) for rookie drivers to complete their oval test assessments.
  • The series-wide open test at Portland International Raceway will be held Aug. 30, a day prior to the beginning of the Grand Prix of Portland race weekend. Indy car racing returns to the Pacific Northwest for the first time in 11 years in 2018.
  • A schedule change for the month of May will see the INDYCAR garages closed on May 13 – the day after the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course – to allow teams time off for Mother’s Day. The track will not be open to the public on this day. The garages will be open on May 14, but there will be no on-track activity.
  • Practice for the 2018 Indianapolis 500 begins Tuesday, May 15 on the IMS oval, with the first two hours open for rookie orientation and veteran refreshers, then to all cars. Practice continues May 16-18, ahead of qualifications weekend May 19-20.
  • INDYCAR is granting teams that did not participate in fall manufacturer testing with the universal aero kit an additional half day of private testing. The testing is limited to one car per team and must take place in conjunction with the team’s first on-track test of 2018. Each team is permitted five hours of track time and two sets of Firestone tires.
  • Working with Firestone, INDYCAR has increased the tire allotment at five events. The race weekends at ISM Raceway (Phoenix), the Raceway at Belle Isle Park in Detroit, Texas Motor Speedway, the streets of Toronto and Iowa Speedway will see teams receive an additional set of tires. In a related change, drivers outside the top 10 in the point standings will no longer have an extra set of tires available to them for the opening practice session of a race weekend.
  • The minimum car weight for 2018 has been increased by 10 pounds – to 1,620 pounds for road and street courses and short ovals, 1,590 pounds for superspeedways (both do not include fuel, drink bottle and its contents, driver and driver equivalency weight) – to accommodate for new parts and additional on-car cameras related to the universal aero kit all competitors will run in 2018.