‘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.

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Chip Ganassi to be honored in Petersen Museum exhibit

Joe Skibinski / IndyCar
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This Saturday, the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles will debut a new exhibit honoring one of the most successful teams in American motorsports.

Titled “Chip Ganassi Racing: Fast Tracks to Success | 30th Anniversary Tribute,” the exhibit will display several significant cars, trophies, and other artifacts from CGR’s storied racing history. Ganassi will formally be honored April 15, 2020 at the Petersen’s Annual Racers Night before the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Dario Franchitti’s 2010 Dallara IR-05. Photo Kahn Media

Vehicles displayed in the exhibit will include the 1983 Patrick Wildcat MK9B raced by Chip Ganassi to his best finish in the Indianapolis 500, the Lexus-powered Riley MK X1 raced by Scott Dixon in the 2006 24 Hours of Daytona, the Dallara IR-05 driven to victory by Dario Franchitti in the 2010 Indianapolis 500, the Ford GT that finished first in the LM GTE category at the 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 driven by Kurt Busch in the 2019 NASCAR Cup Series.

“Chip Ganassi is an influential member of the automotive community, and his team’s penchant for success is a reflection of his raw skill and passion for the sport,” said Petersen Automotive Museum Executive Director Terry L. Karges. “Complemented by a visually dynamic and compelling 180-degree video, ‘Chip Ganassi Racing’ will celebrate the team’s victories and tell its story while taking visitors on a trip down memory lane.” 

“Chip Ganassi Racing: Fast Tracks to Success | 30th Anniversary Tribute” will run through January 31, 2021. The museum will host a ticketed opening reception on December 13. More information on the Petersen Museum can be found at www.petersen.org.

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