Photo courtesy of IMSA

Race Car Coaches launches as service for drivers to find coaches

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One of the joys in covering Ryan Dalziel throughout first his open-wheel and then sports car career over the last 15 or so years is that he’s found a way to keep himself in the game by way of his tenacity to secure a number of different rides and opportunities, and establish himself on both the domestic and international sports car scenes.

Dalziel, who this year competes full-time in both the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in the No. 2 Tequila Patron ESM Nissan Onroak DPi and in Pirelli World Challenge in the No. 2 CRP Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3, is now going to work to pay it forward to help drivers such as himself who’ve also carved out a place as a racing coach connect with other coaches, and to help fellow professionals have a singular landing place for drivers of all skill levels to seek them out.

Photo courtesy of IMSA

The result is Race Car Coaches, which Dalziel will launch this month at www.racecarcoaches.com.

It’s designed as a one-stop shop for drivers to find coaches, and is location-based. Coaches will be the site’s members, paying either a monthly ($30/month) or annual ($300/year) fee.

Dalziel explained more about the idea and the process behind it.

“One question I get asked a lot from guys I coach regularly is, ‘Do you know anyone in a certain location?'” Dalziel told NBC Sports. “The reason for that is, coaches want to make sure they’re available, but people may not want to pay for extra travel expenses, and that often doubles the fee of having a coach.

“So say, do I know anyone near Roebling Road Raceway in Savannah, Ga. or Watkins Glen? It got me thinking there wasn’t really an online location website for tracking and finding coaches. It’s in industries like golf, baseball and even the truck hauling business!”

With such a busy schedule himself, competing in both of North America’s top sports car series, he’s had to cut back on his own coaching schedule this year and winds up passing on potential clients to his “go-to guys” of drivers he trusts.

The goal for Race Car Coaches is to work to attract as many coaches to the site as possible in an effort to bring people together and cut out the middle man, so drivers and coaches can interact and negotiate directly for whatever makes the most sense for them.

“It’s only going to be as good as the people involved in it. If I have 1,000 coaches, of course I’m happy, but it makes everyone happy. The more content we have, the easier it is for a client to come on and make sure it looks legit,” he said.

“You don’t necessarily need to be a professional driver, and a lot of people were worried about that originally. A lot of coaches are drivers that were talented but never got the luck or opportunity to reach the pro level.

“So we’ll have a membership-based site. The coaches will be the members on the site. The membership fee gives them the ability to advertise their services on the site. They’ll upload coaching pictures. They will have their own page dedicated to them.”

Additionally, there is a 90 days free special promotion to coaches who sign up for the annual membership within the first week.

Dalziel has sought to make the site as simple to use and navigate as possible, cutting down on uncluttered pages and leaving it to where the first thing you do is type in the location within a certain mileage radius.

“For the clients, that will look to hire the coach, it’ll be simple and user friendly. So you can find the coaches by state. From there you contact them directly, connect the two parties and negotiate from there.”

Funnily, while ratings are a hot-button topic within the sports car world – there are four levels of driver rating in Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze and lineups are often determined by a driver’s rating – ratings will be key to the eventual growth and success of Race Car Coaches.

Morad and Dalziel paired for success in PWC. Photo: PWC

Dalziel plans to introduce a rating system so clients can rate the coaches. Similar to an app like Yelp, where users rate businesses which then helps other users determine whether to visit that business, a ratings system here will help prospective clients find the coach that best works for them.

“One thing we’ll plan to add down the road is a rating system,” Dalziel said. “The online world, whether in the food industry, airlines, or whatever else, everything revolves around ratings. It won’t be live initially because no one has been rated yet. But as we go down the road, Race Car Coaches will send a survey down the line to the client for the coach, give the ability to rank out of 5 stars.”

On another rating-related note, since most gentlemen drivers that get into sports car racing start with track days, Dalziel said part of the reason for creating the site is to build more of those. And those relationships often grow into full-time driver partnerships as these gentlemen drivers look to build their careers.

“Most pro race drivers especially in the sports car world, are very much used to working with teammates and coaching our teammates,” he said. “When you look at where most of the pro/am lineups come from, they generally come from relationships outside of pro racing that were developed in amateur, club racing or track days.”

In speaking with some of his mechanics, Dalziel said a similar type of finding opportunities catalogue was around in the 1990s, and it’s where many of his mechanics got their start in racing.

Dalziel is focused primarily on the sports car world for this project, at least initially, as it’s where the bulk of his career has been spent in North America. The next step after launching beyond the U.S. and Canada is planning to expanding to other countries, with a drop-down menu planned to adjust between countries.

With a desktop and mobile site, Dalziel does not plan to create an app for Race Car Coaches at the outset owing to the investment level. If a coach plans to stay outside their usual location – say in California or Florida for a couple weeks at a time in-between races – they can update their location and the site will update along with it. Previously, Dalziel said drivers’ social media accounts or websites were really the only ways to track location.

An entrepreneurial driver by nature, Dalziel learned well from his father’s successful real estate career and has sought to open as many possible doors as he could within the sport. He’s also an advocate for Rett Syndrome awareness; October is Rett Syndrome awareness month.

Photo courtesy of IMSA

Now 35, Dalziel also is building the site as a way to take that mindset to the next level as the Florida-based Scot begins to think about life after full-time driving. Not that he’s slowing down any; he’s re-signed with Tequila Patron ESM for 2018, his fifth season with Scott Sharp’s team.

“I think it comes from my dad. My dad was a successful businessman in real estate his whole life. One of the best compliments I got my whole life was from Scott Atherton, who called me a ‘go-getter.’ And that’s just the way the business is. You can’t sit back; you have to make it happen,” Dalziel said.

“I’d love to say I’m at my peak – probably – is it gonna get better? Probably not. I’d have to look at, being 35 years old, where’s my career and income 10-15 years from here?

“I love coaching but I do a lot of things for people, advice, for free. I love this industry, cars, track days as much as race cars. It’s a way to help out. If it works great, if it doesn’t, I tried to connect people to help understand the business better.

“It’s a cool idea; it’s never been done before. I’m a little nervous because it’s a little outside my comfort zone and I spend most of my life racing cars. My dad was in real estate. I know the racing and real estate worlds but I’ve never really stepped outside the box too much!

“I think there’s a market for it that no one’s touched yet.”

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Coach example: Ryan Dalziel’s page

 

‘Big Daddy’ Don Garlits still chasing drag racing records, more innovation at 86

All photos courtesy NHRA/National Dragster
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At 86 years old, legendary drag racer “Big Daddy” Don Garlits has found the fountain of youth:

Batteries.

No, we’re not talking about batteries for a heart pacemaker or the kind you put in your TV remote control.

Rather, the most notable and innovative driver in drag racing history is still attacking the quarter-mile just like he did when he got into the sport more than six decades ago.

The difference for the Ocala, Florida, resident is rather than using nitromethane, which powers the Top Fuel dragsters he used to drive to countless wins and championships, Garlits is now piloting dragsters that are battery powered.

Or as many refer to them as “electric dragsters.”

Garlits has been working on electric dragsters for about four years now, and he’s just as competitive now as he was back in his hey-day.

“Big Daddy” Don Garlits is still going fast at the age of 86. Photo: NHRA/National Dragster.

He holds the world record for electric dragsters at 185.6 mph at 7.25 seconds. He actually has gone quicker – 7.05 seconds – but it was not recognized as a record.

Garlits has done all that with a former Top Fuel dragster that was converted to battery power. He calls it Swamp Rat 37, which continues the long line of innovations and technological advancements that Garlits has been know for his whole career.

“It’s all batteries now,” Garlits said when interviewed by MotorSportsTalk recently at Route 66 Raceway in suburban Chicago.

MORE: ‘Big Daddy’ Don Garlits, 82, sets yet another national drag racing speed/elapsed time record

The electric dragsters have definitely helped “Big Daddy” in many ways, but most notable is his look and demeanor. He could easily pass for early-to-mid 60s, and his drive and desire to be the best pioneer of the battery-powered cars is just like it was when he was racing in Top Fuel.

“I feel good, real good,” Garlits said. “Well, of course, developing the electric dragster has been a big part of that.

“A man doesn’t really go to seed, so to speak, until he has nothing to do. You’ve gotta have goals, no matter how old you are.

“It’s as important to exercise your mind as it is to exercise your body, because your mind can get stiff and out of whack, too.”

At an age where most individuals would be enjoying retirement to the fullest, Garlits refuses to retire. Instead, he keeps busy with a schedule that someone half his age would have a hard time keeping up with.

In addition to constant tinkering on his electric dragster – with the goal of becoming the first person to break the 200 mph barrier – he also spends every day (except when he’s traveling on business) at the Museum of Drag Racing in Ocala, which he founded in 1976.

And then there’s his latest project.

“Now I’m building Swamp Rat 38 that is designed around all that I’ve learned about electronic dragsters over the last four years,” Garlits said. “My goal is to reach 200 mph on batteries and to have a car that’s consistent and simple to operate so that a group of people can have dragsters and not cost a fortune to do it. It’s not very expensive.

“It’s going to take about 1,300 to 1,400 horsepower in about a 1,500 pound car. And I have the electric motor to do that.”

Garlits’ milestones in drag racing history are truly legendary. He was the first Top Fuel racer to break speed barriers of 170 mph, 180 mph, 200 mph, 240 mph, 250 mph and 270 mph – all in the quarter-mile – as well as was the first driver to exceed 200 mph in the one-eighth-mile.

Each of those milestones came because Garlits has spent his entire life tinkering, tweaking and strategizing. He got his mechanical curiosity from his father, an engineer for Westinghouse, who was on a team that invented a number of significant appliances, including the electric fan and the electric iron.

“That’s one reason I’ve gotten so excited about this electric dragster is because those genes are coming out,” Garlits said with a laugh.

“Big Daddy” Don Garlits back in the early stages of his drag racing career. Photo: NHRA/National Dragster.

But seriously, innovation and the desire to never give up and always strive to be the best has been Garlits’ mantra since he first started drag racing in the late 1950s.

“The biggest difference in drag racing today vs. my era in Top Fuel is definitely the cost,” Garlits said. “I’ll never forget when I showed up at Bakersfield (California) with my car, Swamp Rat 1, in 1959 for the U.S. Fuel and Gas championships, the first real big drag race in the world.

“The total price of my car and the trailer it was on cost less than $1,000 to make. Nitro was $1.50 per gallon and it used less than a gallon per run. That’s all the cost there was. I ran a whole year on the same engine, same clutch, same tires, same everything. It was very inexpensive.

“That’s why drag racing appealed back then to so many youngsters because it was something they could dream about and actually do. Now, they’ve made this maybe as expensive as NASCAR and other types of racing.

The Swamp Rat that started it all for “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, Swamp Rat 1. Photo: Museum of Drag Racing.

“The biggest cost was the engine. It came out of a wrecking yard and out of a ’57 Chrysler. It cost $450 bucks. The chassis was out of a ’31 Chevrolet and I just used the side rails, that was $35. And then the rear end out of an old Ford was $10, and the transmission and front wheels, everything was out of wrecking yards – and you made it yourself.”

Electric dragsters today are among the least expensive vehicles in motorsports, Garlits said.

“It’s probably $150,000 to get to the track with the car and truck, but that’s the last of the big costs,” Garlits said. “It costs about 7 or 8 cents a run after that.

“That’s compared to some of the Top Fuel dragster runs today, where it can cost up to $25,000 per run. Nobody can afford that.”

Garlits was forced to retire from racing in 1992 – at the age of 60 – due to a detached retina in his eye. He made two brief comebacks in 1998 and again in 2003, attaining a personal best of 323 mph in 4.7 seconds (on a quarter-mile, before NHRA scaled back Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars to 1,000-foot lanes).

“Big Daddy” Don Garlits is the most notable and innovative driver in drag racing history. Photo: NHRA/National Dragster.

While Top Fuel dragsters are routinely hitting 330 mph and faster these days, Garlits demurs when asked if he’d like to pilot one of the current nitro dragsters.

“I wouldn’t jump into one of the 300-plus mph cars today, it’s too hard on your body,” he said. “You get hit with 8 Gs when you step on it and that’s instant, and that hurts you when you get up to my age.”

But, he adds with a caveat and another smile on his face, “Our bones and joints are not as good as they used to be – but I’d love it if I could.”

There are only a handful of electric dragsters in competition today, but Garlits is optimistic that current numbers will continue to grow. While electric drag racing is overseen by the National Electric Drag Racing Association, Garlits has had talks with the National Hot Rod Association about potential exhibition runs in the future.

But that’s just part of it.

Even though he’ll turn 87 in January, Garlits wants to get back to racing competitively in a structured series or league. It’s just a matter of having more cars out there.

“Oh yeah, I’d get right back in it,” he said emphatically. “That’s why I’m pioneering this, because I’m trying to get it going.

“Right now, there’s about four teams all fighting to reach 200 mph first, and there’s a couple of teams in Europe. We’re all taking different approaches and one of us is going to come up with the best idea, which is the most feasible, the least expensive and the one that gets the job done – and that’s the way the dragster will probably go.”

The biggest obstacle to electric dragsters continues to be consistency, particularly of the batteries that power them. Remember, these four-wheeled beasts do not run on conventional fuel, just the power produced by the batteries.

But Garlits is optimistic that further technical advances will soon come faster and more frequent, adding that “I’m in a totally different battery than what I started with. The technology in four years has leapfrogged.”

Another exmple of “Big Daddy” Don Garlits back during the most successful part of his lengthy drag racing career. Photo: NHRA/National Dragster.

In addition to trying to get the NHRA onboard when it comes to promoting and exhibiting electric dragsters, Garlits has also had discussions with noted innovator/entrepreneur Elon Musk and Tesla.

“The most important technology that I’m paying attention to and I’m trying to get them involved with my team is Tesla, because they have some nice induction motors that make 450 horsepower, and they’re small,” Garlits said. “I could put four of them in my car and I might be better off than one motor in my car. That would not only give me 1,800 horses, but also maybe 230 mph. I’m really trying to convince (Tesla to get involved with him).”

When asked what has been the greatest accomplishment of his career, Garlits is quick to answer.

“Building the revolutionary championship-winning rear-engine dragster,” he said. “There had been rear-engine dragsters, but they didn’t do well. This put the driver out-front of the motor where they were safer.”

Ironically, it was an incident on March 8, 1970 at fabled Lions Dragway in Long Beach, California, one of the worst of Garlits’ career, when the transmission on Swamp Rat 13 exploded, ultimately costing Garlits part of his right foot, as well as saw a spectator also injured.

 

But a lot of good came out of the incident, as well. While recuperating in a nearby hospital, Garlits came up with the rear-engine dragster, which revolutionized the sport.

“They had killed, I think it was six people in about a two-to-three year people prior to my big accident in Long Beach,” he said. “And they haven’t killed six since in the last 47 years.

“I’m also very proud of the Drag Racing Museum, where I’ve captured the history of the sport all the way back to the 40s’ and have all these artifacts before they became collectibles.

“Everybody laughed at me when I started the Museum in 1976 because you could go to a guy’s garage and he’d give you all that stuff, they were just trying to get rid of it, and today it’s worth a fortune. We don’t sell anything and we’ve got it there for future generations as a non-profit, so my family isn’t going to be selling anything. It’s there for America.”

And right there smack dab in the middle of all of it is the man and the legend, Big Daddy.

When asked what his life is like these days, given everything that keeps him busy, he looks straight at the questioner, broadly smiles and says matter-of-factly, “I’m having more fun right now than I ever had in my entire life, if you can believe that.”

Yes, Don, we can believe it. And with you leading the charge, that 200 mph barrier will soon be broken.

Follow @JerryBonkowski