The start of this year’s Great Race in Jacksonville, Florida featured “Big Daddy” Don Garlits as the official starter. Don Garlits was the best of the best in Top Fuel drag racing in the USA from the late 1950s well into the 1980s. He was a leader both on the track and in the design of the Top Fuel dragsters. I was navigating for Harald von Langsdorff in the Great Race and Harald was particularly looking forward to meeting “Big Daddy”. The picture below shows Harald with Don Garlits with a vintage Car & Driver magazine in front of Don Garlits.
Don Garlits With Harald Von Langsdorff At the Start Of The 2017 Great Race
The reason that Harald was interested in meeting up with Don Garlits was an article that Brock Yates wrote in Car & Driver magazine in the late 1960s about a long drive that Yates and Garlits took in a Mercedes-Benz 300SEL 6.3. Harald now has a Mercedes-Benz 300SEL 6.3 and he wanted Don Garlits to autograph the story in the Car & Driver magazine. The picture below shows Don Garlits holding the magazine with the Mercedes-Benz 300SEL 6.3 story.
Don Garlits With The Autographed Car & Driver Story
At the time of the story, Garlits was very impressed with the Mercedes-Benz 300SEL 6.3. The car was fast (faster than Porsches of the day) while being very comfortable. I know from personal experience that Harald’s 6.3 is a very good performing car. It is a great road car, certainly quite worthy of Garlits’ favorable impression.
Garlits Reading The Car & Driver Story
Garlits built many Top Fuel dragsters over the years. These were the fastest drag cars of their time. I believe that he called each one of them “Swamp Rat”. In order to keep track of them he numbered each one. For the start of the 2017 Great Race he brought along Swamp Rat XII, as shown below.
Garlits’ Top Fuel Dragster “Swamp Rat XII”
As far as I know all of Garlits’ dragsters were powered by Chrysler engines. The Swamp Rat XII was powered by a 392 cubic inch hemispherical head V8 engine. As can be seen in the photo, this engine is fitted with a huge supercharger. I’m sure that this engine produces hundreds of horsepower.
The Swamp Rat XII With Its Chrysler 392 Cubic Inch Hemi Engine
The Swamp Rat XII has the engine in front of the driver. Garlits had a terrible accident in which he was seriously injured by exploding pieces of the engine and drive train. These engines are so powerful that they put an enormous strain on all moving parts. While lying in the hospital recovering from these injuries, he came up with the idea of putting the engine and drive train behind him. He did just that when he recovered and this revolutionized top fuel drag racing and increased driver safety.
Cockpit Of A Top Fuel Dragster
From reading issues of Hot Rod Magazine in the 1960s I became a fan of Don Garlits. He was a favorite to win at any event that he showed up at. And I know that Harald will treasure Don Garlits’ autograph in that Car & Driver magazine.
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