Donald Glenn Garlits (born January 14, 1932, Tampa, Florida) is considered the father of drag racing. He is known as “Big Daddy” to drag racing fans around the world. A pioneer, with the help of TC Lemmons, and after he lost a portion of his foot in a drag racing accident, he perfected the design rear-engine “top fuel” dragster (notable because it put the most explosive parts of the dragster behind the driver) and was an early endorser of a full-body, fire-resistant suit. In 1964, he became the first drag racer to officially surpass 200 miles per hour; he has broken a number of other speed records, surpassing 270 miles per hour in 1986.
Drag Racing was a California based sport. Don Garlits being from Florida was the outsider who came in and beat them at their own game. He was sometimes referred to as the Floridian, such was his uniqueness.
Garlits was the first driver to win three National Hot Rod Association national titles and three world championships, the last coming at the age of 54.
Garlits won the first NHRA Drag race he entered with the first racecar he built. It was 1955, and the NHRA Safety Safari had come to Lake City, Fla. A short three years later, the garage and body shop owner was racing professionally with the first of 34 race cars he would later tag Swamp Rat. He didn’t stop until 1992, when eye trouble, the result of deceleration G forces of nearly 7 G’s, forced him from the seat at age 60. In the four-decade interim, Garlits took on all comers on any racetrack in the country and sometimes abroad. Driving chassis he fabricated that were powered by engines he built, Garlits won 144 major open events and 17 national championships in the sport’s three major hot rod associations. Read More