The story of the man, the myth, the legend known as Don “Big Daddy” Garlits is a story every drag racer should know. He’s exceeded every drag racers' dreams throughout his incredible career through championship wins, racing innovations and contributions to conserving drag racing history.
Before his more famous monikers of Big Daddy and the Godfather of Drag Racing his given name was Donald (Don) Glenn Garlits and he was born January 14,1932 in Tampa Florida. Garlits' passion for cars began as he and his brother rebuilt his father’s Model T. This also sparked the interest in the mechanics of the car. His love for drag racing began after a drag race with a friend on the streets of Florida, and when he attended his first official race in 1950 in which he rode a car with the number one foreshadowing his future status in drag racing.
Garlits' career in drag racing history is one of legend. He’s won 10 American Hot Rod Association championships, four International Hot Rod Association championships, three National Hot Rod Association championships, and 144 national events. Winning isn’t the only thing he’s achieved as a drag racer—he was also an innovator. After a horrible accident in 1970, caused by the two-speed transmission he was developing exploded driving Swamp Rat XIII (a front-engined slingshot rail dragster), he developed the Swamp Rat XIV (a new mid-engined, front-cockpit rail). This new ride helped him win two Top Fuel Eliminator titles and was runner-up at Lions. Not too bad for a brand new car.
In 1984 Garlits opened the infamous Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing in Ocala, Florida, which is also home to the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame. Garlits still owns and operates the museum and still continues to race on occasion at the age of 89. He recently made news when he set a new quarter-mile record of 189.03 mph (304.21 km/h) driving a battery-powered 800 hp electric motor dragster dubbed Swamp Rat 38, which has now been beaten by Steve Huff. But, based on what we know of Don “Big Daddy” Garlits, we’re sure he’s already in the works to beat that record.
You can learn more about Don Garlits on his website.