The name Don Garlits is synonymous with drag racing. As I was growing up, ABC TV’s Wild World of Sports was the show to watch to get a glimpse of the man who would become the legend. Mr. Garlits has hand-built 34 cars that have taken him to 144 national event wins. He started his racing career in 1950 and scored his first victory in 1955.
Located in Ocala, Florida The Garlits Racing Museums in are a two-part complex; his Drag Racing Museum and his Antique Cars Museum. The facility is open every day of the year, excepting Thanksgiving and Christmas. Opened in 1976, it chronicles the history of the sport of drag racing. The museums currently boast that they have close to 300 cars on display in the two buildings. When I visited a few years ago, they had 90-some racing cars in the main Drag Racing building, and there were another 50 vehicles in the separate Antique Car building. You would expect to see manufacture representations such as Chrysler, Dodge, Chevrolet, Ford, Cadillac and Mercury. I was pleased to also find Hudson, Studebaker, DeSoto, Metz, Brush and even Moon marques in the Antique Car building.
I first entered the Drag Racing Museum. You are greeted by a perched display of Bill Golden’s Dodge. Better known as Maverick’s Little Red Wagon, this vehicle has been honored as the most famous race vehicle by Hot Rod Magazine and Peterson’s History of Drag Racing. Bill Maverick is credited with the moniker; “King of the Wheelstanders”.
I built the model. How many of our readers built the model too?
There are so many more cars to tell you about. I did not know which way to turn to take them all in. Multiple renditions of “Big Daddy’s” cars are on display. However you will not find Swamp Rat XXX here. You will need to visit the Smithsonian Museum of American History to see that one.
The original Swamp Rat I, built in Don Garlits’ Tampa, Florida home garage ran from 1956 to 1961. Don set his first world record with this car; 176.40 MPH / 8.79 ET on November 10, 1957.
Compare those numbers to today’s elapsed times and you will shake your head too.
Just for the record, Big Daddy took Swamp Rat 34 out of the museum and in 2002 entered the car in the NHRA Nationals and scored his career best of 318.54 MPH with a 4.76 second E.T.
Restored after its spectacular April 1965 crash, the Wynnsjammer Swamp Rat VI set the NHRA Winternationals record at 206.42 at Pomona, CA in February of 1965.
Ed Roth’s Yellow Fang has a neat display at the museum. Roth has been chided by many as more of a show-and-not-go kinda guy.
The Yellow Fang was actually built and conceived by George Schreiber, who started thinking about building a ‘streamliner’ in 1963. Schreiber mocked up a model of the car with coat hangers and welding rod. He showed it to Roth (whom he was working with at the time) and Roth said “make it a little longer here” and the design took off. The idea of ‘Yellow Fang’ came from the Soupy Sales TV show that featured White Fang and Black Tooth. The car was heavy but did run a 7.83 at 207mph. It just didn’t run super well like all the Swamp Rats did. Garlits first looked at the Yellow Fang car when it was offered for sale at the closing of Jimmy Brucker’s Cars of The Stars Museum. Outbid by Domino’s Pizza owner Tom Monaghan (who had a brief interest in cars) the car went to North Carolina’s The Rear Window, where Garlits finally acquired the car. Yellow Fang is on display in its late-1960’s incarnation.
Connie Kalitta’s Bounty Hunter, Shirley Muldowney’s 1980 Attebury, a rear-engined Plymouth .
Don Prudhomme’s Snake I
Prudhomme’s 1971 Wedge Dragster and Wynn’s Winder Top Fueler 1969 are on display at the museum.
Other vehicles accredited to Chris Karamesines, Pete Robinson compete for floor space, along with another great display of Tom (The Mongoose) McEwen’s 1982 Corvette.
Barbara Hamilton’s 1937 Willys Coupe. Barbara was the first woman licensed by the NHRA to drive a supercharged car. She campaigned this vehicle from 1964 to 1971. She built, wrenched, owned and drove this very car.
The first all-fiberglass funnycar, Bruce Larson’s 1966 Chevelle first appeared in Atco, NJ in 1965.
But my absolute favorite surprise at the museum was when I got to lay eyes on Ohio George Montgomery’s Ford. His 1934 Coupe was found by the museum in a small garage in Lafayette, Indiana in 1994. Purchased from George in 1963, the car sat unmolested for 41 years. After ten years of negotiations it is finally on display in Ocala, Florida for the delight of drag racing fans. The museum had only to paint the hood and fenders their “Pastoral” Blue Lacquer.
TV Tommy Ivo’s dual engine dragster was on display.