On Friday, August 8, during a record attempt at Bradenton, Florida, Don Garlits (82) and his team encountered a mechanical failure in one of the electric motors of his Swamp Rat 37 dragster. Luckily they were able to borrow a spare motor from Disney World. They worked all night, they returned on Saturday, and they re-set the record. “The power of the Magic Kingdom saved the day!” said Don.
Earlier on Friday they made two runs at 183mph and determined that greater electrical capacity was needed to reach and surpass 200mph. As a result, the motor package, which consists of six electric motors, is being returned to the Ohio manufacturer Lawless Industries where the motors will be upgraded from 180hp to 250hp.
“It didn’t smoke the tires but it was slipping around pretty good,” Garlits explained, “so we will upgrade the tires from Alcohol to Big Fuel for further record attempts. I’ve got a big deal going on at the upcoming US Nationals, so we won’t do anything more with the electric program until after that.”
How does it feel to drive?
“I shift it, I have two-speed transmission and I can feel when it’s time to shift. But it is totally different from a conventional dragster. When you are sitting on the starting line, it is quiet and you just step on it and it flies! That takes some getting used to. In a conventional dragster it makes all kinds of noises and the car’s rocking all around. But in the electric dragster, hell, the crew can come up to you and talk to you just before you leave—and they do! But I’m getting the feel of the thing.”
Forty-seven years ago, in 1967, Garlits grew a beard and declared he wouldn’t shave until he ran in the 6s. “Of course everybody made fun of me, saying I’d never run in the 6s,” joked Garlits. “Well, I did run in the 6s, won the race and towed the car back to the starting line – and shaved the beard before 100,000 people. “NHRA has determined that that was one the greatest moment in drag racing. So, during this year’s 60th anniversary of the U.S. Nationals, in the middle of the day, they are going to have me drive the car (the Swamp Rat 11) from the finish line to the start and repeat the beard shaving. I’ve restored the car and have been growing the beard since June 10th. The only problem is the beard is white now instead of black!”
In November 1967 Don sold that car to Schiefer Manufacturing with the original motor that had won the race. Though it had a damaged connecting rod, they wanted to have the car for display purposes, exhibiting it at various shows. It then changed hands several times and ended up at Cars of the Stars in Hollywood, who ultimately went out of business. Don Garlits recovered it in 1976 and restored the engine to original condition.
Lisa Crigar Photography