In response to our Don Garlits article of 12 Nov 2013 on the pioneering of the rear-engine dragster, one of our readers, Mr D. Smith, made this noteworthy comment concerning the invention of drag racing’s ubiquitous four-link system:
“Connie Swingle, who was instrumental in many of Garlits’ successes, was sharp, but Jerry Dawson of St Louis was clearly one of the first to build a rear-engine dragster. I have a faint recollection that Dawson and Connie knew each other. Sadly, intelligent inventors don’t always receive the credit they deserve.
I conceived and produced the first billet 4-link system. It was adjustable in 1/8in increments. Although pictures were featured in an issue of an 1998 National Dragster after we debuted the design at the US Nationals on Labor Day weekend, it took NHRA a few issues before publishing it. Then miraculously, 3-plus years later, Don Ness is credited with inventing and patenting the first 4-link system with infinite adjustment.
Actually, those were my exact words to National Dragster’s writer who wrote that exact phrase in the N/D issue, which featured a full-page article on the race car. Don’s patent used my exact verbiage to describe what everyone with an NHRA Dragster subscription saw years earlier.
God bless Don, for Lord knows we all copied many of his innovative ideas. But he certainly copied mine, has sold millions of dollar’s worth of my intellectual property, and will continue to receive the credit because he patented it. Stealing intellectual properties is not just restricted to the dubious acts of foreign countries, it happens here everyday.”
I believe the credit needs to go to Larry Shepard, a Mopar engineer and Don Carlton of “Motown Missile” fame. They first used the leaf spring on the bottom with a top link bar. Shortly thereafter they replaced the leaf spring with another link bar. Now, having said this, factory suspension pre-dated all of this with a version of 4 links. They were, of course, 4 bars with rubber bushings rather than tubular bosses with rod ends, but the theory was the same.
Darryl Smith is not claiming he invented the 4-link suspension. What Smith did was to conceive and lay out the first 4-link made of all-billet materials, but more importantly his concept introduced an infinitely adjustable 4-link system in 1/8″ increments. He then had the arrangement machined and installed on more than one car several years before the Ness patent was filed. Clear photographs of its many features were observed throughout the racing community in the largest drag racing-only publication of the time. Its called prior art, and it’s only one of many things widely used in professional drag racing today that Darryl Smith developed over his three decade-plus career.
The comment regarding the leaf spring is irrelevant to the topic of Smith’s intellectual property rights, which were stolen by Don Ness and patented by Ness after the world of drag racing saw the features and verbiage of Smith’s Block 20 design of the infinitely adjustable 4-link system (in .125″ increments) and made from billet materials. This had never been seen before the introduction of Smith’s concept in 1996, its implementation in 1997, and the unequivocal proof of its true origins published eventually in 1998. Nuff said.