There are very few names more synonymous with altering the course of Top Fuel history than that of “Big Daddy” Don Garlits. Garlits not only won multiple world championships and countless national events, he set and reset the world speed and elapsed time records many times throughout his illustrious career.
Perhaps his most obvious contribution to the class, and the sport of drag racing as a whole, was the adaptation of the rear-engined dragster. Following an explosion in his front-engine dragster that cost him part of his foot, Garlits set about moving the engine behind the driver and worked to refine the design, starting the evolution that would lead to the Top Fuel dragster design we know today.
Garlits also had another incident that would make waves throughout the sport when he cartwheeled his Swamp Rat dragster in spectacular fashion, however, he would walk away from that crash with little more than scrapes and bruises thanks in large part to safety innovations that he helped pioneer.
In the video below, Garlits once again chased down and reset the elapsed time record, this time at the NHRA World Finals at the Ontario Motor Speedway in California. This facility proved to be one of the quickest and fastest racing surfaces in the nation during its short tenure on the tour before financial woes lead to its premature demise, but not before Garlits clicked of a new world record of 5.63 seconds at over 250 MPH en route to taking home the event win and the world championship. It was dominance like that that earned Garlits his fearsome reputation as a competitor, but also won him legions of fans who still support “Big Daddy” to this very day. If you want to know more about the man himself, there’s a museum in Florida with more information than you could possibly retain about Garlits himself and his contributions to the sport, check it out if you’re ever in the area.