Biography 2017-08-31T16:22:28+00:00

Don “Big Daddy” Garlits Biography

The name “Big Daddy” Don Garlits is synonymous with Drag Racing. In fact Garlits has been dubbed the “King of the Dragsters,” and could be considered the patriarch of Top Fuel Drag Racing. Dons High school sweetheart is his wife Pat, however, his first love is the, automobile and his passion is winning. His swamp rat series of 34 hand fabricated black race cars carried him to 144 national event wins.

Adding to his marvelous racing accomplishments is a Florida tourist complex called Garlits Auto Museums in Ocala, FL. The Drag Racing Museum and Classic Car Collection, 17 World Championship Titles, and numerous racing milestones are all reality because Don first saw them as worthwhile dreams. Garlits’ distinct ability to conceptualize his dreams has allowed him to be master over the end result.

“Big Daddy’s” living legacy and race car design innovations are so significant that his record breaking Swamp Rat XXX is enshrined in the Smithsonian Museum of American History. Don Garlits began racing in 1950 and scored his first major victory in 1955. His first NHRA National event win came in Top Fuel at the 1963 Winter Nationals in Pomona, CA

Don has won the prestigious NHRA U.S. nationals a record 8 times. His four decades of Drag Racing have filled the pages of seven books, Although this list is not exhaustive, the facts below provide a good overview of “Big Daddy” Don Garlits’ colorful racing career.

– Recived the Keys to the City of Datyona Beach

– Car Craft magazine All-Star Team “Top Fuel Driver of the year”

  • Voted in 1969
  • Voted in 1970
  • Voted in 1972
  • Voted in 1973
  • Voted in 1975
  • Voted in 1976
  • Voted in 1977
  • Voted in 1978
  • Voted in 1986

– Car Craft Magazine “Man of the Year”

  • Voted in 1969
  • Voted in 1971
  • Voted in 1972
  • Voted in 1973

– Voted into Auto racing All-American Team by the AARWBA

  • Voted in 1970
  • Voted in 1971
  • Voted in 1972
  • Voted in 1973
  • Voted in 1974
  • Voted in 1975
  • Voted in 1979
  • Voted in 1984
  • Voted in 1985
  • Voted in 1987

– Car Craft Magazine All-Star Team, as “Chassis Builder of the Year” (Top Fuel)

  • Voted in 1970
  • Voted in 1971

– 1971 Presidential Guest at the White House – Also received the Chris Shenkel Award

– Drag News Magazine voted Don as, “Man of the Year”

  • Voted in 1971
  • Voted in 1973
  • Voted in 1975

– American hot Rod Association (AHRA), “Fuel Driver of the Year”

  • Voted in 1971
  • Voted in 1972
  • Voted in 1973
  • Voted in 1974

– Popular Hot Rod Magazine declared Swamp Rat “ The Dragster of the Decade” 1960-1970
– Founder and President of the Professional Racers Organization (PRO)

  • Voted in 1972
  • Voted in 1973
  • Voted in 1974
  • Voted in 1975
  • Voted in 1976
– Inducted into the Florida pro Sports Hall of Fame – Race Drivers Hall of Fame, Ontario, CA
– Honorary President of the Cragar 5- Second Club – Motorsports Hall of Fame, Ontario, CA
– Elected to the Goodyear Motorsports Advisory Board – Key to the City of Tampa
– Received the Keys to the City of Las Vegas
– Inducted into Motorsports Hall of Fame, Taladega, AL – Received the Sid Collins Award
– National Hot Rod Association Division 2, “Proffesional Category Driver of the Year”
– Inducted into the National Hot Rod Associations, Southeastern Hall of Fame
– 1989 – Inducted into Motorsports Hall of Fame, Novi, MI
– Inducted into International Motorsports Hall of Fame, Talladega, AL
– 1997 – Hot Rod Magazine Hall of Fame
– Voted Top ten Drver of The Century
– 1999 – California Cruising Hall of Fame, San Bernadino, CA
– Returned to the sport, drove Gary Clapshaw’s Top Fuel Dragster to 303.37 MPH with a 4.720 second E.T.
– 2001 – Voted the number 1 Drag Racer for the last 50 years by NHRA
– Took Swamp Rat 34 out of the Museum of Drag Racing, entering it in the NHRA U.S. Nationals and ran a career best of 318.54 MPH with a 4.76 second E.T.
– First Dragster to top 170, 180, 200, 240, 250, 260 and 270 MPH – First to 200 MPH in the 1/8 mile
– 17 World Champion Titles, 8 U.S. Nationals Champioships, and a total of 144 National Event Wins
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Career Timeline & Highlights

These being the highlights, it is no wonder that the Chrysler Corporation has continued sponsorship affiliation with Don for over 40 Years. Today, Don still reside on the grounds of the Don Garlits Drag Museum where he and wife Pat raised two daughters while traveling all over our nation on tour, and they now have 5 grandchildren.

Don currently coordinates the vehicle restorations for the museum, he is a broadcast commentator for a variety of networks, and he enjoys consulting for some of the Top Fuel teams. Technology has driven the cost of fielding a competitive Top Fuel team well into the seven figure range. The hard work, ethic, and personal determination is what has separated Garlits from his counterparts.

His human spirit is larger than life and his purpose keeps him young, pushing him above and beyond. Don Garlits has no comprehension of mediocrity! To prove he could still do it, during the NHRA 2001 U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, IN, Big Daddy returned to the sport, drove Gary Clapshaw’s Top Fuel Dragster to 303.37 MPH with a 4.720 second E.T.

Unbelievably, in 2002 Don resurrected Took Swamp Rat 34 out of the Museum of Drag Racing, entering it in the NHRA U.S. Nationals and ran a career best of 318.54 MPH with a 4.76 second E.T.