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Our visit to the 2015 Goodwood Festival of Speed actually began in November 2014 while I was visiting England during my induction into the British Drag Racing Hall of Fame. I was invited to have lunch with Charles, The Earl of March who owns the Goodwood Estate. He invited me to attend the 2015 June event with one of my running Swamp Rats. It was such an honor to be invited personally by Charles himself!
I told The Lord March I would give it some thought as I have a very busy schedule, especially that time of year. I was not real eager to make the trip as the flights back and forth are long and obnoxious. You know how I hate flying with security such as it is. The problem is the bridge is out between here and England so I can’t drive!
However when I retuned home and mentioned the event to several of my friends including Roger Meiner, about being invited to Goodwood, everyone got real excited because this is the largest car show in the world drawing 350,000 spectators, over 3000 entrants, and is by invitation only!
I got back in contact with the event organizers and made the arrangements to include transportation, hotels, plus upper class airfare to the tune of $5,200.00 a ticket! Joining me on the trip, was my Fiancé Lisa Crigar, who had never been out of the Country before. My Grandson, Rodney Garlits and I transported SR IB to Charleston, South Carolina, where it was carefully packed in a container then shipped over to Great Briton.
I have to say the flight over was fantastic as we had upper class sleeping quarters for the long, grueling, nine hour flight, even the checkin and TSA security was handled perfectly. Upon arrival in London we were taken directly to the Millstream Hotel in Bosham, by Robin Jackson, our English Guide and Chauffeur . We were fortunate to be staying in the same hotel with a dear old friend and NASCAR Champion, Richard Petty accompanied by his new girlfriend Ellen, as Richard had lost his wife last year too. Lisa and I and enjoyed our time with them, talking about the old days of NASCAR and NHRA racing.
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The hotel was nestled between a trickling stream, surrounded my succulent flowers climbing delicately up the windowsills and archways to the rooftops. Surrounding the hotel were cobblestone streets lined with thatched roofed homes and gardens, brimming with radiant colors and hedged with flint walls leading to the bay. The town was overflowing with pubs, quaint shops and homes enjoying spectacular water views and sunsets.
Inside the hotel the English staff were busy tending to our every needs. The breakfast bar was abundant with fresh fruits, succulent creamy spreads and home made breads. A full service restaurant was one of the Millstreams many highlights. We arrived around 10 am, but check in was not until 2 pm, so we decided to visit the Goodwood Estate and check out Swamp Rat IB, we found the “Old Girl” in perfect shape, even after the grueling voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. The Goodwood grounds were quite impressive, and we returned to the hotel to get some much needed sleep, to prepare us for this exciting event. We were quite tired, as we had flown all night from Orlando Florida in the huge jetliner.
Thursday was set up day and we got all our paperwork in order and gave the Swamp Rat a good going over and also got to meet our English assistants, Davie and his wife. Friday morning was the start of the 23rd Annual Event, that included a wide variety of race cars, features and attractions. Some of the highlights included; The Hill Climb, Soapbox Challenge, a stage featuring sleek race cars of all makes and models, The Moving Show, Wacky Race Cars, plus a state of the art Fighter Jet Show, which gave the huge crowd even more entertainment! Also included in our schedule was dinner and a Grand Ball with The Lord March at the Goodwood Estate, followed by live bands, dancers, a tight rope walk, with the rope on fire! The grand-finale of the Ball was; a spectacular fireworks show that lit up the whole countryside of West Sussex!
Friday morning we were scheduled for a couple of long burnouts up the hill, but after the first burnout the two inch blower belt broke and suddenly the engine had no power! We returned to the pits to replace the belt, as fortunately, Tuesday morning while packing for the trip I thought, “What would we do if we broke a blower belt”, so I packed and extra belt. We installed the new belt and SR IB was good to go!
That afternoon we returned to the track for another burnout, but at the end of the first burnout the number five cylinder’s intake valve spring broke, dropping the valve into the cylinder, hitting the piston, damaging the cylinder head and piston. We returned to the pits, pulled a couple of spark plugs and determined that the damage was so extensive it could not be repaired, due to the fact that we had no parts or tools with us.
That evening during a private photo shoot with the Lord March on the Cedar Lawn of the Goodwood Estate, I informed him of the catastrophic failure and the fact that I did not have my tools or spare parts with me. The Lord March offered his condolences and said, ”There is always next year”.
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Saturday, Lisa, Roger and I enjoyed the immense Goodwood Show, it was by far the biggest car show I have ever attended and several very important people were in attendance, to include some of my old friends, Sterling Moss, Jacky Stewart and Richard Petty. We left the Goodwood grounds, exhausted from all the walking, as there is a Goodwood rule, “No buggies where the people walk”! Buggies are golf carts here in America! Can you imagine a rule, “No golf carts in the pits”, how would we live!
That evening laying in bed, trying hard to sleep, thinking of the broken Swamp rat, I kept going over in my head what might have failed in the engine and what could I do to make it possible to perform another burnout, perhaps on six or seven cylinders? We arrived at daybreak in the garage area, borrowed some tools from the next door pit and my assistants and I took the SR IB completely apart.
I found that only one cylinder was severely damaged, number five, which had a half a Dollar sized hole in the combustion chamber where the piston had pushed the intake valve into the water jacket. We cleaned everything up, took the lifters and pushrods out of number five and reinstalled the heads. I cut a small square out of a Sprite soda can to seal off the number five intake port and was able to glue it on the intake port with a fan’s tube of “Fixodent”, which used for false teeth. I re-installed the intake manifold and supercharger, competing the engine repair. The English fans, at least fifteen people deep around the car, cheered me on! They were not to used to seeing the driver repair his own car!
With a little help from another team and their Battery Pack, we then started SR IB in the garage area and you should of heard the crowd ROAR when the “Old Girl” came to life on seven cylinders! Word spread like wildfire throughout the garage area, that we were able to start the wounded car. The officials put us back on the schedule for the Grand-Finale run of the entire event!!
The timing was perfect as we pulled the car down to the starting line for the final run of the event. There was not a car left on the track as my Fiancé, photographer Lisa Crigar filmed from the trucks bed. When I signaled Davie to push me to start the dragster, unbelievably the push truck would not start something had happened to the engine’s starter! Lisa jumped down off the truck, running to me yelled, “The push truck won’t start”! Words can’t express how my heart sank after all the successful repair work on SR IB for the Grand-Finale Run.
With no other cars around, us being the final car, Lisa, an avid “runner” ran with camera equipment an eighth of a mile to the Marshaling Area and frantically asked if they could give Big Daddy’s dragster a push to the start the engine.They said they would not push start me, but offered a tow.
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Everyone knows that in Top Fuel it’s very dangerous to pull a Top Fuel Dragster to start the engine, but I had NO other choice we had to make the run, the announcers were screaming, along with thousands fans, as this final run was “live streamed” worldwide!
The tow rope was attached, the car was pulled about 25 feet and the Supercharged 392 CID, Chrysler Hemi came to life like it did so many times before. The rope was safely unhooked and I drove SR IB up the hill, stopped in front of the main viewing stands, where thousands of roaring fans cheered as I made the final spectacular burnout and run of the event!!
I was then invited to the Goodwood stage where The Lord March recognized drivers and their accomplishments with awards as fans cheered. The trip was a complete success and we are delighted that we were able to bring back spectacular photographs of this historic event to compile a book for our fans to enjoy, soon to be available in our gift shop and web sight, “garlits.com”.
As we write this story Lisa and I are on our way to Charleston, South Carolina to retrieve SR IB from her long voyage home. I will take her home safely, to the Museum, for proper repairs, and future exhibition passes!