Swamp Rat 6A: When Pat and I returned to Tampa after the 1963 tour, Garlits Automotive had two new things, a mandrel tubing bender and some “Swoopy” tail sections by Arty Ross of New Orleans. Swingle and I cut the rear section off of Swamp Rat 5-B and proceeded to build the first “Swoopy Tail” Swamp Rat, number 6, later to be 6-A. First we painted the car red and proceeded to California to defend the Drag News 1320 #1 Spot against Norm Weekly at Pomona. We ran an open race at Pomona the week before and had a bad experience with the car being red, so we painted it black for the Weekly match race, which we won. We were runner up to Connie Kalitta at the prestigious US Fuel and Gas Championships in March, won a couple of match races in Southern CA and returned home to Tampa. We had a car on the chassis jig for Spencer Krumholtz from NY, but when Spencer saw the new car, Swamp Rat 6, he wanted it instead. Spencer paid the extra money and returned to NY, leaving me with just a bare chassis and lots of money. The very next day Art Malone returned from CA with his Garlits “Swoopy Tail” car, the first one we built from scratch, saw my new car and was concerned I had found a new chassis secret on the winter tour. Art demanded I give him my new car fresh off the Jig and I did, trading in his old car. Arts car then became Swamp Rat 6-B. Years later I found the original Swamp Rat 6-A at the 1997 Terry Cook 50’s party in New Jersey. The car was for sale, was pink and sporting a SB Chevy engine, I purchased it and by the middle of 97 SR 6-A was restored and running. SR 6-A has been to several “Cacklefests” and is now on display in the Drag Racing Museum.
Swamp Rat 5B: After the 1963 winter tour on the West Coast, Swingle and I decided to build a new car for the Eastern strips where traction was at a minimum, Swamp Rat V-A was a short wheelbase car and I knew that a longer wheelbase would put more weight on the rear tires, the wing helped down course, but gave no advantage off the starting line. We settled on 140″ for the new car, Swamp Rat V-B. I ran the V-B car with the wing for a few races, but with the longer wheelbase, it was no longer necessary, so I removed it and put it back on the V-A car. Pat and along with the two little girls took the new car up the East Coast, into Canada, across the northern US to the Pacific Northwest and down into California, racing every weekend along the way. We returned home in October and the new tubing bender had arrived. We bent some tubes, cut off the back half of SR V-B and built Swamp Rat 6-A, my new car for 1964. A couple of years ago we decided to recreate Swamp Rat V-B as it was the last “Square Back” car I built. Jim Hunnewell and I built the car to run and perform in “Cacklefests” and she made her first appearance at the 2009 Gatornationals.
Swamp Rat 5A: Connie Swingle and I built SR V-A in late 1962 as a gas car, but I got a challenge from Vance Hunt in Texas for my Number 1 Spot on the 1320 list. I defended the spot with the little light weight 5 car and she was forever a fueler. It was very light and spun the tires on most strips so while visiting Bruce Crower before the 1963 NHRA Winternationals, now back on nitro, Bruce suggested we build a wing over the engine for more traction down course. The wing worked, I won my first NHRA National event and was very pleased. However the light weight, short wheelbase, (120″) still continued to give traction problems on loose strips. When I returned to Tampa after the winter circuit, Swingle and I built a longer wheelbase Swamp Rat, (140″), Swamp Rat V-B and I took this car on the 1963 tour. Swamp Rat V-A was fitted with a 1963 Dodge blown 413 Cubic Inch Max-Wedge engine and loaned to Dodge for a dealership tour of the United States. I never saw the car again; I guess it’s hiding in some dealership’s garage. The Museum is in the process of recreating this fantastic little car with the first wing in drag racing.
Swamp Rat 4: I built Swamp Rat 4 during the spring of 1962 at the request of Frank Wylie, my boss at Dodge Public Relations. He wanted me to compete in the 1962 NHRA US Nationals at Indy on gas, using the new Dodge 413 CID Max-Wedge engine that they were offering in the 1962 SS/AA cars. I snapped the car together, a very light weight piece of equipment and went to Indy, didn’t run well at first, but soon got a handle on the “Gas” and went to runner-up against Jack Chrisman, driving Mickey Thompson’s Hemi-Pontiac Dragster. Car was destroyed in an accident in 1963 and in the late 90’s, Connie Swingle and I built a replica of SR-4. This is a running car and I turned 205 MPH on gas at National Trails a few years ago! Quite a ride with a short wheelbase car like Swamp Rat 4! Note the 1/5 scale running replica of the car in the case.
Swamp Rat III –A, B and C: These were the first chrome moly tubing cars to come out of the Garlits Automotive in Tampa Florida. Ironically Connie Swingle is the only one who ever drove them in competition. SR III-B was the first car into the magic 7 second bracket, 7.88, and Connie did this at Blaney SC, then at Thompson Ohio Swingle almost hit the 200 MPH zone with a blistering 198.22! The “A” car was destroyed at Emporia Virginia and the “B” car was destroyed in a canal outside of Savannah Georgia. The “C” car was sold to Paul Vanderly and disappeared, probably scraped after an accident. All three cars have been rebuilt or recreated, the “A” car from the bent frame from Emporia, the “B” car completely recreated for Sonny Messner in Acton California and the “C” car recreated. The “A” and “C” cars are on display at the Drag Racing Museum and both are running cars.
Swamp Rat I-B: This car was the modification of SR I to fit the tall and lanky Art Malone who took over the driving chores for Don when he was seriously burned at Chester SC In 1959. On its first competitive outing at Sanford Maine in August 1959, the young rookie set the drag racing world on its ear by setting a new World’s Record of 183.66, breaking Don Garlits’ record of 182.54 set at Houston, June 1959. Then Art won the California Challenge at Riverside in December, beating the famed “Hustler” driven by Art Chrisman. The next season at Bakersfield Art again raised the 1320 Record to 185.56 and the next weekend at Fremont raised the mark again to 187.10. The drag racing world was stunned, how could this backyard dragster, built from a set of 1931 Chevrolet frame rails run faster and quicker than the world’s finest drag racing equipment? They would never know the answer to this perplexing question. Art went on his own early that year and Don returned to the seat of SR I-B. He lowered the 1320 ET Record to 8.23 Seconds at York PA and ran an unofficial 204.54 at the Bainbridge Georgia airport before retiring the car, which was in the tornado of 1966 that hit North Tampa. When Don restored the car in 1979, he put it back to its original configuration. Then in 2003, Don decided to build a replica of the SR I-B for exhibition. The car was completed and first taken to the NHRA Reunion at Bowling Green. SR I-B was a big hit and has made many appearances around the country doing burnouts for the fans. Today it can be seen in the Drag Racing Museum. This was the first dragster in the sport to have port nozzles and the original setup is on the car now.
Swamp Rat I: Built in 1956 as just rails, modified many times, but was at its best in the fall of 1958 having beat the best of the Californians at Houston and then in December setting the new world record at 180.00 MPH. SR I then in February of 1959 traveled to Bakersfield CA for its last competition run in the unblown configuration. A blower was installed at Iskenderian Cams and the car went on to win both of the final CA appearances setting Top Time and Low ET at both events. On June 20th 1959, the blower exploded and Don Garlits was seriously burned, he vowed never to drive again. The Swamp Rat was modified to fix the taller Art Malone and the new version is now referred to as Swamp Rat I-B. The car was retired in the spring of 1961, went on a short show circuit and brought back to the North Tampa shop on Nebraska Avenue. Then in 1966 the shop was hit with a major tornado and the Swamp Rat’s body was destroyed. Meanwhile Don Garlits and family had moved back to Seffner Florida. The remains of the car were moved to Seffner. Then during the spring of 1979, Don Garlits decided to restore the old car for the upcoming 25th Silver Anniversary of the NHRA US Nationals. Tom Lemons, Craig Wheeler, (Don’s old friend and body and paint mentor) and Don Restored the car and Pat Garlits and his two daughters, towed it to the 25th US Nationals. During the opening ceremonies, Don started the old girl and made a 165 MPH pass for the fans. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Since then Don drove the Swamp Rat I in its unblown configuration to 182 MPH at the Bristol Raceway in 1988. Don said after the interview, “I had a hard time holding her back!” Today the Swamp Rat I rests quietly in the first exhibit as you enter the Drag Racing Museum. Don often says to the press, “It’s my favorite car in the whole world; it made me what I am today!”