September 1 2009 12:00 PM by Evan McCausland AutomobileMag.com
Tomorrow may seem like just another weekday, but for one drag racing legend, it's the start of a new beginning. "Big Daddy" Don Garlits plans on returning to NHRA drag racing for the first time in nearly six years by entering the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals.
Although Garlits built a name for himself piloting Top Fuel dragsters to 17 world championship titles and 144 national event wins, his latest ride -- a Dodge Challenger Drag Pack -- means he'll be running within the NHRA's Stock class. Still, Big Daddy doesn't seem to miss his old nitromethane monsters all that much.
"I like my Challenger much better than a dragster," he said. "It takes 25 people to get a dragster to the line these days. All I have to do with the Challenger is turn the key and take it there. When the light turns green, I have a ten-second ride -- which is almost three times what I used to get -- and I even have time to look at the tach and shift gears."
Better yet, the Challenger's eligibility in the Stock class allows Big Daddy to return to racing without incurring the wrath of his wife, who insisted he abandon the Top Fuel class in 2003. "I didn't want to come home and find my clothes all over the front yard," Garlits said.
Garlits' Challenger is the first Drag Pack model to be built by Chrysler. Announced last summer, the Drag Pack strips all non-essentials from the muscle car, and comes equipped with your choice of three crate motors (a 5.7-liter, 5.9-liter, and a 6.1-liter V-8 are available) and a number of heavy-duty go-fast parts built explicitly for the strip.
friend of mine owns a company ( well his son took it over because he is in his late 80s now) called Chute metal which has been around drag racing forever.
he holds patents on multiple drag racing applications including something with the
drag chutes, the way the chutes are deployed, scatter blankets and some other items i cant think of.
they hold the mopar atlantic nationals at englishtown every year and Garlits is usually there about every other year with a couple of swamp rats.
i told my friend i was going to the nationals as i do just about every year and he said i heard Garlits is going to be there, i said yes and he goes "walk up to him and just say Parachute Tom says HI....."
i get to the englishtown and hunt down Garlits and walk up to his table,
i assume it was his wife that approached and she says can i help you? and i say i have a message for Don.
he walks over with a real ____ed off look on his face and says
WHATS THE MESSAGE!! i said Parachute Tom says Hi.
if you could have seen his face and the way his tone changed, he went from Granite to almost mushy. Tom? Parachute Tom? my god i haven't seem him in forever, how is he, how is his health. how is his wife, whats he doing, how do you know him? it was hard to get a word in edgewise, finally i gave him a little background of how i knew Tom and his wife and what they were doing since turning the business over to his son and i said How about if i get them down here tomorrow? he was ecstatic at the proposition.
i got him and his wife to follow me down and they spent about 4 hours with Garlits talking about everything under the sun and reliving the glory days of drag racing.
out of the 20+ nationals i have been to that one was the absolute best.
yes, it was awesome and one of those things i will always remember.
He is about 89 now and cant get around like he used to but man
is he still fiesty, he was ( still is through and through ) a Marine and fought all through the pacific during WWII in particular Iwo Jima and at 6'6" tall was assigned to carry the flame thrower, he must have walked sideways or something as he never got a scratch even though he was on
one of the first teams sent out to take the airstrip
Seeing this man back in the racing world brings back great memories from the past. If anyone has had the opportunity to visit his car museum in Ocala Florida, you need to go. I could have spent all day in there just looking at all the Mopar history, but we only had a few hours till we had to get back on the road.:waiting: