Class of 1997
Breaker! Innovator! Dragster of the Decade! Top Fuel Driver of the Year nine times! Big Daddy! Don Garlits, born January 14, 1932, in Tampa, Florida must have raised havoc with the Florida State Police as he tested the engines he built on the highways of the Tampa Bay area, learning the trade which was to take him to the heights of drag racing.
The innovations of Garlits are monumental. He was first to use bike wheels on the front of his dragster, first to employ a hypoid rear end, to experiment with an extended wheelbase, first to use air spoilers, to use port injection on a dragster, first to employ frontal ground effects, triple port nozzles, 4-disk clutch, and first to utilize a successful streamliner in drag racing. In 1971 he revolutionized the sport by designing and building the first successful rear engine dragster, following a devastating explosion that claimed half of his right foot.
Don’s racing firsts are just as phenomenal. In 1957 he was first to run over 170 mph, first to run over 180 mph in ’58; first to run over 200 mph in 1964; and in 1968 the first dragster to run 240 mph. In 1975 he was the first dragster break 250 mph. In 1986 Don Garlits drove his dragster to a NHRA record of 271.08 mph, breaking the 270 mph barrier.
In 1985 and 1986 Don was the NHRA Top Fuel World Champion, the first to win this honor back to back. Top Fuel is drag racing’s top of the line category. These 5,000 horsepower, nitromethane-burning dragsters are the fastest accelerating machines in the world. Don Garlits won the world championship in this prestigious category three times and finished in the top 10 five times during his career. He won an incredible 144 national events. As well, he is a ten time AHRA World Champion and five-time IHRA World Champion.
Don Garlits was the first drag racer to have his vehicle placed in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.
Don was voted Man of the Year by Drag News in 1971, ’73 and ’75. He was voted Top Fuel Driver of the Year by Car Craft Magazine nine times. Drag Racing and Don Garlits are synonymous. They grew up together.