Images provided courtesy of Donna Garlits
It was almost like old times last weekend as a distinguished Member of the British Drag Racing Hall of Fame stepped once more into the Top Fuel Winners’ Circle at NHRA’s rearranged Gatornationals at Gainesville, Florida. ‘Big Daddy’ Don Garlits was not actually driving the winning car but spectators and television viewers around the world would be forgiven if a shiver of déjà vu swept over them.
Current NHRA champion Steve Torrence had decked out his Top Fueler in a 1970s-era Garlits livery as a Gatornationals tribute to the great man, intending to unveil it on the race’s original date in March. No sooner was the car unloaded, however, than it was packed away again when the Florida governor’s Covid-19 edict brought an abrupt end to the event after just a morning’s preliminary Sportsman qualifying.
The race was eventually completed this past weekend before a socially-distanced crowd and Torrence carried the Garlits colours (any colour you like so long as it’s black – pace Henry Ford) all the way to victory, with Garlits himself there on the start line to watch each round before joining the winning crew in the post-race celebration.
Don Garlits was inducted into Membership of the British Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 2014, marking the 50th anniversary of the 1964 International Drag Festival when Sydney Allard and NHRA’s Wally Parks brought Garlits and a host of American stars to race on airfield sites around England. The tour set the sport in motion in Britain and Europe for the next half-century and beyond, with Santa Pod Raceway opening two years later.
For anyone attending future editions of the Gatornationals, a visit to the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing is a must. The museum is located at Ocala, alongside the I-75, just an hour’s drive south of Gainesville.