Ways That Legendary-Drag Racer, Don Garlits Tore My Fantasy to Shreds
Welcome to my fantasy.
As fantasies go for us guys, we, and I have to be honest, fantasize about being the hero and rescuing a hot girl from the jaws of a ravenous alligator and then being rewarded by her father who owns NAPA Auto Parts with a $1 million-dollar check and all the hot-wings I can swallow at a nearby Hooters.
Simple as that.
And if you read my first paragraph, then take a good look at me (in my photo to the right), you will know why "I" call dreams of this type a fantasy. No chance of a dream like this coming true for yours truly.
I'm sorry. I almost forgot that part of my fantasy was getting to spend part of my fantasy day in the pits with drag racing legend, Don Garlits, whose name is synonomous with winning, trophies, millions of bucks and his own racing museum in Ocala, Florida.
Time was, it was all Garlits.
I remember well that in the late 60's and early 70's, every time I watched the NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) Winter Nationals on whatever television network that carried this
phenomenal event, every other sentence would have "Don Garlits and the Swamp Rat," in it somewhere. And every drag racing fan knows that "The Swamp Rat," was Garlits' first of it's type dragster that had hubcaps on it's huge rear tires and a parachute to help slow it down at the end of a quarter mile.
Garlits was not a loud-mouth about anything in his life. He never had to be. He just let his "Swamp Rat," do his bragging for him. And brag it did by winning numerous drag racing events, championships, honors, magazine photos and stories and legions of loyal fans. I almost forgot his near-immortal status as a pioneer, trail-blazer in the field of drag racing with his ideas on engines and other facets of this fascinating sport that made Garlits ahead of his time.
In my drag racing fantasy "I" was invited by Don Garlits himself, to travel to Ponoma, California to spend the entire day in Garlits' pits (where all of the work is done on cars before and after each run) and see first-hand what life is like with Garlits and his crew.
Me meeting Garlits. Wow!
I arrived at the Pomona Raceway around 9 a.m. as instructed by Don Garlits. The letter he sent me told me to keep the letter with me to show it to the security staff at the gate to confirm that I was going to be Garlits guest that day and to not delay my entrance. Well, after I paid my $50-dollars although the letter said my ticket was free, just a policy of the Don Garlits Promotions Ltd., I walked toward the pit area of Don Garlits and his highly-trained crew. But I found no one working or preparing for the day of racing. I asked a security staff member where they were and he said that Garlits and crew were "partying it up" at a private area to celebrate Garlits newest racing museum. I guess Don forgot to meet me at 9 a.m. as he suggested would be the perfect time for us to start our day.
After two long hours in the hot sun, Garlits saw me and after some small talk, he asked me if I would like to be a part of his pit crew. What did I look like, an idiot? Sure I would love that. My job was to take the empty fuel cans and scrub them to a near-perfect condition. I had never scrubbed fuel cans, so I didn't wear gloves. That mistake gave my hands a reddish color and the burned like holding them into a campfire. But even with this, I was a member of Garlits pit crew.
It was a nightmare I tell you.
- Garlits was angry at my non-thinking about the fuel cans, so he gave me another job. He said I could test his huge tires he was going to use on the back of his rail job when he raced. I was super-excited at this opportunity. Suddenly things went pitch-black. I was told later that one of his rowdy pit crew members knocked me out cold and put me inside one of these gigantic tires and shoved me down this hill behind the quarter-mile track. I awoke a half-hour later. My head banged with pain. Garlits chewed me out for being clumsy.
- While struggling to climb up the hill back to the track, I was almost bitten by a Copperhead snake, but thank God, Don Garlits just happened to be standing on top of the hill and when the reptile saw Garlits, it slithered away so fast that I thought I was seeing things. I swear. That snake must have set its own land speed record for crawling.
- After another chewing-out by Garlits for not watching my back and getting knocked out cold, he said I could take one of those huge brooms and sweep the pit area in case the judges were to make a 'surprise inspection.' I was so happy at having a job that I "could" do that I almost yelled with delight. As I started sweeping, one of Garlits' team members yelled at me to bring him a toolbox from the back of his truck, so I vacated my sweeping to get his toolbox. Meanwhile back in the pits, Don Garlits was walking to the pits and didn't see the broom laying on the ground and stepped on the big end sending the wooden handle into the air and into his forehead which dazed him a bit, but he was not so hurt that he managed to chew me out a third time for negligence.
- This time he told me to go to his RV and get him some salve to apply to the red knot on his forehead made by the broom he stepped on which was left laying on the ground by me. I ran to his lavish RV, opened the door, grabbed a tube of salve I saw on the dash and ran back to the pits and gave it to Garlits. Well, turns out that the tube I gave him was not the soothing cream he wanted, but a tube of "Icy-Fire," a cream used for the treatment of muscle sprains. It was funny to see Garlits dancing a jig and cursing at the same time while holding his head in inferno-like heat. His crew laughed at him. After Garlits overcome this disaster, he fired three of the crew. And chewed me out again, but this time, he asked me a rather unusual question: "Kenny, is your last name by any chance, jinx?" Laughed and walked away to check his dragster for the first heat.
- Garlits suited-up and climbed into "The Swamp Rat II," but before he had two of his crew members start it up, he yelled, "Jinx, get over here. Now!" I ran to see what he wanted. "Stick your head down next to those big pipes (headers) there and see if you hear a funny noise," Garlits explained. I did as he said and when my head was almost in the huge pipes, the two crew members fired-up the dragster and the engine's power sent me flying through the air (not with the greatest of ease) and landing in a 50-gallon drum of grease rags. Garlits was now livid at me not having sense enough to land on the ground. "You falling on those grease rags could have ignited a dangerous fire," he yelled.
- After a few test-runs, Garlits took a quick break and suggested that he and I have a talk. I went for that idea like a hungry bass on the Fishing With Bill Dance Show. He said for me to meet him in his lavish RV in teh minutes, then walked away. I went to his lavish RV in 12 minutes to give him time to settle in. I knocked on the door. Garlits opened the door and snarled, "What are you doing here?" I was shocked. "Sir, you said ten minutes ago that we have a talk?" I replied. "Yeah, but not with each other," Garlits said slamming the lavish RV door. He never thought that my feelings might be hurt.
- When drag racing resumed, Garlits never apologized to me for being such a jerk. He got in The Swamp Rat II, two crew members fired it up and he yelled, "Averyeeeeee, check that big tank in front and see how much methane alcohol is in there. Now!" Well, it was daylight and the only way to check the tank was with a lighted match. No sooner than I scratched the match, the tank blew up almost taking my head off and Garlits was now more angry than I could imagine. "You fool! Why didn't you let the tank hit you in the head? You know how much those things cost?" Garlits growled.
- "Want to play a game," Garlits said with a halfway smile. "Sure," I said with fear in my voice. Garlits told me to go and stand in the middle of his lane and then when he and The Swamp Rat II got the green light, for me to count to eight and see if I could dodge him and the dragster coming right at me.
No. "Mr. Friendly," Don Garlits, the "legend," did not offer to pay my hospital bill