On a wing and a prayer Don Garlits III

Episode 258

March 31, 2019

Garlits Part 3…stealth movement of rear engine dragster

The cover of the May 1971 Hot Rod Magazine displaying Swamp Rat 14 as built before the conversation with Jim Hall of Chaparral.( HTF Motorsports)

UpNorth Motorsports: Mr. Garlits you weren’t letting anyone know were you?

No. They didn’t know what was going on. All these tests were in private. Chrysler was having during these tests, a seminar, and all these Ramchargers came down to Clearwater for Superstocks.

They did this seminar because they were really big into Superstocks. One guy stuck his hand up and he said, “What about this car that Big Daddy’s doing over in Seffner?”

Tom Hoover, the father of the 426 (Hemi) said, “At Chrysler, we have the utmost respect for everything that Don Garlits has done, but this time we think he’s bit off more than he can chew.”

UpNorth Motorsports: Hoover said that? Was he just pulling their leg?

No, he was serious. Goodyear called me and they said, “Big Daddy stop it, we’ve got lot of money in you and we don’t want anything happening to you.  Don’t you know that every rear engine car that was built turned right or left in the timing traps?”

Pat Foster was nearly killed in one like 3 weeks before my debut at Long Beach.  His Woody (Woody Gilmore Chassis) just turned and went into the stands, but it was just a test so there was nobody up there but he got hurt real bad. While I was running in the rear engine car for the first time, he’s laying over in Pacific Coast Hospital recovering, so it was not a good thing.

Anyway, me and Tommy (T.C. Lemons), Swingle didn’t go for some reason he wanted to stay back here, went with the rear engine car and with the slingshot.

We went to Waterman’s first, that’s where we stopped. They’re all in there and it’s the middle of the night on the weekend, they said, “Have you got the rear engine car?”

I said, “Yeah.”

‘Let’s see it!’

So, we went out there and I opened the door and I took the flashlight and I just shined on the slingshot. They couldn’t even see the rest of it, and I shut the door.

And they laughed, ‘Oh my God, we knew it would never work. Thank God all our cars are current.’

We took the car (the slingshot) over to the Coliseum, dropped it off for Goodyear, and went to the hotel and got some sleep.  We went up to Long Beach the next day.  For all practical purposes, the trailer looked like it was empty.

We pulled up to the pits at Long Beach and who should be running the gates but Jim Tice (AHRA President and promoter) himself.  He come right over because they’d been running ads on seeing Garlits and his rear engine car.

‘Have you got the rear engine car?’ said Tice?

“I do”

Jim, ‘ Let’s see it.’

I opened the trailer door and he said, ‘Where is it?’

I said, “There’s the chassis and the body panels are wrapped in that blanket right there and there’s the rear end and the motors up in the rack.”

I mean he got mad and when he got mad he really was something.

‘Garlits,’ he says, ‘I write a check every event to you for $10,000 even if you don’t qualify. This is the Grand American Series of professional drag racing and you bring a piece of s___ like that here.!  You should be ashamed of yourself. Now put the damn thing together right out here at the gate where the spectators coming in can at least see the sign on the trailer and know you’re here.’

The pits were almost a half mile away way down there and I’m up here at the gate. We didn’t give a s__, we had our little area and we’re here putting it together. We had more people standing at the gate watching us than was going in.

Don “The Snake” Prudhomme’s AA/FD in the Garlits Museum. (HTF Motorsports photo)

Here comes the Snake, Don Prudhomme. He was there with his brand-new car. I have that Prudhomme car with the box frame looking thing, I have it back there, the very car. He was going to debut it.

It’s the only time in drag racing they ever made a slot car and had a dragster built to copy it. Usually they build the dragster and copied it for the slot car. This time they had to build the cars to match what they had in there. It was the biggest mistake that was ever made. They quickly sold it and I got it from the guy that bought it.

Prudhomme walks around that thing at the gate and I’ll never forget it. He had a mannerism about him and said, ‘Well I guess that’s one way to get publicity.’

In other words, if you can’t race anymore, do something stupid and maybe they’ll write something about you. So, he goes down into the pits and he tells the guys, ‘Have you seen that thing up there at the gate?’

“Yes Snake we’ve seen it.’

‘You know what’s going to happen, don’t you?’

‘No Snake what’s going to happen? ‘

‘Well it’s probably going to run pretty good, but it’s probably going to turn right or left in the lights and if you happen to be on the side that it turns, it’s going to run right into you. What do you think about that?’

Well Snake we can’t have that, what are we going to do?’

What we can do is, we’ll refuse to race if they let him race. Now we’ll have to stick together,It’ll have to be 100%, we can’t have anybody falling out of ranks.’

‘Oh, we’re with you Snake, we’re with you.’

Ok. So, they went to Pappy Hart (Lions Dragway Manager) and he said fine because he’s the one who had to pull Pat Foster out of the wreck and he didn’t want anymore of that.

The last word was Tice. He was the Barnum and Bailey of drag racing. I’ll never forget it. He had his cigar and he said ‘Boys I have a better idea. What do you think about this? We make Garlits do every qualifying run, that’s going to be 6 passes.

He’s got to make all 6 of those passes full throttle from the start to the finish. If he backs off on a run it doesn’t count, he’s got to come back and make it again. If he touches the outer barrier line or the center line on any one of those 6 passes, he’s in the trailer and has to go home. Now in the unlikely event that he qualifies and doesn’t hit those barrier lines, would you race him on Sunday?

There was a long silence and one of the guys says, ‘Yeah, we’ll race him. That’s a good idea because he won’t be here on Sunday, he’ll be dead. Nobody can go down the drag strip 6 times full throttle in a rear engine car and survive.’


UpNorth Motorsports: They were that convinced that it wasn’t going to work?

Yes. I made all 6 runs and I qualified #3. I went to the finals and I would have won but I was in the same lane, at the same track, at the same event, at the same time of year that just 12 months before I blew my foot off. When the light went yellow then green, just momentarily I had deja vu and saw that flash. In that instant Gary Cochran got a half car length on me. I pulled right up to him, but I couldn’t get by.

The rear engine car was here to stay. I won the Pomona NHRA Nationals and I went to Bakersfield and won the US Fuel Cars Championship, besting Prudhomme in that race. It changed everything.

UpNorth Motorsports: Did you tell them the secret?

No, nobody wanted to know. There is an epilogue to this; it was still just competitive with the really fast cars. I was having to get them off the line and stuff like that. We both run 6.60’s and stuff like that. Jim Tice signed on another race, West Palm Beach, to make the Grand American Series 11 races.

It was really quick, it was early in the year. It fell right on top of my match race at Shuffletown Dragway, Charlotte, North Carolina with Ivo (TV Tommy Ivo). I told Jim I would be happy to show, but all I could do was try to put it in the field Friday, do as best I could and then I had to go to Shuffletown to take care of my contract.

He said he understood and wouldn’t want anyone breaking a contract with me. I said if I’m still in the show on Saturday night when I’m at Shuffletown, I’ll call and I’ll race back to West Palm for the race.

He says ‘That’s great. We’ll do that.’

So, we go to Shuffletown and it was slick. I would scoot out in front of Ivo, then spin the tires, and here he would come, spinning right by me.

He beat me three times at this match.  I think because my whole career is based on match races and Ivo’s the one, and I can beat him like a Texas baby. Now all of a sudden, he can beat me. We called Tice, and we were still in the show.

Jim Hall and Garlits on the same plane and look what happens!

The car that Garlits describes in this episode, Swamp Rat 14 with the first wing. Note the firesuit on the left and in the Hot Rod Magazine cover photo. UpNorth Motorsports Southern Headquarters assistant/brother Bill Hale looks over the car in the Museum. (HTF Motorsports photo)

I was complaining to Swingle (about Ivo) and what I haven’t mentioned here, which now has to be told, is I came home between Pomona and the U.S. Fuel and Gas Championships. I took a night flight, the red-eye out of Los Angeles, and who should be on that flight but Jim Hall of Chaparral.

Jim Hall,83, on left at Rattlesnake Raceway Reunion 2018 in Midland, Texas. He owns the track where he built and tested the Chaparral racers. His son Jim Hall II is to his left then three unknown fans and in the blue shirt is Franz Weis his engine builder. (Bob Jackson photo)

He sat right next to me and he never stopped talking about the rear engine car. I knew that it was going to come about sooner or later, but he never knew who, but me could do it, the innovator of the sport.

One of Hall’s Chaparral with a wing similar to what he described for Garlits, This is the Chaparral 2E which has been fully restored and was on display at Road America in 2018. (Larry Fulhorst photo)

Blah blah blah and I trying to get some sleep because I’m going to work the next day at the shop.

His final statement was “When the smoke clears, you’re going to have a little wing over the back tires. It’ll be about like that wide and about like that.’ Like he had on his Chevy Chaparral.

So, when I got back home, I told Swingle, who was a big fan of Hall, that he’d never guess who I rode home on the plane with.

“Who’s that?”

I said, “Jim Hall.”

“Oh my God, what did he think about the rear-engine car?”

I said, “He loved it. He loved it and you know what Swingle, when the smoke clears we’re going to have a little wing over the back tires. Can you believe that? Yeah, a little wing.”

 So that’s how it was said. I went on back to Bakersfield and won the race.

We’re coming down 95 and Swingle says, “Well looks like it’s about time for that wing Jim Hall was talking about.”

I said, “Yeah as soon as this race is over, that’s what we’d do. We’d put it on there.”

He said he was thinking about right now. I said there’s no way we can build a wing right now and go down and make it for the first round.

He says yeah there is because he’s already got all the bucks. He’s made the ribs and the thing to fold it, so he can finish up the actual wing.

He said, ‘If you and I work straight through the night we can build the superstructure.’

It’s all original stuff that we did, and it was all adjustable. We could move the wing like this or up and down, whatever we wanted because we had no idea what was going on.

UpNorth Motorsports: When did you test?

We didn’t. We tested in the first round at West Palm Beach and it was 10 miles an hour faster and a quarter of a second quicker. That summer at Indy we went 6.21. It was over.

UpNorth Motorsports: Do you believe in divine intervention?

Oh, I do Jim Hall sitting on the same plane as you. That’s crazy.

Oh, yeah. I just tell it like it is. We humans don’t know exactly how it all works. I mean we’re setting in the in the catbird seat and all you got to do is just talk to the man. Everybody can do it, just don’t take advantage of it.

Yeah, they just don’t take advantage of it. He’s ready. He loves to listen.

Folks are letting me know that they like the Garlits interview and want more soooooo Part 4 next week. Garlits quest to go 200 in the 1/4 mile in a dragster, battery-powered that is! Land Speed racing at Bonneville.  So stay tuned again next week.

WAR Crew Chief part of Owls Head Transportation Museum special panel

Panel for the Owls Head Transportation Museum’s about left to right Bob Alexander, Maine Motorsports Hall of Fame member and current Wyatt Alexander Racing Crew Chief, Ken Minott, Wiscasset Motor Speedway promoter and announcer, and Mac McComb, former sports car racer from Maine who raced Shelby Mustangs and Daytona coupes. (WAR photo)

County native Bob Alexander, now residing in Ellsworth, is known for his skills in race car set up and a host of other skills. When Owls Head Transportation Museum officials told him about this event and their desire to have him on the distinguished panel he agreed.

“We had a great time last evening at the Owls Head Transportation Museum,” said Alexander. “I was honored to have been asked to participate in their Reels to Wheels program as one of their motorsports panelists. The other members of the panel were Ken Minott with Wiscasset Speedway and John “Mac” McComb, a museum volunteer with an extensive and impressive racing background in road racing.”

“We had an awesome audience in attendance that had lots of questions and comments as we watched video clips from such iconic movies as Talladega Nights, Grand Prix and Herbie the Love Bug.”

“Discussion included other questions like, most memorable win, favorite car, racing rivals, technology advances, temperature and smells during a race.”

“Kudos to the entire museum staff for putting together a fun and memorable event.”

DriveRefine formed by Austin Theriault and Joey Coulter

Fort Kent’s Austin Theriault continues to build his racing resume with the announcement that he and Joey Coulter, CIV Driver Optimization, were teaming up to form a new consulting business, DriveRefine based in Mooresville, North Carolina. Theriault is going to be a busy man with his ties to R & D at Crazy Horse Racing in Oxford, Maine, two more races with Ricky Benson Racing in the NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series, as well as competing on Archie St. Hilaire’s GoFas Racing team in the Monster Energy Cup Series.

Austin Theriault brings his winning attitude and hard earned knowledge about the business of stock car racing to the consulting firm DriveRefine formed with Joey Coulter of CIV Driver Optimization. Theriault is pictured at the ARCA 2017 Banquet receiving his championship awards.(AT Racing photo)

This is the official announcement:

Mooresville, North Carolina: Today, two notable names in the NASCAR and short track arena, Joey Coulter and Austin Theriault, announced their new business venture within the motorsports industry. DriveRefine was established with a strong focus on helping the driver maximize his or her skills behind the wheel through their driver optimization process.
DriveRefine’s mission is to provide drivers of all experience levels the guidance necessary to maximize their investment in motorsports. This is accomplished by implementing the duo’s comprehensive process that combines all of the necessary components a driver needs to find an edge over the competition.
“We focus on helping the driver maximize his or her skills behind the wheel by giving them the tools they need to be more prepared before an event, optimize their performance during the event, and analyze information after,” Theriault commented.
“The whole industry knows that a driver has to be marketable and attract sponsorship to climb the ladder, but based off of what we’ve been seeing throughout the NASCAR landscape lately, there is still proof that talent and results are still moving the needle,” stated Coulter.
“There is a serious gap not being addressed by spotters and typical driver coaching in our industry today,” stated Coulter. “Unlike most programs that are only implemented at the track, we offer one that combines at track elements with a comprehensive pre and post race process, giving the driver all of the necessary components to develop and perfect their race-craft.”
The combined involvement that Theriault and Coulter have from Late Models to the NASCAR Xfinity Series, is almost equivalent to two decades worth of knowledge and expertise within the racing industry. Coulter and Theriault have both used their experience to strengthen the skills of drivers making the climb to the top of their respective divisions.
Coulter formed CIV Driver Optimization in 2015 to help drivers maximize their individual strengths when behind the wheel of the racecar. Theriault has also been a crew chief, coach and spotter for a number of drivers over the past several years, including Travis Stearns, Molly Helmuth, Chase Purdy, Zane Smith, Dacin Roberson and Cory Roper to name a few.
Joey and Austin met at the Performance Racing Industry show in late 2018, and both agreed that it was time to re-design and re-define traditional driver coaching.
Theriault and Coulter are excited to announce the launch of DriveRefine- a driver optimization program built by drivers, for drivers.
Bangor’s Mike Hopkins wins at Richmond Pro All Star Series (PASS) race

Bangor’s Mike Hopkins who got his start at Speedway 95 won his second PASS race of his career at the PASS Crate Late Models race at the 1st Commonwealth Classic at Richmond Raceway in Richmond, Virginia. Hopkins took the lead with 12 laps to go after leader Ray Chastain III, Connecticut, developed trouble after leading most of the race. (PASS photo)

Kody Swanson winning effort last weekend at Memphis in USAC Silver Crown


Let’s go racing,

Tom Hale

Soli Deo Gloria (Matthew 5:14)

Tom Hale

About Tom Hale

Tom wrote 14 years as freelancer for the Bangor Daily Sports covering motorsports in Maine. Now blogging and concentrating on human interest stories about people and places in racing. He races Champ Karts and owns HTF Motorsports in remote Westmanland, Maine