While I was writing last week’s column and doing research comparing the careers of Don Prudhomme and Don Garlits, it struck as kind of interesting that two of the biggest names in our sport’s history, two of our most iconic heroes, both have the same first name. Spooky, right? As it turns out, that’s not the half of it.
They both won their first NHRA championships in 1975, and, despite a combined 84 career NHRA wins between them, they only shared the winner’s circle three times, all in that 1975 championship season. Finishing second behind them that year? Two Garys: Beck and Burgin.
It kind of reminds me of that macabre list of “coincidences” that people cite when talking about the assassinations of presidents Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy (Lincoln was elected president in 1860; Kennedy in 1960; both of their successors were named Johnson; Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Lincoln, was born in 1808; Lyndon Johnson, who succeeded Kennedy, was born in 1908; the names Lincoln and Kennedy each contain seven letters; and so on).
So, with nothing better to do on the short workweek before the launch of the Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona – a venue, by the way, where both drivers scored six wins in their careers – I thought I’d get a little silly (I know. Me? Seriously …) and see what other coincidences might “Don” on me.
OK, well here’s some low-hanging fruit. Each made a stupefying pass – Garlits in 1975 and Prudhomme in 1982 – for which they’ll forever be remembered, and both had the same elapsed time: 5.63. Here’s where it (read: I) gets weird. The sum of the numbers 5+6+3 = 14, which divided by two (racers) equals seven, the number of years between the two passes. Mind = blown, right?
Before they became racing superstars, both painted cars for a living.
Both married – and remain married – to their high-school sweethearts, Pat for Garlits and Lynn for Prudhomme.
Both have daughters named Donna. Garlits has a second daughter, Gay Lynn (middle name ring a bell?).
At one time both had Wynn’s as the primary sponsors of their front-engine dragsters.
Both scored their first career wins at the Winternationals (1963 for Garlits and 1965 for Prudhomme).
Both have animal nicknames (“Swamp Rat” and “the Snake”) that are eight characters long, as is Garlits’ other sobriquet, “Big Daddy.”
Each suffered two wheelstand blowovers in their Top Fuel careers (Garlits in 1986 and 1987 and Prudhomme twice in 1990).
They both were the first in their class to breach the 250-mph barrier at an NHRA national event. (Garlits also is credited in some places with the first 240-mph Top Fuel run; Prudhomme made the first legit 240-mph Funny Car pass.)
In the early 1970s, both experimented briefly with aerodynamic Top Fuelers (the Wynn’s Liner for Garlits and the Hot Wheels wedge for Prudhomme).
At three times in their careers, they entered a season with the same number of wins: 1968 (3), 1975 (14), 1988 (35).
Despite a combined 113 final-round NHRA appearances, they never raced one another in an NHRA final round.
Both suffered terrible – yet, curiously, overlapping – four-year win droughts in their careers (Garlits 1980-83 and Prudhomme 1983-86), both of which spanned exactly 55 events. Hey, I don’t make this stuff up.
Both of their championships reigns were ended by Texans driving blue cars; Garlits by Richard Tharp in the Candies & Hughes dragster in 1976 and Prudhomme by Raymond Beadle in the Blue Max in 1979.
Neither was in the habit of letting other people drive their cars, but Butch Maas drove for both. Maas tested Garlits’ Wynn’s Liner in 1972 and drove “the Snake's” Top Fueler at the 1970 Supernationals while Prudhomme was running his new Funny Car.
Good stuff, so what else ya got there, Master P? Glad you asked …
They were born 3,371 days apart (Garlits on Jan. 14, 1932, Prudhomme on April 6, 1941). 3+3+7+1 = 14. Prudhomme won 14 more NHRA Wallys than Garlits (49 to 35). Math is fun!
Black is Garlits’ favorite color; Keith Black was Prudhomme’s first crew chief.
Garlits’ middle name is Glenn. Prudhomme's mother was born in Louisiana, as was Glenn Menard, who managed Irwindale Raceway, where both Garlits and Prudhomme competed. (I know, weird, right?)
Prudhomme’s middle name is Ray; Garlits is originally from Tampa, Fla., home of a Major League Baseball team called the Rays.
Both of their full names – Donald Glenn Garlits and Donald Ray Prudhomme – have 18 letters. Coincidence? I think not.
And finally, neither driver ever picked a fight with Ed McCulloch (who, I must admit, looks pretty surly in the photo with them above).
That’s a pretty good list, no? I bet you have stuff to add to it. I look forward to reading them!