NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

Follow-up Friday

07 Sep 2012
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor

With this week’s Indy semi-coverage issue of National DRAGSTER safely at the printer, it’s back to Indy for the Big Go, round two. Three days at home was just enough to get the issue completed, proofed, and electronically bundled off to Beaver Dam, Wis.; to get my dry cleaning and other laundry done; and to get recharged for another four days on the road. Oh, and, of course, to bang out another column.

I travel home Monday, but with the last-minute rescheduling, I won’t land back in Cali until late that evening, so don’t expect a column next Tuesday. Just sayin’ …

In the meantime, I wanted to share more of the excellent correspondence form the Insider Nation regarding recent topics.

My piece on Pat Garlits clearly struck a nerve, and it’s obvious that I’m not the only one who holds her in such high regard. Many of those who wrote had loved ones similarly stricken and know all too well what “Big Daddy” is going through, and all asked that I pass along their best wishes and words of respect and love. Quite touching.

David Miller: “Thanks for the article on Pat Garlits; she's a humdinger. I'm a big softy for this sort of thing, and this brought tears of joy (and sadness, due to her condition) to my eyes. We must always remember that it's the people, not the machines, that drive our sport, and Don and Pat invented the concept of a traveling drag racing family. True royalty among their peers and their fans.”

Nick Poloson: “The story brought back a quick memory for me. In the mid-'70s, I was bracket  racing a lot. I had a '68 Barracuda with a 440 that had the look of a SS/AA, with the correct hood scoop, etc. I lived in south Florida at the time, and one day, they had a big-money meet at Art Malone's Sunshine Dragstrip in Tampa. They also had a four-car booked-in Top Fuel show. I got there early, as I expected the place to be packed with cars. I had the hood off and was tinkering with something in the engine compartment and felt a tap on my shoulder. There were Don and Pat Garlits, holding hands, and Don says, ‘Hi, how are you? My wife likes your car.' I had seen Don from the pit ropes for a long time and knew he was intense at the races, but he and Pat hung out for 10 or 15 minutes just talking racing, the drive over the Sunshine bridge he just had getting there, etc. I got to talk to both of them a bunch more times after that, and they've always been very nice to me.”

Jack Franklin: “I had met Pat twice, and she was gracious, quiet, and humble each time. What a nice lady. Don is proving he is the man by doing the right thing and having his priorities correct.” 

Gary Smrtic: “Awesome piece on Pat Garlits. I cannot say how it grieves me to know that she, and Don, have to go through this.  My wife and I cared for her mom as she suffered from Alzheimer’s for about six years, in our home. It is terrible to watch a once vibrant person fail that way. I have met and talked to Pat on several occasions, both at the track and in the museum, and have always enjoyed the exchange. My point of this note, simply, is to express my appreciation of you writing such an elegant piece about her and her contribution. Next time you see 'Big Daddy,' please remind him how many people are praying for them both and how we love them both so very much.”

Mark Whitmer: “It's so very touching and saddening to hear of Pat Garlits’ troubles and at the same time so heartwarming to know of her husband's devotion to her. Several years back, when Don signed the Englishtown blowover picture, I asked Mrs. Garlits for her signature also. That keepsake's not for sale. Maybe we need to hear of even more inspirational long-term marriages in this awesome sport.”

Fred Simmons: "I read your article about Pat Garlits and want to share an encounter my son, nephew, and I had with Don Garlits. It was roughly 12 years ago at one of New England Dragway’s IHRA national events. I was helping promote New England Dragway’s various programs, and my son and nephew were helping me. We arrived on Saturday morning and went to our booth on the manufacturer’s midway. When we got to our booth, we were surprised to see Don Garlits (along with Pat and their two dogs) parked next to us. Wow! What an opportunity! Imagine being able to rub elbows with the man himself! Don was his usual self, focused on the job at hand, through most of the day. He was polite, saying hi, but he had a job to do, and he was doing it. Sometime around mid-afternoon, things started to slow down a bit, and we got to see an entirely different side of Don Garlits.

“Don walked over to us and started to make small talk. He asked us how we were doing and showed a genuine interest in us. During the conversation, my nephew mentioned he was engaged to be married. It was at that moment we saw an entirely different side of Don. He started on a five-minute sermon about what marriage was all about. I use the word sermon because Don clearly had religion when it came to marriage and Pat. He talked about the commitment required from each partner and how special a wife was in her husband’s life. He also talked about the sacrifices that each partner would need to make and advised my nephew to recognize what a special person he was marrying.

“We talk about this experience often as we feel we were extremely fortunate to have had this encounter. We also recognize that we often don’t get the opportunity to see the other side of the stars of our sport. It is no surprise that Don is at Pat’s side giving her back the support she gave him. My thoughts and prayers are with both of them at this time in their lives.”

Eric Watkins enjoyed the Indy columns concerning Dale Emery’s crash at the 1977 event and the use of nitrous at the 1982 race and passed along this photo of one of drag racing’s ultimate keepsakes, the right-front corner of Emery’s Mike Burkhart-owned Camaro Funny Car body, which is owned by a friend.

“We attended Indy 1977 together, and I fished it out of a 55-gallon trash barrel next to Emery's pit after the crash," he explained. "My friend said he talked to E-town photog Steve Bell, whose brother Jon has the entire side of the car.”

Longtime Insider readers may remember that I did a note on the Bells’ collection in August 2009, accompanied by the other photo here.

You can clearly see the side of Burkhart's car, body panels from Jim and Alison Lee's Top Fueler, a chunk of the Moby Dick Corvette Funny Car (from the 1977 Gatornationals), two pieces of the Blue Max Funny Car (1976, south Florida), and what looks like a serious chunk of the side of the Swensen & Lani Magnum Force Funny Car. "Funny thing is Norman Blake and I could have had the entire tail section [of Burkhart’s car], but we couldn't figure out how to mount it to the back of my '75 Civic!” wrote Steve.

I know I’m probably asking for trouble here (so what else is new?), but I’d like to see photos of your collections of busted-up race car parts. I don’t think I’m talking about engine parts (“Here’s the scuffed-up piston from the time that Dave Benjamin blew up”) but actually recognizable parts of race cars that suffered calamitous endings. Be sure to include the info about the wreck, how you came to own the piece, and how/if it’s displayed. Sounds like fun.

Insider regular Gary Crumine read my mind: “I am sure there are a lot of parts and pieces of fiberglass hanging on garage and man-cave walls all over the country that people would love to share. And stories to go along with them.”

Graham Warley had interesting information regarding Emery’s participation in a trip to England in 1980. “When [Raymond] Beadle and [Gene] Snow came to Santa Pod for one meeting, Beadle had both Dale Emery and 'Waterbed Fred' Miller with him. I know because I watched them build an engine in one of the appallingly poor outbuildings that surrounded the Pod.

“During the meet, Gene made a winning pass but had some oil spray out of the engine and needed to clean the whole motor down before the between-round teardown. For some reason, the ignition switch had been left on, and some clown filled a garden sprayer with petrol (gasoline) and sprayed the motor to help dissolve the oil. When Gene spun the engine, the whole lot went up in flames. Gene had some burns to his arms, but after extinguishing the flames, they carried on with their work. I was standing next to the car and will always remember the sight of the whole engine igniting with the gasoline covering! The final came down to Gene and Ray, and although they both ran 6.0s, Snow won, running 6-flat, and Beadle ran 6.04. Beadle was running his older Mustang Blue Max, and Snow had a more modern Plymouth Arrow. As I recall, Roy Phelps had purchased Snow's Monza but due to delays in shipping the car over had arranged for his Arrow to be airlifted over, although the Monza did arrive on time. Great days!”


In his heyday, not a lot of folks got to say, “I beat Bill Jenkins,” let alone bracket racers from Illinois, but it happened in the summer of 1977 at Oswego Raceway during its special Beat The Grump promotion. And not only did the locals have their way with perhaps the greatest Chevrolet racer of all time, but he crashed his Pro Stock Monza in the third and final heat, much to the shock of all involved.

Paul Dazzo was the guy racing “the Grump” when the world turned upside down, and he shares his memories with us.

“I didn't sign up for the event because I didn't know if I would have the car back together by the event date,” he remembered. “I had had some rear-end problems and was waiting to weld some cracks.

“The 1969 Camaro ran in a class called Run Tuff Eliminator, which was the main bracket class at Oswego and U.S. 30 back in the day. All cars would make one qualifying run, and the 16 closest to their dial-in without going under would run for the money. Remember, back then, you could not change your dial between rounds, and if both cars ran under, they were both out. Also, if both cars red-lighted, they were both out. It was a tough class.

“Anyway, when I got to Oswego that day, Bob Thurlby, one of the track officials, asked if I wanted to run Bill. I said I would love to!

“Bill had to run two other cars first. One was a street car, the other was a bracket car. The track promoter was not happy that Bill took it easy on both cars. I believe he thought the spectators wanted to see Bill really push that Monza; after all, it was said to have around 900 horsepower at that time.

"The third and final round for Bill was with me. Both cars parked behind the line waiting to run. When it was time to run Bill, he started sweeping the burnout box and the approach to the line. I walked over to talk with him and asked if he was sure that he wanted that lane he was cleaning. He didn't seem too happy and just replied, ‘I'll beat you in either lane.’

“I kind of laughed to myself knowing he was playing a mind game, so before we brought the cars to the line, I wrote ‘Grumpy Who?’ on my rear window; when we did the burnouts, he had to see what was on the rear window. I think to this day that got into his head. And believe that it changed his game a little.

“During the run, I never saw him next to me. I took a look when I hit 3rd gear and saw him start to roll the car to the right side of the track. Later, Bill said he was angry and should have gotten off the gas, but he kept his foot on it, so I do believe I got into his head.

“I would have really felt bad about that if it was one of the regular competitors, but since it was Bill ‘Grumpy’ Jenkins, a driver known for pulling every single trick he could, I simply took the win and smiled on the way home.

“After I ran Bill and he crashed, I decided that if Bill could make a mistake like he did and get hurt, anyone could, so I quit racing that season because I had 2-year-old daughter and thought she needed me more than I needed racing.”

Anatol Denysenko, whose mom was the second driver to race “the Grump,” reports that the three racers were chosen by a random tech-card drawing. The race was run off a dial-in on a full Tree.

Denysenko said that his father had spoken to Jenkins before the race and that Jenkins’ engine was “a reverse rotation marine-style bullet that was being tried. From the sound of it, whatever happened in the torque being different upset the chassis and turned it sideways.” I don't know about that, but I guess anything was possible for Jenkins.


OK, that's it for today. I have a plane to catch and a U.S. Nationals to complete. I'll see you all next week sometime. Thanks for reading and, as always, for the fine and fun feedback.