July 20th will mark the 50th anniversary of man’s first walk on the lunar surface, but the eternal genius Don Garlits is exploring a different kind of frontier lately. On that date, he will become the first drag racer to try for 200 MPH in an electrically powered car when he assaults the quarter-mile at Palm Beach International Raceway in Florida. But here’s the rub: Big Daddy, arguably the most influential competitor in the history of drag racing, is now all of 86 years old.
Garlits has been working on his own moonshot since at least 2018, when he first unveiled Swamp Rat XXXVIII, a dragster with a tad shorter wheelbase than you’re likely to find in current Top Fuel competition, where Big Daddy so indelibly made his mark. The PBIR photo shows a substantial battery pack behind the dragster’s roll cage and just ahead of a transverse electric motor, which obviously has enough juice to light up the enormous Goodyear slicks. Garlits already holds the world record of 7.25 seconds at 185.60 MPH in an earlier electric dragster, the mark set in 2014. Nobody’s ever taken an electric dragster to the magic 200 MPH mark, a speed Garlits is believed to have been the first to eclipse in a Top Fuel car back in the early 1960s. With 141 national-event wins at the strip, Big Daddy is among the greatest technical innovators in the sport’s history; a clutch explosion that severed his foot led him to debut the first workable rear-engine dragster in 1971. If you can’t make it to PBIR, consider a visit to the incomparable Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing and Hall of Fame near Ocala in central Florida.