At Age 90, 'Big Daddy' Don Garlits Still Plugged Into Electric Dragster
NHRA legend came up just short in quest to be first to blast a battery-powered dragster down the quarter-mile at 200 mph. BY SUSAN WADE MAR 18, 2022
At age 90, “Big Daddy” Don Garlits has thrown down the gauntlet. Maybe that should read: Seattle innovator Steve Huff has thrown down the gauntlet.
Garlits, for decades a trailblazer in drag-racing design, set out about 10 years ago to become the first to blast a battery-powered dragster down the quarter-mile at 200 mph. Ultimately, Huff— loosely speaking, a younger, less-swashbuckling, more nonchalant, but equally obsessive version of Garlits— beat him to it. Just before midnight May 14, 2020, at Jim Hughes’ Tucson Dragway deep in the Arizona desert, Huff clocked a 201.07-mph history-making speed in his own Current Technology Dragster.
Garlits didn’t pout. (Well, only for a little bit, maybe.) Instead, he built “Swamp Rat 38” EV dragster (ditching the original 37 that Mike Gerry designed and chassis-builder Brad Hadman crafted for him) and is planning a series of match races against Huff and his own EV. No Messing with Swamp Rat Swamp Rat Is a One-of-a-Kind Drag-Racing Treasure “It’s exciting. I can’t wait to race the guy. We’re going to have a lot of fun match racing, I’m sure, around the country, demonstrating to the people that there is a viable place in drag racing for electric cars,” Garlits said after guiding Huff through his staging process last weekend for an exhibition pass at the NHRA’s Amalie Oil Gatornationals at Garlits’ backyard track at Gainesville, Fla.
“I really like Steve Huff. He’s a really nice guy. I think it’d be real good for the sport. He comes across real nice—he does nice interviews. He’s just a super-nice guy. He’s my competitor, but we’re going to have a really fun time with these cars,” Garlits, who operates his own Museum of Drag Racing on his property at Ocala, said.
According to Thomas Pope’s Feb. 2021 article for Competition Plus, Huff happened to see Garlits on TV, saying that “Electric vehicles are going to be a part of everyone’s future, and to go 200 in the quarter is just not possible with the cu
rrent technology.” Huff told Pope, “I thought, ‘That’s a bunch of crap. They’re just doing it wrong.’ ... I put my mouth out there in front of me like usual and let my ass follow, but that’s what inspired me.”