5 July 2011

Drag Racing History - Swamp Rat I

Swamp Rat I-A:

Built in 1956 as just a set of rails, modified many times, but was at its best in the fall of 1958 having beat the best of the Californians at Houston and then in December setting the new world record at 180 mph. Then in Feb '59 SR 1 traveled to Bakersfield Ca. for its last competition run in it's unblown configuration. A blower was installed at Iskenderian Cams and the car went on to win both of the final CA appearances setting Top Time and Low ET at both events. On June 20th 1959, the blower exploded and Don Garlits was seriously burned, he vowed never to drive again.

The Swamp Rat was modified to fix the taller Art Malone and the new version is now referred to as Swamp Rat I-B. The car was retired in the spring of 1961, went on a short show circuit and brought back to the North Tampa shop on Nebraska Avenue. Then in 1966 the shop was hit with a major tornado and the Swamp Rat’s body was destroyed. Meanwhile Don Garlits and family had moved back to Seffner Florida. The remains of the car were moved to Seffner. Then during the spring of 1979, Don Garlits decided to restore the old car for the upcoming 25th Silver Anniversary of the NHRA US Nationals.

Tom Lemons, Craig Wheeler, (Don’s old friend and body and paint mentor) and Don Restored the car and Pat Garlits and his two daughters, towed it to the 25th US Nationals. During the opening ceremonies, Don started the old girl and made a 165 MPH pass for the fans. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Since then Don drove the Swamp Rat I in its unblown configuration to 182 mph at the Bristol Raceway in 1988. Don said after the interview, “I had a hard time holding her back!”
Today the Swamp Rat I rests quietly in the first exhibit as you enter the Drag Racing Museum. Don often says to the press, “It’s my favorite car in the whole world; it made me what I am today!”

Swamp Rat I-B:

This car was the modification of SR I to fit the tall and lanky Art Malone who took over the driving chores for Don when he was seriously burned at Chester SC In 1959. On its first competitive outing at Sanford Maine in August 1959, the young rookie set the drag racing world on its ear by setting a new World’s Record of 183.66, breaking Don Garlits’ record of 182.54 set at Houston, June 1959. Then Art won the California Challenge at Riverside in December, beating the famed “Hustler” driven by Art Chrisman.

The next season at Bakersfield Art again raised the 1320 Record to 185.56 and the next weekend at Fremont raised the mark again to 187.10. The drag racing world was stunned, how could this backyard dragster, built from a set of 1931 Chevrolet frame rails run faster and quicker than the world’s finest drag racing equipment? They would never know the answer to this perplexing question. Art went on his own early that year and Don returned to the seat of SR I-B. He lowered the 1320 ET Record to 8.23 Seconds at York PA and ran an unofficial 204.54 at the Bainbridge Georgia airport before retiring the car, which was in the tornado of 1966 that hit North Tampa. When Don restored the car in 1979, he put it back to its original configuration. Then in 2003, Don decided to build a replica of the SR I-B for exhibition.

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