Book review by Richard Parks,
photographic consultant Roger Rohrdanz
Big Daddy; A Career Pictorial Volume 1, by Don Garlits and Michael Mikulice is a hard-bound book published by Walsworth Publishing Company. The ISBN number is 0-9626565-2-6 for volume 1 and 0-9626565-1-8 for the three volume set. This review is only for volume 1 of the pictorial. Check with your local book store or order direct from The Museum of Drag Racing, 13700 SW 16th Avenue, Ocala, Florida 34473, or call 877-271-3278. Big Daddy; A Career Pictorial Volume 1, is a cloth bound book on high quality waxed paper suitable for excellent photographic reprinting. The book measures 8 ¾ by 11 ¼ inches and has 216 pages. There was no dust cover protective jacket, but the book looks very sturdy and built for constant usage. There was no price listed for the volume or the three books in the set. I am only reviewing volume 1 and will review volume 2 and 3 separately. Big Daddy; A Career Pictorial Volume 1 has the following components; 362 black and white, and 89 color photographs. In addition there are 89 sidebars with all sorts of information; including races competed in, dimensions of Don’s cars and other interesting facts in his racing career. There was one artwork, three drawings, nine magazine covers, five newspaper clippings and one map included in the book. The degree of factual information is extensive. Some of the captions for the photographs were short and the rule of thumb for captions is the more the better. Captions should stand alone from the book and should always include; who, what, where, when and sometimes the how and why. There was no index and although this is a pictorial, it hurts the cross-over appeal of a book like this to be lacking an index. Big Daddy; A Career Pictorial Volume 1 can easily be a pictorial, a coffee table book or a history, but without an index the historian and serious student of the sport of drag racing can only guess where the material he/she seeks is located. Adding an index would easily have made this book superior to others like it.
I was really impressed with the factual thoroughness of the sidebars. This is a book that one could pick up and devour, then set it aside for a while and come back and read it thoroughly again. The text is limited, but then it is a pictorial after all. Therefore the captions need to be really thorough and often they weren’t. However, that’s the historian in me asking for more. For the general public the book is outstanding. This is volume one of a three volume set and I just cannot fathom there only being three volumes of photographs on the racing career of Don Garlits. Perhaps this is just a start and more books will come forth in the future. I could say that Don Garlits is the pre-eminent drag racer for all time and probably few people would argue with that statement. But I’m not sure that’s the way to define who and what Don Garlits is. He certainly is well known. But notoriety sometimes obscures a man and puts him above and beyond what he really is. Garlits is first and foremost a hot rodder with a burning desire to take on a challenge or solve a problem in the most expedient and smartest way. He also just happens to be a drag racer who has won a lot of races and championships. Add to that his reputation for innovation, design and mechanics and he has earned his place in drag racing lore. Garlits is far more important to racing though. And it is unfair to judge him solely on his racing career. Other drivers and owners have won more races and championships, but Don raced in the early years when there were far few national events for him to compete in. He also raced against the very best drivers the sport has ever had. His competition was ferocious. Don also raced in several sanctioning bodies, many of which are no longer in operation and when a league folds, so often the records are lost or not mentioned in the newspapers or magazines. He is one of the most focused men I have ever met. He has a well defined view of what he is and what he believes in and is not willing to change his core values. He is a Christian who does not leave his views behind when he goes on the road. He is direct and tells you exactly what he thinks and feels, even if it isn’t politically correct. He is as honest as they come and a southern gentlemen, yet he’s willing to fight for his beliefs at a moment’s notice.
There’s another side of Don Garlits that’s known, but often not stressed enough and that’s his desire and willingness to share his knowledge with others. This includes the efforts that he has put into building up the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing in Ocala, Florida. Long before it was popular to invest one’s time, money and effort into saving the history and heritage of hot rodding, drag racing and the car culture, Don was building a museum and restoring cars that he had found. We can’t possibly thank those individuals who create private and public museums to house our automotive history. The research that is done in the restoration of racing vehicles and the memorabilia that is uncovered keeps our history and heritage alive for future generations. Don Garlits is also interested in preserving the history of our country and protecting our culture. He spent his own money to run for the House of Representatives in 1994 in an effort to provide honest and capable leadership in Congress. That he failed to be elected tells more about the corruption in our political system than it does about Don Garlits. Big Daddy; A Career Pictorial Volume 1 is arranged like a diary, rather than by chapters. There are a few photographs from the 1930’s and ‘40’s, mostly family pictures, and I would have preferred to see more from this time period. Often writers will overlook the formative years and start right in with those years when they were best known. The first section or chapter if you must, starts with the years 1950-54. Don’s first drag race was at Zephyrhills, Florida in June of 1950 and he recorded an elapsed time of 19.10 in a 1940 Ford convertible.
The years go by, the sidebars record times, dates and places and Garlits begins his ascent to the peak of the drag racing world. His reputation as a fierce competitor is achieved through one race, event or contest after another. He leads organizations and has a fan base that stretches from coast to coast, but it is a grueling schedule and his competition strong and capable. Don readily admits that many things that he tried to achieve could have been done better. He is honest in relating his mistakes as well as his successes, but the most important attribute of a hot rodder is the desire to solve a problem and make things better through innovation and ingenuity. The pictorial is a testament to a man who strove to overcome the problems that he faced in his professional, business and family life. The last section ends with the year 1970 and by then Don Garlits is an acclaimed champion and trend setter. Volumes 2 and 3 will pick up from there, as he has more races to win and new challenges to meet. Yet if this were the only volume that you owned, the consensus that you would reach is that Don Garlits had already made it “Big” and that there were no further worlds to conquer. You would have been wrong though. Don is no longer racing, but he is still actively promoting the sport of drag racing that he loves so dearly. The quality of the photographs is for the most part good to exceptional. The ratio of black and white photographs in comparison to color is to be expected due to the era that we are dealing with. The list of contributors is impressive in size and scope. There is a short but interesting page pertaining to glossary terms and another page describing drag racing slang. Don devotes a page thanking all those who made an impact on his life, including his love for his family and his creator.
There is a one page description of his museum and a map where the museum is located. This is a very informative and interesting book and I give it a 7 out of a possible 8 sparkplugs.
I rate this book a 7 out of 8 sparkplugs.
Check with your local book store or order direct from:
The Museum of Drag Racing
13700 SW 16th Avenue
Ocala, Florida 34473
or call 877-271-3278