Remembering Connie Swingle
Sept. 24, 1935 to Sept. 29, 2007
Oklahoma City, OK
Oct 22, ‘07
Story by Don Garlits and photographic consultant Roger Rohrdanz
Connie Swingle, 72, one of the true pioneers of drag Racing, passed away Saturday evening, peacefully in his home in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, the city of his birth. Connie had health problems for the last ten years and finally succumbed to Cancer. His faithful nurse, Virginia, was at his side. Connie served a hitch in the US Army in Africa and when discharged moved to Tampa Florida. He arrived at Garlits Automotive Inc. in 1960 and started welding. He became one of the best welders in the world. Swamp Rat III-A had been started, so "Swingle," as he liked to be called, finished the project and took the new chrome moley car on tour. Swingle won many races with the car, the biggest being the big Riverside Drag race in 1962 at Riverside Raceway. Swingle was instrumental in the success of the Garlits Chassis business from 1961 through 1964. At which time Don Garlits relocated to Troy Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, Swingle went west and joined up with the "Old Master" Ed Pink. Driving Pink’s "Old Master" AA/FD car, Connie enjoyed his biggest win at Fontana Dragstrip in the fall of 1965, when he beat Don Garlits in the final for the "Mickey Thompson 200 MPH Meet and took home all the "gold," about $10,000, a very large purse for that era.
When the weather "got to Garlits" in Detroit and he moved back to Seffner, Florida, Connie returned from California and rejoined the Chassis business. Together Connie and Don Garlits built some outstanding Slingshot dragsters. The best and fastest one, Swamp Rat 13, blew the transmission at Long Beach in March 1970 and Garlits, Swingle and Lemons proceeded to build the Rear Engine car. Connie always referred to #14 as a "Front Driver" car, which it technically was. After much frustration and many, many tests, Swingle said, "If you think the steering is too fast, why don’t we slow it down?" The rest is history and the drag racing world now has the "Championship Rear Engine Dragster." We can all give Connie Swingle a great big "Thank You" for his participation in this endeavor that took drag racing to the next plateau. Swingle finally wanted to slow down, so he opened a small shop in South Tampa and did small jobs to make a living.
As I look back, he was probably getting sick then and didn’t have the energy to go the way I was racing. The last job that he did was the recreation of Swamp Rat IV, with the blown Dodge wedge on gas. He did a beautiful job, but I could see he was all done welding as his hands shook too much for welding. We all got together and moved him back to Oklahoma with his Mother and Dad, who have since passed away. Connie is survived by his son Theodore "Teddy" Swingle, named after his Father Theodore "Ted" Swingle. Connie Swingle was installed into the Southeastern NHRA Drag Racing HOF in 1991, the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 1998. He also won the Drag News Invitational in 1962, held at Dragway 42 in Ohio. He held the Drag News #1 spot several times and also the Drag News 1320 E.T Record of 7.88 seconds at 198.22 MPH. Connie was also my Crew Chief during the Drag Racer Magazine Number One Spot held at Half Moon Bay in 1966, which we won. Connie was a tireless worker, could go for days without sleep and always had a new idea on how to go fast. He left his mark on our sport and he will be sorely missed.
Don Garlits is the Founder of The International Drag Racing Hall of Fame
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