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Book Review - Big Daddy, the Autobiography of Don Garlits

Book Review - Big Daddy, the Autobiography of Don Garlits


Big Daddy, the Autobiography of Don Garlits
by Don Garlits and Brock Yates
Feb 22, 2008

Book review by Richard Parks, photographic consultant Roger Rohrdanz

Review By Richard Parks

One of the best biographies on racing personalities is Big Daddy, the Autobiography of Don Garlits, by Don Garlits and Brock Yates. This is the second enlarged and updated edition that has gone through four revisions and updates and numerous printings. Big Daddy is adapted from the original book King of the Dragsters, by Brock Yates. Don Garlits is one of the pre-eminent drag racers of all time and he works with Yates to produce a fascinating biography of his life in racing. Big Daddy is published by the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing, Inc, 13700 S.W. 16th Avenue, Ocala, Florida 32676. The phone number listed in the book is 904-245-8661. The book design and topography is by Philippe H. Petot and the photo credits are extensive and well documented. Big Daddy is a paperback book measuring 6 by 9 inches, with 354 pages on matte, acid-free paper and has held up remarkably well. The front cover is well done, showing a wheel-standing dragster and the back cover a photo of Garlits’ Kendall-sponsored Navy dragster on the deck of an aircraft carrier. The front and back covers are the only color photographs. In addition there are 177 black and white photographs and one ink drawing. The captions for the photographs are explanatory, but they are brief and the reader needs to refer to the text. The photographs are also on matte paper and not the waxed paper normally used for  photographs, but the quality of the photos is good enough to add to the textual material. The ISBN number is 0-9626565-0-x and a copy can be purchased by contacting the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing, one of the best car racing museums in the country. Garlits began collecting vintage racing cars long before it was fashionable and has an outstanding collection. There is no table of contents, acknowledgments, introduction, preface or index. Garlits is a man of few words and what he says he honestly states and believes. He gets right into the subject of his life and tells it in a straightforward manner. There is a list at the back of the book which tells of his racing achievements and milestones in a chronological manner and which is worth consulting as you read his life story. As a reviewer, I really miss having a comprehensive index to refer back to, because Big Daddy is a historical work as much as racing literature.

  Don Garlits is a man who is bigger than life and he instills a vigor and enthusiasm that is difficult to explain. He is passionate about his beliefs and unwilling to suffer fools easily. It is this passion that inspires some men and women to follow and emulate him, while other people dislike him for the same reasons. What he brings to racing is passion. He is also an inventor and craftsman, who is never happy until he has made something better and more efficient. He also brings that same zeal to people and organizations, constantly pushing, prodding and seeking to do things more efficiently. If he fails it is only because he is human and such failure gnaws at him and makes him strive to turn disappointment into success. His life from the earliest days was never easy and the competition fierce. The book ends around 1990, four years before he runs for a Congressional District seat in northern Florida. A true conservative like many drag racers, Garlits feels that a man is known by his achievements and not by media spin and glitz. When hot rodders and racers came up with the terms “all show and no go,” and “all flash and no cash,” to emphasize their disdains for empty words, you can just see Garlits’ face and know that he is a man of substance and merit. In Big Daddy, Garlits tells about how he fought for what he believed to be the right course of action and he readily admits that he sometimes made the wrong decision or came to the wrong answer, but there is this indomitable spirit in him that says he must keep at it until he has it right. His inventiveness and genius as a mechanic and driver are legendary. His victory count is impressive, considering that he raced when there were fewer National titles in his day. Many other drag racers have won more races and have greater accolades heaped at them, but when a poll of drag racers is done, they look up to Don Garlits as “The King of the Dragracers.” There are Princes, Dukes, Barons, Lords, Knights, Earls, Counts and many other colorful titles claimed by drag racers, but no one has ever claimed to be “The King.” 

  Statistics can be manipulated in so many different ways. John Force has won some 120 National Races in 350 some events. His success rate is one victory in three, a phenomenal percentage. Don Prudhomme and Kenny Bernstein have been successful as drivers, team owners and in raising the standards of gaining sponsorships. Shirley Muldowney brought women into the mainstream of pro drag racing. There are blogs, websites and car clubs that debate endlessly the place that each racer belongs and yet, it is Don Garlits that sets the standard that drag racers will always follow. Just as Babe Ruth left the nation amazed at his ability to hit home runs in baseball. Hank Aaron and that Bonds fellow ended up hitting more home runs than the Babe, but when Americans vote they will rank the “Babe” as the man that stands out in their minds as the best at what he did. So it is with Don Garlits, he will always be seen as the quintessential top fuel drag racer and that has to do with who he was a man just as much as with his record as a drag racer. Big Daddy has 46 chapters and 354 pages and they are filled with the history of drag racing from the mid-fifties right up to 1990 when this edition ends. No doubt he is constantly updating his life story and there will be more and later editions available. Garlits unabashedly tells his side in the struggles with track operators, promoters and the competition with other drag racers. His battles with west coast drag racers are the stuff of legend. His fight with the NHRA and his association with the AHRA and PDRA is told from his perspective with no punches pulled and a desire to “tell it as he saw it.” Many people will proffer a different view and say that Garlits’ got it all wrong, but few will say that he didn’t try to explain it honestly as he saw the events unfold. Big Daddy is a book that has to anchor the library of the serious fan of hot rodding and drag racing. It is a story of what many call “the Golden Age of drag racing,” from 1957 to the 1970’s. This was an age when creativity and passion could win races. Today it is the vast sums of sponsorship money that puts together the best crews, cars and drivers. As a book, Big Daddy is a must have, as a man, Don Garlits is truly “The King.” This book is rated 7 out of 8 sparkplugs and a must have book for the hot rodders library.

Gone Racin’ is at [email protected].