SI Vault
Don Garlits
July 27, 1970
Let's say you are about to attend your first major drag-racing meet. Welcome to a weekend of pure confusion. First, there won't be just one kind of car to watch as there would be at, say, a stock-car race or the Indy 500. There will be just about every kind of vehicle imaginable, from 1940 Fords outfitted with 1970 Cadillac engines to stock 1955 Chevys to Super Stocks to Funny Cars, which look just like stock cars but definitely are not. And then there will be the purest dragsters of them all, the Class AA fuelers, my kind of machine, which look like nothing you have ever seen before.
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July 27, 1970

I'm The Guy Who Leaves Them Breathless

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Then comes the exact moment. The light hits the last yellow—that's when I hammer on the clutch. And from there on there's not much to it. You try to go as straight as you can.

I always concentrate on winning the race; I put completely out of my mind any possibility that I might lose. And then the next problem is making it go in a real straight line to get the absolute best ET possible. Occasionally I get butterflies. But as soon as the engine starts they clear up. I always calm down when the engine starts, for some reason. And everything is O.K. then. It all seems so right. It vibrates up through my legs, up through the seat of my pants. That's how I tell. I've got cotton in my ears and I can't hear; it's a vibration feeling.

And I'll tell you something else that happens: you evidently get a big shot of adrenaline because, suddenly, everything goes slow motion to me. I don't know about the other guys. But that light just lazily comes down that tower, see, in half-second intervals. It seems like it just blinks lazily down, and then, as that last yellow blinks on I know that the next one that blinks on is going to be green. But I usually leave on a good, strong yellow. The yellow comes on and brightens, and that's when I hammer. I put it right on the wood. The gas. And I let the clutch out, almost all the way, and it goes out real good. It takes a lot of clutch to bring that car out of the gate.

And then I drive down that straight line, trying to hold it straight. It's all over too quick.

And I just look at the ET light going by, and then I come off the throttle and pull on the parachute. In that order.

Drag racing. I just enjoy it.

Well, I'm sitting here now kind of gimpy-legged because last winter a trick two-speed transmission I was experimenting with exploded and broke my chassis in half and I spent a lot of time in the hospital with a broken left leg and half my right foot blown off—and I must admit I'm thinking very hard about whether I should retire from driving. (I made one quick run a couple of months ago at Bristol, Tenn. during the AHRA Spring Nationals, but that doesn't really count.) My family wants me to quit because it's not very pleasant for them to sit by the telephone every Sunday afternoon, not knowing when the phone rings whether it'll be me saying I won or lost or somebody else saying, "There's been an accident." But I kind of think I'll drive again. In the early years I got enough of a kick from the mechanical end of drag racing, but in the end you've got to prove the worth of what you build by driving it yourself. And I get a little too nervous standing around and watching the other guys come out of the hole.

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