Don Garlits will help British drag racing celebrate a half-century of history and achievement later this year when he crosses the Atlantic for the first time in nearly four decades to be inducted into the British Drag Racing Hall of Fame.
“Big Daddy” will be accompanied by members of his family when he receives the accolade at the BDRHoF’s grand Gala evening on November 22 at the Savill Court Hotel, near Windsor, west of London.
The Gala evening will mark the 50th anniversary of the British International Drag Festival, when Don Garlits first raced on British soil. The 1964 ‘Dragfest’ was a joint venture between British sports car manufacturer and entrepreneur Sydney Allard and Wally Parks, president of the National Hot Rod Association, and gave British audiences their first full taste of exciting new motorsports from America.
Garlits was already the most prominent member of an all-star US team shipped over to display their skills before astonished crowds on a selection of airfield sites around England. At the tour’s end, Garlits was awarded The People Challenge Cup, presented by a national newspaper for his performances. Garlits’ fellow US all-stars included TV Tommy Ivo, Tony Nancy, Bob Keith, Ohio George Montgomery, KS Pittman, Ronnie Sox & Buddy Martin, Bill Jenkins & Dave Strickler, Dante Duce, Doug Church and bike racers Bill Woods and Don Hyland.
In 1976, Garlits’ second UK appearance gave Santa Pod Raceway the greatest single weekend in the track’s history, and he raced there triumphantly again in 1977. The Gala evening in November sees him return to the country for the first time since then.
The Garlits family’s November trip will also include a visit to the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu in Hampshire, on England’s south coast. It was a previous visit there in 1976 that inspired the foundation of the Don Garlits Museum Of Drag Racing at Ocala, Florida, the world’s first museum wholly dedicated to the sport. In turn, the International Drag Racing Hall Of Fame, based at the Museum, inspired the formation of the British Hall of Fame.
Garlits was named in May as the Gala evening’s guest-of-honor. His Hall of Fame induction could not be revealed until 2014’s new members were officially announced this past weekend. Another inductee will be Gerry Belton, whom Sydney Allard appointed as general manager 50 years ago to oversee the ‘Dragfest’ tour’s organisation. The remaining inductees are past British racers Russ Carpenter, Dennis Norman and John Whitmore.