8/1/14 & 8/3/14



          One of the most historic days in drag racing occurred fifty years ago on August 1, 1964. The NHRA national AA/FD record was established for the first time at over 200 mph when Big Daddy Don Garlits drove his Swamp Rat 6B dragster to a record 201.34 mph in the quarter mile. And Island Dragway became one of the most iconic race tracks in the country, and Garlits went on to a superb career in the sport. The man from Florida has set and held so many records over his long and fabled career that nobody can mention the sport of drag racing without automatically thinking of Big Daddy. The innovator of the modern era rear engine dragster and currently working on becoming the first to exceed 200 mph in a battery powered machine, Garlits and drag racing is forever intertwined in memory and history.

          So, fifty years after the milestone event, Big Daddy was back at Island Dragway for an anniversary weekend of events that included firing up SR 6B for a little cackle fest and photos on the starting line. The chance for fans to meet and greet the icon was irresistible and between signing autographs and having a picture taken there was plenty of time to talk with Don about the wealth of knowledge and memories of a career that spans even decades.

          Fighting weather fronts all weekend long turned out successful as not a drop of rain touched the track from Friday to Sunday. Fans came out not only to meet the man but to see some great racing during the event. Saturday was reserved for the annual National Dragster Challenge race, which is the subject of a separate report, while Friday night contained the Bracket Invitational and exhibition races, along with a firing of Swamp Rat 6B. Sunday was packed with a car show and a nostalgia race that included the nostalgic clubs of NETO and MANDRA, and some old time match race action with nostalgia funny cars and blown altereds. And these old style matches provided quite a show for the fans, including a final run over 200 mph.

          The Sunday eliminations provided special trophies for Paul Crispin and his Dodge when he took the N-1 title over the Chevelle of Scott Embley. Crispin depended on a better RT to gain the victory, 9.06 and 147.44 to a close but losing 9.79 at 134.77. The N-2 division was the largest to be contested and came down to a match between Andy McCauley and Joe Theodore. In this case the Mustang of McCauley won easily when Theodore went red on the tree and the Ford clocked a 10.61 at 1285.40 to gain the cup. Ron Zang grabbed N-3 when he took out Ray Davis in the trophy dash. Zang and his Camaro hit a 14.43, 87.39 to defeat the Corvette’s 15.00, 90.97. And the new EFI Modern Muscle class fell to the Camaro of Connie Wackerman when she gunned down the quick and gorgeous COPO Camaro of Allen George. Wackerman’s 12 second race car stood up to the 10 second COPO entry when the foul light intervened in the decision.

          MANDRA eliminations went to Marc English when his 57MG outlasted the T-bucket of Bob Maulick. English nailed a 9.57 at 113.30 to easily win when Maulick slowed at the big end to lose on an 11.17.

          NETO Nostalgia class finished in a race between Jerome Hillier in a Maverick and Don Kalina in his 55 Chevy Handyman wagon. This race was pretty much decided on the starting line when Hillier picked up a tenth advantage and ran close to his number at 12.87, 101.10. Kalina gave it a good shot but lost with a slip of 11.11, 119.38. The big gun in NETO Comp was the points leader John Giambertone and his 65 Comet called Psyched Clone. Greg Georges had the last shot at derailing the Merc when he worked his Camaro into the final. Giambertone led this race wire to wire and slam the door on Georges with a stout 9.80 effort and 130.02 mph. Georges was late to react to the green and took runner-up with his ticket of 9.54, 139.82.

          In match race action the injected funny cars of Frank Barnard and Willie Johnson paired off for three runs, and Barnard won the contest with a best run in the thousand foot distance by posting up a best of 6.49 at 156.61 mph. Johnson was right there all the way down the track but fell short at 6.55 seconds and a speed of 156.75.

          Bobby Toth, driving Rocky Roxlau’s Time Bomb blown funny car went three rounds against the Total Insanity of Chris Massarella. The Bomb went three for three in the pairing, hustling a best run of 5.55 seconds in round two and a speed of 188.94 in the opener. Massarella made it close and exciting as he pushed the Insanity mount to bests of 5.89 and 175.14 mph.

          Finally, as if saving the best for last, a scrap between blown alcohol burning altereds put an exclamation point on the weekend. After trading wins in the first two rounds, Tim Gifford and John Hadyniac were loaded up for the rubber round, no holds barred. Gifford, driving a Bantam bodied rig powered by hemi horsepower lined up the “Punisher” alongside the “Hell Bound” big block motored T-Bucket and after some super burnouts, it was time for some ground shaking racing. With a little better starting line response for Haydniak it looked like Gifford would find himself on the short end of this one. But in a move that surprised everyone, the Punisher trucked right on down Main Street and set off a time of 6.59 seconds but at a speed of 208.68 mph. Almost overlooked was the terrific run by the Hell Bound entry that cranked through the traps on a 6.90 pass at a top end of 198.83. It was a fitting tribute to the anniversary weekend celebrating the first record 200 mph pass fifth years ago, and to be finished in such style by a young guy who cut his teeth at Island in the junior dragster class, it just goes to show what can be accomplished with hard work, perseverance and a little luck.

          Thanks to all those who participated and helped make this one of the most memorable weekends at Island Dragway. We hope to see many more as the years go by.