38.2 miles from Gainesville, FL. resides a town population 57,000 called Ocala.
Not famous for Disney like other towns in Florida, but home to a Nitro pilot who has some stories to tell. They call him Swamp Rat.
For those that don’t know, let me first tell you Swamp Rat is Don Garlits. He raced in the days of other legends as Don “Snake” Prudhomme, Tom “Mongoose” McEwen, Roland “Hawaiian” Leong, just to name a few.
Don “Big Daddy” Garlits resides in Ocala on the same property as the car collection. Rumor has it that you can catch a glimpse of him from time to time.
Big Daddy is famed for the day the front engine dragsters raced for the last time. 1970: in the Wynnscharger or Swamp Rat XIII the clutch explodes taking part of Don’s foot with it. This accident led to the innovative rear dragster in some variation raced today.
Walking in is a video screen that loops this legendary day. Don was an engineer not just a pilot.
Meeting a legend several years earlier on the Hot Rod Power Tour was a dream come true, but to be footsteps from his residence in Ocala was the icing on the cake. On a warm Saturday morning dad and I loaded up the Green Rocket and made the drive 40 miles south.
What an honor walking through the doors to his garage. Not only is every Swamp Rat housed in the facility but he has accumulated a collection of the legends Connie, Shirley, Scott, Kenny. All names solely by their first names in NHRA.
For some it is a walk down memory lane. For others it is a history lesson. And for some it is a whole new journey. Walking in you can almost smell the nitro and tires burning and feel that pounding in your chest that only baptism by nitro can give. Living your life a quarter mile at a time.
Stop in on your way to that family trip at Disney, you will be glad you did.