SEMA News - March 2010
By Drew Hardin
Photo Courtesy Source Interlink Media Archives
This photo, taken by long-time drag-race photographer Bob McClurg, shows Garlits in Swamp Rat XII, a rail he first drove at the Winternationals in 1968.
Garlits is also a SEMA Hall of Fame member, an honor he earned largely through his innovations in drag-racing safety. While he was among the first drivers to endorse wearing a full protective driving suit, it was a catastrophic accident in 1970 that led to his most influential accomplishment. Until that time, dragsters were built with the drivers sitting behind the engines, putting them literally in the line of fire should something go mechanically wrong with the driveline. That’s what happened to Garlits: A transmission explosion cut his Swamp Rat XIII in half and severed most of his right foot. While in the hospital recuperating, he laid out plans for a rear-engine dragster, which would put the driver safely ahead of any mechanical damage.
That first rear-engine Swamp Rat took some sorting out, but once it was dialed in, it was a blistering 240-mph bullet that set the trend for dragster design that continues today.