By Drew Hardin
Photo Courtesy Pat Brollier, Petersen Publishing Company Archives
The Other Racing Garlits
The happy guy standing on his dragster’s slick is Ed Garlits, younger brother of Don. You may have heard of Don. He’s the “Don” of Don’s Speed Shop that’s lettered on the dragster’s nose. He’s also known by many as “Big Daddy.”
Given Don Garlits’ achievements in drag racing, it’s little wonder that his brother’s racing career has been a bit overshadowed. But Ed was a successful drag racer in his own right in the ’50s and early ’60s. Petersen Publishing Company’s Eric Rickman took this photo of him at the 1958 NHRA Southern 7 States Regionals in Sebring, Florida, where he won Top Eliminator.
Ed began racing several years before, in 1952, driving a ’32 Ford roadster powered by a Buick Nailhead V8. Don and Ed would take that Buick out of the Deuce and put it into a new dragster—an early iteration of the car that would become the Swamp Rat 2. In this version, though, it earned the nickname the Banana Car, after the drooping shape its lightweight chassis took on following the flat tow to and from the Sebring race.
It’s no wonder the frame bent, as it was made from EMT tubing—electrical conduit. The Garlits brothers replaced the EMT with a more conventional square-tube chassis and would swap the Nailhead for a supercharged 392 Hemi. It was in this configuration that Ed won Top Gas at the AHRA Championships in 1961, setting a class record of 8.72 seconds at 169.17 mph.
Ed retired from racing not long after, but he would work as Don’s crew chief in the mid-’70s, and he crewed again for his older brother in the early ’90s. Ed was named to the NHRA Hall of Fame SE Division in 1986, and to the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 2009. He is still with us, but he suffers from advanced Parkinson’s disease and lives in a nursing home in Florida under the watchful eye of his older brother.