Last night during a “Saturday Night Nitro” event at Famoso Raceway in Bakersfield, California there was a serious crash involving the driver of the War Horse funny car Roger Garten and his competitor in the other lane Matt Bynum. The two cars collided about 330′ down the drag strip and after getting together both went for violent rides across the track in different directions. Early reports from the track were that the drivers had been deemed “OK” but the rumors were not true. Garten passed away during the night from trauma experienced in the crash. This is a horrible situation and we send our sincere condolences to the Garten family. There is video of the crash out on the internet, but out of respect for the families we are not going to be rebroadcasting it here.
The Tocco and Garten War Horse has one of the most fun and compelling stories in all of the nostalgia funny car world. Garten began his driving career in unblown and then blown gassers before hooking up with Mike Tocco and Harry Harper to field a Jim Kirby constructed AA/FA that simply went by the Tocco-Harper-Garten name. That car was raced with a blown, nitro burning big block Chevrolet engine until the AA/FA scene slowed way down in SoCal. In 1973 Tocco and Garten then turned their attention to the ever exploding funny car scene and fielded the first War Horse Mustang. The effort would prove a successful one with match race wins and even the 1975 NHRA Division 7 funny car championship. The men then decided to step away from the sport in 1976 and live the lives of adults, concentrating on business and family. Their friendship never quit nor did that nagging urge to do something with the sport of drag racing again.
In the 1990s the men found the original Tocco-Harper-Garten AA/FA and restored it, taking it to various cackle events and shows. Along the way they got hooked on the idea of getting back out with a funny car and they finally gave into their desired in 2008 and began the process of building what would become the new War Horse. 35 years after winning a race at Sacremento Raceway in California, the team made their triumphant return to the NHRA Heritage Series a few years back and promptly won again. Talk about coming full circle! Since then the car has traveled all over competing in match race programs, events like the March Meet, IHRA competition, and more. A consistent running machine with the proven crew and dedication to win races, it was always fun to watch them run. Our heart breaks for Roger’s wife Carlene, his kids Rhonda and Dan, the rest of their family, the team and the everyone directly touched by this sad event.
We love the sport of drag racing, we understand its inherent dangers and risks, but that does not make things like this sit any easier with us.
Godspeed, Roger Garten.