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Sad News: Pat Garlits, Wife of Big Daddy Don Garlits Has Died

Sad News: Pat Garlits, Wife of Big Daddy Don Garlits Has Died

After a long and valiant battle with Alzheimer’s disease, we are sad to report tonight that Pat Garlits, the wife of the greatest drag racer ever, Don Garlits has died. The role of Pat Garlits in the career of her husband can never fully be appreciated. She served as the rock that anchored their family. She served as emotional and even physical support for Don, she was there for the best of times, she was there for the horrifying worst times where her husband was burned, maimed, and in positions of grave danger. She logged all of those road miles over the years, she was even a winning racer herself for a time, but most of all she was a mom and a wife, and a person loved and respected by many.

Don and Pat Garlits met in 1952 and they were married on February 20, 1953. Over the span of nearly 61 years they encountered and endured things that no other couple on Earth could conceive of, let alone understand.In a move that set the course of drag racing history for roughly the next 30 years, she refused to let doctors remove Don’s severely burned hands after a disastrous fire in Chester, South Carolina in 1959. She found another doctor in another hospital in Florida that thought he could help so she rode on a train with her husband who was in immense pain from South Carolina to the Florida hospital. Don’s hands were saved and they were the instruments of so much success and innovation that the sport would not look the same today without them. Though gnarled and thick from decades of constant use and harsh treatment, Don’s mitts were most often seen wrapped around Pat’s at the races before she became too ill to travel.

In recent years it was Don who became the caretaker and emotional support for his wife who had served in that role for the majority of his life. They shared a love and a bond that’s all too rare in today’s world. It held stronger than the strongest TIG weld until the very end.

We could literally go on for thousands of words about Pat Garlits, but we won’t. In the coming days and weeks there will be many great words spoken about Pat Garlits. In all of those things we ask that you remember one thing. Pat Garlits was not just the wife of Don Garlits. She was a singular force in the sport and in her family that fostered, encouraged, hugged, listened to, and facilitated the most driven mind and most determined spirit the sport of drag racing has ever known and ever will know. She completed him. For that, every person who loves drag racing should be thankful.

We send our most heartfelt condolences to Don Garlits and his daughters on the passing of his beloved wife and their beloved mom.


Dear Friends,

My dear wife of nearly 61 years left this world and went over to the other side at 5:53 PM, this afternoon. She has been suffering a lot these last few… days and it was a Blessing to see God take her into His care. I will miss her very badly, but will be with her sooner than I realize, as time is very different here that over there.

She passed at home with her two Daughters at her side and me holding her hand and a little Yorkie dog on each side of her. She went without making a sound and this house is going to be very quiet for a while. I had “Glenn Miller” playing in the background, as that was her favorite “Big Band”.

I will let everyone know what the Arrangements will be when I know myself. Thanks for all the Prayers and support through this terrible ordeal.

Don Garlits


don and pat

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123 thoughts on “Sad News: Pat Garlits, Wife of Big Daddy Don Garlits Has Died

  1. Wayne Ragland

    I met Don and his lovely wife. Too nicer, decent people God never created!!!

    So sad for “Big Daddy’

  2. Anonymous

    Reading this reminds me of a race in 82 at Darlington. I am pretty sure it was just Big, and Pat. (no crew) These were the days when Garlits wasn’t able to qualify at a couple of IHRA races. I was just standing in their pit, watching the legend . I look over at Pat, and she just smiles a warm friendly smile. I have never forgotten her class, all the years I saw her with her man, making drag racing history. God bless Big, Pat, and family.

  3. RAZ

    I have followed Don since 1964…I can’t remember anything that will affect him more than this ..he was devoted to her. Don,
    so sorry for your loss.. RIP Pat

  4. manny yellow "eagle catcher racing team" niagara falls, ny

    Our thoughts. prayers and condolences go out to the Garlits family on this devastating news. We were very familiar with Big Daddy and Pat back in the 1980’s and 1990’s when my sons, Manny and Maurice, were racing junior dragsters and I was also racing. We never met a couple as down to earth and heartwarming as these two. May God bless them and watch over both of them. Such a loss.

  5. Truck dr

    thoughts and prayer go out to Don & Family, I doubt any wife has ever been as dedicated snd supportive to her husbands passion for Drag Racing than this woman, She was definatley his rock.

  6. jerry robertson

    mr. garlits had pleasure of meeting you and your beautiful wife at alamo dragstrip in san antonio the martinez boys i was a gate mgr.letting people in strip.yall were always so nice.god bless pat and the greatest drag racer ever.thanks for the memories.

  7. Chaun Benfield

    There is no doubt about the Garlits family’s faith and also no doubt Pat Garlits will be in another Big Daddys company. Don, Family and Friends, just know that You are not alone, we all share in your pain of the loss of a great loved one of your life and that we are there for you and the family. May you be comforted, strengthened and feel much love forever more.

  8. Gary Smrtic

    My heart aches for Big and his family, even as I know the relief they must feel just the same with the end of Pat’s suffering. Godspeed, Pat, and our prayers for Big and the rest of the family.

  9. Billy Lawrence

    I am sad to here. me and my wife talked to her at many a race she was very nice to us. did talk about you but it was good she always said you cant hear. but I know she was with you every time. she was your best friend and will be missed by every one. God bless you and your family.

  10. Bonny Philson

    Don, I am so sorry to hear of Pat’s passing. I know how hard this is and will be for you and your daughters, even though it is a blessing that she is no longer suffering. I too lost my husband, Leroy Philson after 35 years of marriage, and he too was everything to me. We raced together and spoke with you several times. All my thoughts and prayers to you and your family. You and she are loved by many!

  11. veronica and jerry cook

    What else can we say…but so so very sorry. Your name was a household name in this home for many a year. Our interest in cars, racing was because of you. We thank yoy and your family for many years of entertainment you gave us. God Bkess you now and forever. The Cooks of Sauk Village

  12. owen chester

    i am sure she will be missed by the racing family that she truly loved. lean on god for comfort in this time of sorrow.. prayers will be with you and your family



  14. Dotti Potts

    so sorry for your loss to u&girls…I hope u find comfort soon. She will b greatly missed. u’all in my heart&thoughts

  15. Charlie Suggs

    On behalf of Crusin Mopars of Jacksonville and myself , we extend our heartfelt condolences to the Garlits Family. May you find comfort and peace soon.

  16. rc75

    So sad its never easy when you loose a loved one especially when its someone who’s been there though all the times good and bad. My condolences go out to Don and the Garlits family. May Pat rest in peace.

  17. George B.

    We met Pat at their museum in Ocala FL. and she was just the sweetest woman. She took the time to walk thru with us and tell us about several of the cars in their collection. We saw Pat again at Rt 66 raceway and she was again just a wonderful person. She is in Gods hands now and I hope Don has peace with that. He is also a very genuine guy…

  18. rick robertson

    Mr. Garlits so very sorry to hear of your loss. You will be in our prayers as well as your whole family. Gods speed Pat !

  19. Richard J Marinski

    Sorry, to hear about your loss Don. Sounds like she was a great woman for you! You two made a great team.take care Don! R.I.P Pat.

  20. Mary Ann Bertram

    OMG !!! I am in shock ! Walt Barbin and I were there for the memorable early AA/ Fuel Dragster years. Pat and I had such a good time vacationing in the Florida Keys. I was worried when I did not hear back from her recently. Much Love to Don, Donna, and Gay Lyn.

  21. Howard Arbiture

    Guess we all knew it was coming, but sad just the same. The drag racing community has a lot to thank Pat for. I saw an interview with “Big Daddy”, he said, if it wasn’t for Pat, the rear-engine dragster might never have happened, or severely delayed. He said, after Swamp Rat Xlll broke in two, he was working on another front engine dragster, when Pat came in and let him have it, and that’s when he designed the rear engine dragster. As a huge NHRA fan, a heartfelt thank you to Pat.

  22. Tom McCarthy

    Well said Brian, very well stated. We all owe the Garlits family more than we can ever repay.

  23. Frederick Schilling

    My heart goes out to you Don. May the Good Lord provide you with comfort during this difficult time. Warm Regards, Fred Schilling Jr. Zephyrhills, Fl.

  24. Linda Grimm

    So sorry for your loss Don. Our Prayers are with you and your Girls. May Pat R.I.P.
    John, Linda & L J Grimm
    L J Grimm Motorsports #25

  25. Myles Johnson

    Sir, my condolence’s,probably no more appropriate quote at this time than, ‘behind every great Man there is a great Woman’, My regard to you, your family and your Wifes many friends, at this time,….with Respect, Myles Johnson /Australia

  26. Jim Crawley

    My deepest condolences for your great loss. My thoughts and prayers are with you and the family.

  27. Björn Johansson

    Very sad to hear.
    My thinkings go to you my Big idol and your family.

    Best regards/ Björn

  28. CudaDan

    Sorry for your loss! The way you lived your lives as a married couple was an inspiration to others as well as myself.

  29. Donnie

    Sorry to hear of your loss, I was just talking about Pomona coming up and how you would not leave Pat to go anywhere she wasn’t able to go. Missed you at the last few NHRA CA Hot Rod Reunion, the racing community feels your pain and loss and you have our deepest sympathies, God Bless you.

  30. George

    My sincere condolences to Big Daddy and two daughters. May you be filled with happy memories of your mom and wife. God bless.

  31. Dave P

    Condolences to Don and his family, without this great woman there would be no Big Daddy. Rest in peace Pat, and thanks for the memories



  33. cyclone03

    I met Pat at the museum back in ’92,she even showed me around a bit. Later the same day I got a miny tour from Don. What a day that was,I felt like I had been invited into thier home…
    RIP Pat,thoughts and prayers to the Garlets family.

  34. robert swearingen

    Don, we don’t know each other, but you guys have been a part of my life for many years,We are so sorry to hear about your wifes passing,Good luck to you and your family and see you at your Ocala shop.

    Bob and Mo

  35. Piston Pete

    I’m very sorry to hear of the passing of Pat Garlits. She and Don invented the concept of the professional, traveling drag racing couple. They epitomized the days of our sport when it was a man, a women, a race car, a truck and trailer, a box of tools and the desperate hope that the results of the next race would allow them to get home long enough to gather themselves to do it again next week. (Kinda long winded, but that’s what it was to be an early professional drag racer).
    I hope Don can take solace in the fact that she is no longer suffering and that their family, friends and extended family are in the the thoughts, prayers and hearts of millions of people all over the world. We should all hug our loved ones a little tighter today. Godspeed Pat, our world just got smaller, but there’s a new angel in heaven.



  37. Cecil Musick

    So sorry Don !!! I just lost my wife of forty years Oct 4th th myself.I know how awful it feels. GOD BLESS YOU AND THE GIRLS

  38. Carl Litzkow

    I can only imagine the loss you feel after 61 years. I have talked to Pat on many occasions. She was always in the background from your early days in the ’50s at Brooksville until much later at your museum. I am truly sorry. Both of you have given so much.

  39. DOUG Roberts

    Drag racing has lost one of its finest people. May she rest in peace and our thoughts and prayers to Don and family.Always look back on the good times.

  40. Ed Mucha

    I met Pam Garlits once, when visiting the Museum in Ocala. I have to say that she was one of the nicest people I have ever met or known. Friendly, warm, outgoing and lovable. What more can one say? As for Big Daddy I’ve followed and loved him since first seeing him in the pits and on the track at Connecticut Dragway in the 60s and reading about him and the challenges of the “Bean Bandits” in the late 50s.. An outstanding sportsman and competitor, his video with Pat is not to be missed. God Bless!

  41. mary lloyd

    for many years my husband and I enjoyed watching you dominate the races….with your lovely wife by your side. She is now watching all the racers , standing by the tree,waiting and still enjoying for that green light….RIP Pat Garlitz,,,,and prayers to Don and family

  42. Larry and Carol Guyer

    So sorry Big Daddy for the loss of your beloved Pat. The love and companionship you shared is to be admired. You have definitely changed the drag racing industry for the better. Prayers to you and your family and may God grant you peace in your sorrow.

  43. Shawn

    I met Don and Pat when I stopped at the museum on my honeymoon 1986. My new wife was less than pleased, Pat kept her happy while Big Daddy gave me my own personal tour !! Great folks, One of my best days ever … Prayers to the Garlits family.

  44. Grantly

    Pat you will be missed, maybe where you are now you’ll know how many lives you’ve touched. Don, I can’t imagine the void this loss must leave, my thoughts and prayers are with you.

  45. 88ProStreetS10

    I feel blessed that my wife and I got to spend about an hour in the pits when Don ran his Monostrut dragster in the NHRA event at the Texas Motorplex at Ennis TX – my wife got to talk to Pat the entire time. I also got a picture with Don standing beside his show car trailer the next year when he was there once again. I still have those pictures on my home office wall – Don and Pat are amazing, down to earth folks as anyone I’d ever met at the track. Pat you will be missed by all – Don and family, you are in our prayers.

  46. Richardt Scholz & Lorna O'Toole

    Dear Don,
    On behalf of all of us out here in BC Canada, we send our deepest condolences and are prayers for your beloved wife and your whole family.Please know you are in our thoughts , may god bless you all.
    Sincerely , Richardt Scholz and the car show crew.

  47. ScreamingMetal

    God Bless her Don, from all the Builders and Tuners out there. Our thoughts are with her, and you, hang in there my friend…..

  48. Lou Kenkel

    Dear Big and Family,I am so sorry for your loss.

    I Hope this verse comforts you in your time of need.

    ” Remember me with laughter and smiles for that is how I wll remember you all. For if you can only remember me with sorrow and tears then don’t remember me at all.”

    Your long time fan,
    Lou Kenkel

  49. robert bowman

    Don we are very sad to hear about pat. Sorry for your loss
    bob & sherrie bowman
    from michigan

  50. Sharon Poprocki

    I’m so sad to hear that this “great heart” of the family had to leave them so soon.

  51. tony amato

    My thoughts and prayers to ‘Big” and family. She’s in heaven and celebrating the final checkered flag


    Have been racing fans of yours for many, many years. We are very sad about Pat, may you know that she is no longer suffering. God Bless



  54. Anonymous

    You two were so lucky that God put you two in the exact right spot on Earth at the exact right time to meet each other.Now He needs her back.And some day we will all be drag racing together in heaven.

  55. Karl Bradshaw

    I’ve been watching their family for 50 years.I always had the utmost respect for Don as a drag racer , innovator , builder and probably the heart and soul of NHRA for many years.I know every new season I couldn’t wait to see what Don came up with in the off season.
    I know how important family was to Don which makes the passing of Pat even sadder.
    If it helps anything at all dear Don you have millions of fans out there in your corner forever. You treated all people with respect so all treat you the same. Karl Bradshaw a lifetime fan.

  56. Pete Lodge

    A huge loss to the “Father”. We all feel for you Donand god bless. Was at your museum only late last year. What a team you both were. Pete and Janice Lodge – New Zealand

  57. Stephen Shearer

    I’m so sorry to hear of Pat’s passing. My uncle was a huge fan of Don’s and when he died in March of 1991, his wife got a condolence card from Don and Pat. That said more to me than any race ever could.

  58. Jill Thigpen

    My Mother also lives with Alzheimers and my wonderful father is just like you. He takes care of her everyday,until the end.. I give all my blessings to you and your family in these hard times. MAY GOD BLESS YOU! Jill T.

  59. Tony German

    God Bless you and the Whole Family. With-out knowing how much your relationship with your wife affected others around you, I saw the Love and Admiration you had for each other. It was at your Museum and we were just visiting and I became a fan. I Thank You for the Racer you are at the track, and the Man you are every where else in daily life. Ms. Pat was a blessing to all that she ever touched, even the ones you Never knew about. Thanks again ,”the Wide-Eyed Kid at the Shop Door”.

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