(Photo and excerpt from Sports Illustrated) – As a guy who like to read, there are few things out there that spin my crank harder than checking our old features in Sports Illustrated their online “Vault” section that contains some of the neatest sportswriting of all time is an endless well of awesomeness. There are plenty of drag racing features one can latch onto in that sea of great writing and we have highlighted some before but this 1964 piece on Don Garlits is beyond any of them.
This is not the picture of a man who is living his dream. This is not the picture of a man who is playing with his kids on the road and laughing off all the hardships that come with it. This is the picture of a man who has somehow found himself trapped in a situation that he does not know how to get out of. It is a starkly real and bluntly awesome piece that takes a critical look at Don Garlits when he was beyond a doubt the most famous drag racer in the world. This was not far off of his “official” breaking of the 200mph barrier and not far off from the disastrous fire at Chester, South Carolina that burned him horribly and nearly killed him.
His take on how terrified he is of dying in the car and then how happy he is to get paid speaks volumes about what life was like back then and Garlits was the exception in a couple of ways. Most everyone else was showing up for peanuts. He was making $70,000 in 1964 which is the same as making $570,000 today. A fantastic amount of money. A fantastic amount of risk.
If you like great writing and you like an honest look at the “glory” days of drag racing read this.
This passage alone is stunning — Hit the image below for the full SI Vault story:
“But one of the worst things about the accident was the convalescence. They had socked a lot of morphine into me to kill the pain; in fact, I used to count the minutes waiting for the shots. Well, when I went home, I was hooked on the stuff. I could never sleep, and then there was this terrible gnawing inside. For days I had to go for long walks. I used to walk until 4 o’clock in the morning, until I was too tired to walk anymore. I kicked it eventually, but it was one of the worst trials of my life. When I was burned again, not as seriously, I wouldn’t take any of that stuff. The whole thing was a nightmare. I still dream about it now and then—those four seconds that seemed like four years. All I could think of at the time was why? Why did I get into drag racing? I still wonder.”