A Visit With Big Daddy

If there is anything I don’t like, it’s being late. Whether it’s at the drag strip Christmas tree or meeting magazine deadlines, I hate to be late. Well here I am, well over a full week behind in getting this column written for Grand Master Jeff Burk. Here’s my lame excuse.

As a freelance automotive journalist I sometimes bite off more than I can chew. My line of work can be feast or famine, so I say “yes” to every assignment I get. In the past week I’ve completed magazine feature stories on the 1965 Pontiac XP-833 (a.k.a. Banshee) concept car, a woulda-been poor man’s Corvette, wrote another feature on a restored ’67 Pontiac GTO that was awarded as part of the great Thom McAn shoe company GTO give away sweepstakes back in the sixties, and completed a Q and A interview with none other than “Ohio George” Montgomery. All of these works will eventually appear in print on a news stand near you. And no, I don’t expect everybody to give a hoot about Pontiacs – though Ohio George’s story transcends all boundaries of brand loyalty. He is the Gasser King.

With all that stuff off my desk and shipped to the various editors, I can now concentrate on one of the coolest stories I’ve ever written to date, a day long visit with Big Daddy Don Garlits! I was suffering the winter doldrums back in early March so a buddy and I decided to drive from the snow covered wilds of Massachusetts to Garlits’ Ocala, Florida Museum of Drag Racing in a 24 hour blitz. We called ahead so they’d know we were coming.

Arriving at the Garlits Museum, I was awed by the fact that a mere 24 hours before, I was shivering in my boots up in Massachusetts. But thanks to the magic of our great interstate system and personalized internal combustion transportation machines, there I was, warm, dry, and wearing shorts and a T-shirt in sunny Florida. Best of all, I was about to hang out with Big Daddy, the most famous and accomplished drag racer of all time.

My buddy and I braced ourselves for the event, walked through the front door and into the gift shop. There, Don’s assistant Francine said; “Go right in, he’s in the back office”. Two minutes later, Don and I were discussing the possibility of extra-terrestrial life and UFOs. You see, his office is littered with little sculpted alien beings and other worldly space craft, so the subject is bound to come up.

Don looked right in my eyes and with that determined squint he’s known for said; “I don’t think there are UFO’s, I know there are”. He then described riding in a commercial jet liner some years ago and noticing a window-less silver object flying along side. Since he couldn’t believe his eyes, he craned his neck for a better view. Other passengers seemed to notice too and Don said a number of folks were also peering out the window in awe. Before long, the pilot came over the speaker and told everybody to sit back, face forward and buckle their seat belts. Don implied this meant no more looking at that thing flying next to us. We know it’s there, just ignore it. Bizarre, huh?

I’m on the fence about the whole UFO thing. I did see a dark cigar shape moving in the night sky when I was about 12, but the Steven Spielberg movie “Close Encounters” was just out, so it was probably my imagination. Then again, my two buddies and their adult mom also said they saw it too. Who knows. I listened to Don’s tale and really dug the fact he is brave and honest enough to not care at all if somebody thinks he’s koo-koo or not. But that’s been his secret to success from day one: do and think what others say is not possible.