Lead in by
are always good fun, where friends and acquaintances take turns
skewering the object of their affection, regaling the assembled
multitudes with sordid stories, amusing anecdotes, and tall tales
meant to simultaneously embarrass and fete the guest of honor.
NHRA hosted a
spectacular roast Saturday night after qualifying at the OReilly
Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals presented by Super Start Batteries,
saluting legendary Big Daddy Don Garlits on the occasion
of his 80th birthday. The cause a great one, benefiting the
Quarter Mile Foundation, a group dedicated to preserving the
history of our sport through interviews with the principals involved
before we lose them. Obviously, as regular readers here would
guess, thats a cause near and dear to my heart, and there
was no way I was going to miss it.
The list of those
doing the roasting was long and deep. Don the Snake
Prudhomme. TV Tommy Ivo. Jerry the King
Ruth. Ed Pink. Sid Waterman. Dave McClelland. Ed Iskenderian.
All got their shots in at Large Father, but as anyone
who's ever raced him, or seen him race, he's famous for turning
the tables and should never be underestimated, and that proved
true once again Saturday night. Some of the stories that were
told I'd heard before or read about, and some were uniquely fresh,
but the only thing that mattered was that we were getting to
hear them straight from the people who lived them, which is a
million times better than reading about them (which, unfortunately,
is what you're stuck with here today, but I'll do my best to
bring them to life).
The rest of the story by Burgess
down to article)
Prior to the
6 pm kick off time there was lots of mingling in the lobby including
Tom Ivo and Big - these guys probably raced each other more than
any other pair in drag racing history. The match race kings.
the incomparable Kenny Youngblood.
Blood did a special
edition drawing for any roast attendee who wanted one and he
personalized them. What a guy.
and Manny Maldonado
Jack" Beckman with Robin and Orah Mae Millar.
delight of the Project 1320 folks the event was a total sell
Alan Pinho and Don Ewald
Jack and the lovely Linda Vaughan.
Two of the three
60's - 70's engine gurus Sid Waterman and Ed Pink. The third
would be the late Keith Black.
Ruth, Gar and Harry Hibler
Linda Vaughn, as Marilyn Monroe, sang "Happy Birthday"
Leading off the
roast portion on the program, after the roastee, the roasters
were introduced by MC, Bob Frey.
up was the one and only self-proclaimed King, Jerry Ruth.
After his series
of adjectives to describe Garlits Ruth went into a story he'd
heard about Garlits and his late crew chief Herb Parks, in Bradenton,
Fla., that ended up with Garlits climbing out of his still-rolling
car on the return road in mid-argument and getting run over by
the rear tire. Herb was a big guy -- 6-four, 230, much
larger than Large Father' -- I think Don pretended to get
hurt so Herb wouldn't really hurt him, and an ambulance came
and took him off to safety, he chortled.
As the format
called for, after every roaster Garlits got a rebuttal. With
the exception of one emotional moment, the Old Man was funny
while showing off his still sharp-as-a-tack memory.
Ed Pink, who
recently celebrated his own 80th birthday, was up next and reminded
Garlits that despite his ability to run quicker than everyone,
it took him 80 years to get to 80, just like everyone else.
roast was woven a live auction. Here Project 1320 founder Traci
Hrudka holds up a special banner filled with famous autographs.
By the end of the night the auction would net over $7,000 with
over half coming from the wallet of John Force. John is legendary
for supporting drag racing causes and charities. A very generous
It was a toss
up between Ivo and Prudhomme for the nights funnies roaster.
Of course everyone knows Tom is one of the sports greatest story
tellers and he lobed some doozies at Don... most about their
match racing days.
One quip, Garlits,
he smirked to the audience. Howd you like to make
your living racing this guy 50 times a year? He used to drive
me crazy with his flying-saucer stories. Hed say, Look
over there; theres two of them! And Id say,
Yeah! Yeah! even though a week before that Id
have thought they were airplanes. He told me, Im
not the practical joker kind of guy ... well, he didnt
know who he was dealing with.
beat him by this much."
was riveted to Ivo's tales that surly brought back some fun memories.
rebuttal was not nearly as colorful as Ivo's jabs.
auction item was a large banner featuring M/T and Gar.
Never at a loss
for words, Dave McClelland remembered his early dealing with
the Swamp Rat. He acknowledged that it was Garlits who was key
to his introduction to drag race announcing. In 1959, the golden-throated
McClelland was working in radio and television, and it was at
a race in Carlisle, Ark., that he saw Art Malone driving Garlits
car (Garlits was still recovering from burns from his fire in
Chester, S.C.) in a match race against Eddie Hill. McClelland
was stunned that there was no one on the PA system talking about
this great racer and his story. He mentioned to the track manager
how weird that seemed and offered his services.
I'm sure this
had something to do with his hearing aids which he was accused
of turning off more than once during the evening.
the legendary 90-year-old Camfather, spoke at length
about his long relationship with Garlits in the 1960s, a partnership
and successes that were the staple of tons of full-page advertisements
in all of the drag racing publications. Then there was something
about a $10,000 check that Burgess covers in detail in his write-up.
for the 2012 NASCAR season to begin, Sid Waterman took a side
trip to Pomona to sit on the Rat Roast dias.
Among his stories
was tale from his youth about working for Mickey Thompson, who
asked him to make a piston delivery to Garlits in Fontana, Calif.
I said, Wow! A chance to meet Don Garlits! It was
not an easy drive in those days because there were no freeways,
but I finally got there and walked up to him all excited about
meeting Don Garlits. He was at this old gas station, so I walk
up to him, and he says to me, About goddamn time you got
here! That was my first meeting with Don.
The last roaster
was the legendary Don Prudhomme who surly has a books worth of
Garlits stories over the years. Like. When I first met
Garlits, I was a little intimidated by him because he was about
10 years older than me. Im 20, and hes 30. We were
racing at Union Grove, Wis., and coming down to the final round.
I was driving the B&M Torkmaster car, and this was it, for
all the money, and we didnt care about lights or anything
like that at night. You could see OK. So were going down
there, and, apparently, I got over into his lane and ran him
off the track. I dunno; all I know is that the win light came
on in my lane. Garlits was ranting and raving and just screaming
at me at the other end. I was just this young kid, and I was
so embarrassed; 'Oh my God, what am I going to do?' So all the
way back to the pits, I could hear him screaming, He tried
to kill me; he tried to kill me, and the spectators were
booing me. I ran up to the the Greek, who was taking
care of me back then and letting me run out of his shop, and
said, Greek, what do I do?
Before the last
live auction item (the huge event banner behind the dais) Don
got his parting shots in. As a side note, Force bought the banner
for a substantial figure and then gave it to Garlits.
Learn more about
Project 1320. What we do and how you can help. This
is an ambitious program to preserve our founder, before they
are all gone, on film for the ages.
Garlits Rat Roast by Phil Burgess on NHRA.com
(scroll down to article)
Extra: Some random shots from Pro Eliminations by Bob Brown
This was the
beginning of the second scariest incident of the meet. Well in
the lead at about 700' Jack Beckman's car made a wicked move
to the right putting him directly in front of Gary Densham.
A lesser driver
would have been underneath the Valvoline entry but miraculously
he just caught Beckman's wheelie bar before Jack whipped it back
into his lane.
quickest 1000' run ever.
Force vs Neff
- Massey vs Brown
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