Gary Cagle, the Tough Ol' Bird, Makes One More Pass
by Don Prieto - 1994


The first I ever heard of Gary Cagle, like most people, I got him confused with Clark Cagle who, of course was of no relation. Gary had just set the Drag News 1320 fuel dragster record at 180 mph eclipsing the existing record of 176 held by one Don Garlits. Drag Racing was just coming into its' own and Cagle was quick to take advantage of his new record by booking and traveling to the East to do some match racing--such as it was.

This trip proved to be a big hardship on Cagles future. You see he crashed heavily at a dragstrip in Kansas exiting through the bottom of the car as it tumbled well past the finish line. The dragster was destroyed and Gary was broken up pretty bad--bad enough to affect his walking for the duration.

After a lengthy recovery period he was back in the drivers seat like nothing had ever happened. And over the years he drove all kinds of cars-- Dean Moon's Mooneyes old dragmaster car-- he had a modified roadster-- a full bodied dragster that he ran with partner Spike Briggs-- he drove Bonneville in Studebakers, roadsters, belly tankers--he did El Mirage in just about every shape car known to man--he did it all. But with no real financial success. Oh he won his share but he never was on top. His racing luck was average but his personal luck was horrendous. I mean he broke himself up bad in the above crash, but he also lost a leg to gunshot when he was a policeman---AND he lost an arm and an eye to a motorcycle accident. Like I said, he was a tough Ol' bird.

Besides being tough, he was often cantankerous and he was certainly not shy or intimidated when it came to dishing out his opinion about an issue or an event. I remember one incident at Lions Drag Strip he came to the starting line in that old yellow T roadster bodied dragster with blown Chrysler belching fire and the TorkMaster drive train causing it to lurch at every other turn of the engine (it was a difficult combination to control in the best of hands). Something happened to cause Cagles opponent to get a single run and the starter made Cagle shut off. Of course he felt he was wronged and he came out of the car with helmet, gloves and goggles flying bent on doing damage to the starter and C.J. Hart (then strip manager). It took several big guys to calm him down and keep him from punching someone.

One night at the UDRA (United Drag Racing Association) meeting at the old Tahitian Village, Cagle was being particularly vocal about his position regarding the purses to be paid out as he was the spokesman for the competition class (coupe and roadster bodies on dragster chasses) along with Butters & Gerard-- Bill Coburn--Frank Pedregon etc. His point to the board, dominated by Top Fuel owners and drivers, was that the comp class should get a share of the prize money because they were also fuel burners and it cost just as much to run them as it did a top fueler. Of course this brought about boos from the mostly top fuel crowd. On the other side of the room the late Dave Zeuschel yelled out "Little guy's suck" meaning that anyone who had a race car that did not run in top fuel was a little guy. This made Cagle crazy but he could see that he was greatly out numbered and didn't jump to his feet (foot) and take 'em on. He just sat there and steamed. When Daws Wafer and I had the "Little Guys Suck" t-shirts made and distributed he threatened to kill me, but he never caught me.

Eventually Gary drifted away from drag racing, but he remained active in the SCTA (Southern California Timing Association) where he was an official at the dry lakes meets and at Bonneville.. He did everything--every job he was asked to do. He was the guy who ran the wires, help erect the timing tower, look after the generator, laid out the course, mark the lanes--in effect, it would have taken a lot more help to get off a dry lakes meet had they not had Cagle to do all the grunt work--but he loved it.

A while back, Gary was coming home to L.A. from a meeting with the Bureau of Land Management on the future of the dry lake bed at El Mirage when he felt dizzy and had some chest pains. He pulled his motorhome over to the side of the road where he expired.


His son had his remains cremated and spent alot of time thinking about how best to dispose of the ashes and where. He hit upon an idea in a conversation with Larry (Engine Eddie) Huff driver of the Pure Hell Roadster. They agreed to take the ashes to Bakersfield for this years March Meet, sight of some of Cagles drag racing success. Huff and Owner Rich Guasco placed the ashes in the parachute pack.

With little ceremony, Huff brought the hot little roadster to the starting line with the headers cackling. He made a big smoky burnout and then an awesome pass--straight as a string- in the mid sixes with a speed in the
240s. It was the fastest pass Cagle had ever made. When the chute blossomed....




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