It is considered the Woodstock
of drag racing. Most seasoned drag race veterans remember it
as the launch pad and real starting point for national recognition
as a major league sport. It is called March Meet 1, and it was
held the weekend of February 28 and March 1, 1959 in Bakersfield,
CA. That was the two days of competition, but the buildup to
this colossal clash started almost two years before.
The year 1958 opens and the fast
cats on the west coast are getting a little restless. This Don
Garlits guy stunned them all with his 1957 performances, namely
the mind blowing combo of 176.40 mph at 8.79 in early November.
However, they pretty much looked at what he had done to this
point as a nuisance. The consensus by the So Cal bunch was any
super times ran way over there on those concrete tracks on the
east coast, with their questionable timing systems, were simply
bogus. They had a point. All the hot shoes who contested this
top class had just recently broken the 160 mph barrier and were
satisfied with a mid-one sixty run anytime. Then some guy not
only is the first to one-seventy, he crushes it. "Not fair,
it was a concrete track", shouted the boys of asphalt. "Let's
see him do it where we can see it" they demanded.
The new top speed mark that all
top fuel racers were after at this particular juncture in drag
racing was 170 mph. Only Garlits had gotten there, but only he
As was with all the previous
speed goals, whoever topped this magic milestone would be granted
top dog status and probably the most feared at subsequent meets.
Maybe better, he would have bragging rights ant the respect of
every guy in this top fuel class.
But as the year 1958 began unfolding,
more noise was heard from that south Florida camp known now as
Don's Speed Shop. Over the weekend of February 8 and 9 in Kissimmee,
Florida, Garlits posted a top speed mark of 163.33 on his way
to top eliminator. Not close to the 170 mark, however, no one
else at the time was running this fast and the top boys on the
left coast were having a tough time topping 160. You just knew
there were a lot of late nights in the So Cal shops looking for
more speed to shut this guy up.
The acknowledged number one fastest
top fueler on the west coast here in early 1958 was the immaculate
digger of Chrisman Bros and Cannon, driven by Art Chrisman. They
were the one car no one wanted to see at any given race. Then
on April 13th at historic Bakersfield a someone else reared their
head and threw their hat into the ring. Hashim-Hylton-Crossley's
top fuel dragster cranked out a 161.57 but most impressive was
the fact that it was one of six runs at over 160 mph by this
car at this meet! A week later at Santa Ana Art Chrisman took
top eliminator honors, so he wasn't going away, even though in
this meet he was using gas and not fuel.
Then things started heating up.
The white hot HH&C put a lap in of 165.44 at another California
track, Kingdon, on June 1st. The same day, at a different race,
up jumps Jack Ewell driving the Kamboor-Jado machine with a stout
165.13 to let the world know there is one more fast cat out here!
While all this was going on over
the past few months, something else was quietly being put in
motion. It seems the Texas contingent decided to take matters
in their own hands and would do what it took to get Mr. Don Garlits
to come to their biggie race, scheduled for June 6 and 7 in Wichita
Falls, Texas. It is to be sanctioned by the NHRA and there were
promises from some So Cal top fuel guys that they would, in deed,
be there if Mr. Garlits would be there. "Now what would
it take to pull this off", they pondered. "450 bucks
and I'm there", Garlits told them. "Deal", shot
back the Texas bunch.
And they did not waste any time
letting the drag racing world about their score. "If you
want this guy come get 'em", was now the challenge they
threw at all folks who campaigned a top fuel dragster - and any
gasser who wanted to switch to fuel just for this opportunity
to take on that guy from somewhere east. Don Garlits will be
at the 1st Annual Southern Invitational Drag Races June 6 and
An ad came out in Drag News Magazine
in April touting this event so everyone had time to arrange their
schedule to make sure they were there. Like that was a problem.
It was now going to be very interesting to see who doesn't show.
One guy who definitely would be there is Bobby Langley. Langley
was a home grown Texas boy and as fast as any guy out there.
What about Hashim-Hilton-Crossley? They were running the fastest
times of all the California dudes, would they miss this? And
Chrisman Bros.-Cannon - how could they pass on a showdown of
Well both were a no-show. No
HH&C and no Chrisman. The famous roadster Speed Sport Special
did make the trip from California though. It's probably just
as well. No one was a match for Garlits. On his trek to the winners
circle he beat Bobby Langley, besting Langley's state top speed
and ET records in the process, and beating the SSS roadster in
the fuel final. Garlits would head home with a top eliminator
trophy, top time and ET for the race, and owner of new speed
and ET records for the great state of Texas.
This particular weekend in Texas
would later become the lightning rod for the all drag racers
that competed in the sports fastest class. The man was paid to
come as close as mid-Texas from way over there in Florida to
race but none of the big guns from Southern California felt it
necessary or worthwhile to pounce on an opportunity to show Garlits
who is boss.
Big mistake. The events that
transpired over the last half of the year 1958 would only fuel
the budding rivalry between Garlits and the So Cal bunch and
the necessity for a showdown would build to a fever pitch, especially
since they all had a chance to race the man from the Swamps ,right
here in Texas, but passed.
August 3, 1958. Hashim-Hilton-Crossley
hits that coveted and elusive one-hundred-and-seventy miles per
hour mark! One small problem though. In his congratulatory exuberance
the beat writer referred to this achievement as the absolute
best, "In the western drag racing circles".
Oh, me. That can't sit too well.
Now, doesn't that pretty much acknowledge Garlits' big run of
176 back in late 1957?
At this stage, the drag racing
world is begging for a showdown. So Garlits makes a move to fan
the flame a little more. He concludes there is only one way to
bring this thing to a head.
He puts Swamp Rat 1 up for sale.
In the August 9, 1958 Drag News
page three has a little two-inch square box that says, FOR SALE
- WORLDS FASTEST DRAGSTER
complete with a nice picture
of the car, contact information, and this statement:
"Going into retirement,
business obligations make it impossible to continue racing the
Can you imagine the reaction
over there in all those So Cal race shops? Had they lost their
chance at this guy? Should one of them buy it and destroy it?
Well, before anyone could react,
Mr. Garlits either didn't get what he wanted in the two weeks
it was available, or he added to his staff at Don's Speed Shop.
He decided to stay in the top fuel business and showed up at
the big race in Cordova, IL.
And wouldn't you know it, this
happens. At Cordova August 24, Garlits tears off three runs over
170 with a best of 172.08. Then the Drag News cover for the September
20th issue has Don and Pat Garlits proudly standing next to the
world record holder herself - Swamp Rat 1 top fuel dragster.
On we go. At Montgomery, NY Garlits
shatters the ET record with an off-the-chart 8.36.
at Riverside November 9th, and then 172.08 two weeks later in
Where's Chrisman? Well, Chrisman
is competing and winning but he is running gas. That is about
As the end of 1958 nears the
inevitable is taking shape. All these boys from So Cal and that
guy from swampland have to meet at one location and have at each
other to decide just who is the baddest top fuel dragster on
We know now this did happen,
in March of 1959, at the most anticipated drag race in the history
of the sport, and is simply know as March Meet 1. One big reason
that clash of titans finally occurred was due in a big part to
what transpired in the lead up years of 1957 and 1958. Had the
So Cal guys jumped on the chance to settle something back in
June of 1958 at Wichita Falls, TX, and let a little air out of
the balloon, MM1 would not have been so meaningful.
But then, for us who attended
that March Meet 1, are we glad they didn't.