The Race to 200
Whether we like it or not, hot rodding has always been a competition. Faster. Quicker. Better looking. Nobody ever wanted to come in second. High performance often led to high excitement, especially in the world of drag racing. Rivalries formed, making things extra fun for fans that filled grandstands from coast to coast.
During the early 1960s, everyone was wondering who would be the first to break 200mph in the quarter mile. Was it even possible? What kind of car would it take? And what kind of fuel? Things progressed rapidly. Cars got longer, lighter and sleeker. The big 2-0-0 grew ever closer. The Greek was first. Or was he? Unofficially, yes. But the first official 200 went to none other than “Big Daddy” Don Garlits in August 1964.
The other day, I came across a great 8mm movie—shot by Al Brown—that captures the excitement of those record-setting passes.
As I watched the action, I thought back to one of the best drag racing articles I’ve ever read: “FAME AND TERROR AT 200MPH.” Written by Mark Kram for Sports Illustrated in August 1964, it shows another side of Garlits that I wouldn’t have picked up from the other publications. It paints a picture of him not as a hot rod superhero, but as a family man from Florida with a job he has to do. It’s not a fluff piece; it’s very, very real.
If you’re interested, you can read it in its entirety here. Oh, and the SI vault has all sorts of good stuff. I’ve spent quite some time reading some incredible articles in there. Just another great resource for those looking to view hot rod history through a different lens.
Lead photo from the aforementioned SI article