I wish I had a dollar for every time someone has asked me where I got my
nickname, “Big Daddy.”
The truth is that it was almost by accident.
By the early 1960s, I had already been known by a number of names—“The
Swamp Rat,” “Tampa Dan” (yes, they couldn't even get my first name right) and
“Don Garbage”—mostly thrown at me by the Californians and Midwesterners
who couldn’t believe that a guy from Florida could keep up with them.
By that time, however, I was running in the 180s
and setting top speed records, so their
nicknames didn’t mean too much anymore.
At the same time, press agents in the quickly
growing sport of drag racing had become a
strong, slick force. Almost every big-name driver
was being tabbed by some eye-catching label
that could be easily recognized and widely
There was Bobby “The Scorpion” Langly, Lyle
Fisher’s “Speed Sport Roadster,” Art “The Green
Monster” Arfons, Chris “The Greek” Karamesines,
“TV” Tommy Ivo and so many more.
During practice at the Indy Nationals that year I
didn’t do too well at first, but finally I really smoked
one, a great run, and the crowd went wild. Bernie
Partridge, the announcer, bellowed, “Well, it looks
like BIG DADDY’s gonna do awriiight!!”
The crowd loved it. The strip promoters and press
people grabbed it immediately and began calling
me that. In that one impromptu moment, I became
known by the nickname that people would always
It was first used by “Big Daddy”
Don Roth, a wildly creative,
far-out California pop artist
whose "Rat Fink" designs
adorned sweatshirts, T-shirts
and customized cars, but it
was hung on me that day and
stuck for good.
Frankly, I didn’t mind the nickname then,
especially when the press mentioned it when I
crossed the finish line first.
Suddenly, partly because of the nickname and
mostly because of some wins, but the time I won
the 1963 NHRA Winternationals, my name was as
big as any in drag racing. Not long after that,
during early 1964, I finally broke the “impossible”
barrier of 200 MPH.
Each of the sport’s frontrunners knew that the
first official two-century mark would mean a small
fortune in promotional money. That one run in the
“"Wynn's Jammer" finally did it. Drag racing
history was made that day. And there was no
looking back, not for “Big Daddy” Don Garlits!
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Two great drag-racing legends,
Art Arfons atop his "Green
Monster" and "TV" Tommy Ivo
Rat," "Tampa Dan"
Garbage" to "Big
Daddy" with one
|Call me any nickname you want, as
long as you call me the winner!