...Preparing for the California Challenge

1955...the journey had already began that would take me time after time to the ultimate heights
and the deepest depths.

When I beat
King Hogan and soon afterward when I won Top Eliminator at the National Hot Rod
Association Lake City Drag Safari with my fastest time ever (12.1 seconds at 108.17 MPH), I had
proved that I could beat the best in Florida.
Imagine my shock when I read the news from Great Bend, Kansas. At the NHRA National
Championships held there, Calvin Rice drove his J.E. Riley's streamlined, aluminum-body
slingshot dragster to top honors with an unbelievable 142.95 MPH and 10.30 seconds ET!

For me, it proved that what I had done thus far in Florida was so far off the pace that I would have
to do something radically different to run with the "big boys."

Quickly I sold the yellow `27 T in early 1956 to Art
Malone, a childhood friend who was gaining a
reputation as a charging stock car driver. Then I
started building a new dragster from scratch. With
the $500 Art paid me for the T, I bought a `31
Chevy frame and a `54 Chrysler Firepower V-8

My brother Ed had just come home from the Marines, so he joined me as we worked furiously for
14 days putting the new car together.

The basic design for the rail was inspired by Calvin Rice's championship slingshot dragster. Ours,
however, came out looking very original, down to the purple paint job and ugly, pointed, anteater-
looking nose piece.

We made our first runs with the car at Ft. Myers. The performance
was everything we had hoped for. Confident, we began hitting
events all over Florida. The car was a powerhouse champion, and
a growing collection of glossy trophies proved it.

At the same time I decided to open my own high performance
garage in Tampa. I wanted to race full time, and this was a step I
needed to make in order to fulfill my dreams.

I got a ramshackle service station at 12828 Nebraska Avenue, and
I was proud as a peacock of that simple sign outside: "Don's Garage."

I had gained enough of a reputation as a hot-rodder to bring in losts of business from aspiring
racers, but my main goal was involved with that car that held the place of honor inside the garage,
my rail job. Almost all of my spare time was spent tinkering with the car which was painted my
signature black by then.

    I spent the rest of 1956 and 1957 solidifying my
    fledgling garage business and adding to my trophy
    collection. I won the Florida State Championship in
    `56, and the next year I whipped the famous Emery
    Cook/Cliff Bedwell West Coast fuel dragster (the car
    that was once considered unbeatable) at the
    prestigious World Series of Drag Racing held near
    Cordova, and I set my first World Record, a
    blazing speed of 176.4 MPH at Brookville,

    Being the first dragster in the world to crack the 170
    MPH barrier and set a new world have meant more,
    but the West Coast people dismissed it as a fluke set
    by a Florida nobody. Still, the response to my world
    record was immediate and widespread from coast to
    coast. I got page one in many racing periodicals and
    began to pick up advertisers.

Then I topped the 170 MPH mark again while winning Top Eliminator purse at the big International
Timing Association meet in Chester, South Carolina, one of the richest in the nation. Besides
coming away with all the "gold," I had proven conclusively to the Californians that I was a force to
be reckoned with. I still hadn't met most of the front runners face to face, but the showdown was
becoming inevitable.

It was too perfect for the promoters to ignore.
I, for one, couldn't wait!

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RACING near RACING near beautiful Ocala,
Florida, be sure to let the fine staff know
that you saw the museum featured on
The "unbeatable" Cook and Bedwell
See a very special feature about  the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing at...
Goodbye `27 T, Hello World