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Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing

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Drag racing—the straight dash over 1/4 of a mile from a standing start for the shortest elapsed time—is a form of racing unique to the US.” – The National Museum of American History

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It’s just a 55 minute trip from Brookville to visit Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing. Billboard signs along I-75 for Don Garlits make travelers who are not necessarily drag racing enthusiasts curious enough to see what this place is all about.  

Known to many as “Big Daddy,” Don Garlits was born in Tampa, Florida in 1932.  He is an American race car driver and automotive engineer. He is known for drag racing and is the first racer to surpass speeds ranging from 170 mph to 270 mph marks in the quarter mile.

His challenges, victories, in the face of death is the reason why so many people refer to him as a ‘Living Legend,’ which pretty much sums it up all in two words.

Garlits’ inner drive for speed made his life on the drag racing strip inspirational to his grandson, Rodney Garlits, who now runs the museum. 

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Rodney remarked, “I admire him, because he is the only father figure that I had growing up. Him and I were very close. He would pick me from school as a kid in all these hotrods.”

Rodney Garlits, 29, began to study physical therapy but that wasn’t his final destination.

“There has always been that feeling deep down inside that I belonged here. I felt like I was veering down a path that would have been successful, but it wouldn’t have been the right choice for me,” Garlits said. “I’m really the only one [in the family] that is interested in carrying this on for the next generation.”

While only a few months into learning the business side of the museum, Rodney personally knows the value of his grandfather’s business as well as the importance of maintaining his fan and customer based relationships.

“He is a good role model and a very smart businessman. He took me under his wing and wanted to show me basically how to run a company,” Garlits said. “He really appreciates his fans and does everything he can to help inspire the youth.”

After Don Garlits participated in the first international drag race festival in England: The Goodwood Festival of Speed, he began to form his own idea for celebrating the sport of drag racing. Don and his wife, Pat, began their their tribute to drag racing on their own property in Seffner, Florida in 1976.   In order to share this growing collection of memorabilia with others, the couple purchased the property off of I-75 and opened the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing in 1983. 

Rodney is grateful to his grandfather for the opportunity to learn the business and continue it for generations to come.

“I am very thankful for him taking the time to teach me the company and how to conduct business.  I would really like to express to him how thankful I am for all the meetings that we’ve had one on one so that one day I will be able to carry this place on and make it greater than it is today. I have had the most magnificent time of my life being around him,” Garlits expressed.

From racing on old abandoned military airways in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s to sharing history, memories and possibly new found inspirations, The Don Garlits Drag Racing Museum in worth the trip. Visitors can see the how drag racing has transformed throughout the years, view a variety of cars from many accomplished drivers and learn the mechanics and innovations that still push the limits on the asphalt.

 

Upcoming events:

Saturday November 2nd: 2nd Annual Mopars & More with “Big Daddy” Don Garlits &

The Twilight Cruisers

See more upcoming events on their website: http://garlits.com/

 

Address: 13700 SW 16th Ave, Ocala, FL 34473

(Exit 341 on I-75)

Phone:  (352) 245-8661

Lisa MacNeil
Lisa MacNeil
Lisa MacNeil is a reporter for the Hernando Sun as well as a business technology developer, specializing in website development, content management systems, and data analysis.
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