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Reyes On Tour:

Top Fuel Dragsters (Part 3)

story by Aaron Green, photos by Steve Reyes

March 8th, 1970, a date that saw a transmission explosion that would forever change the face of Top Fuel drag racing. That is the date that "Big Daddy" Don Garlits cut his front engined Top Fueler in half leaving the line in the final round at Lion's Drag Strip in Long Beach, California, while running an experimental transmission. He blew off part of his right foot in the process. Instead of thinking of quitting drag racing, Garlits got mad, and he vowed to design a successful rear engined Top Fuel Dragster. The days of the slingshot Top Fueler were quickly coming to an end.

In 1971, Garlits returned to the same AHRA race at Lion's that had seen him receive serious injuries the year before. Little did the drag racing world know it was about to be knocked on its ear. Many thought Garlits had lost his mind trying to build a rear engined Top Fueler. The nay sayers were wrong. Garlits took runner up to "Mr. C" Gary Cochran (in a tradition slingshot) at that AHRA event at Lion's, and then went on to win the NHRA Winternationals at Pomona next. Later in the year Garlits won the NHRA Springnationals, and took runner up at the NHRA U.S. Nationals and the NHRA World Finals, back in the days when there were only a handful of NHRA national events. He had proved to the drag racing world that the rear engined Top Fueler worked and was here to stay. Chassis shops around the country burned the midnight oil building their own versions of Garlits successful rear engined machine, and by the end of 1972 there was not a competitive front engine Top Fuel car on the circuit. The slingshot was dead. Over the years Don Garlits rear engined car design has help to save many, many drivers from injury or death.

This month "Reyes on Tour" will show you what the Top Fuel world looked like in the early 1970's through the lens of ace photographer Steve Reyes. We have included some wild crash and burn footage this month, that shows you how the rear engine Top Fueler design that Don Garlits dreamed up in 1970 has helped to save other racers from serious injury and even death. Top Fuel racing is still a dangerous pursuit, but Garlits did make it safer by causing the death of the slingshot.

Today, Top Fuel Dragsters are much more powerful, quicker, and faster than they were in the early 1970's, however, they still employ the rear engined design dreamed up by "Big Daddy" Don Garlits while he was in a hospital bed recovering from that March 8th, 1970 Top Fuel final at Lion's. CN

Looking for a classic drag racing photo of your favorite car or star? Chances are Steve Reyes has it. Or if you would like a professional photo shoot with your car, you can contact Steve Reyes via e-mail at