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Drag Racing Story of the Day!

Don Garlits and his Museum

By Robert Post

As someone who spent 25 years in the museum business -- and who also knows as well as anyone that there is both a Good Don and a Bad Don -- I feel that I must speak up on behalf of the work Garlits has done at his museum: not only building a collection that is light-years ahead of any other, but also the restoration work he has done in his own shop. Yes, I understand that you can walk through the museum and see that (say) the spindles on such-and-such a car aren't correct, or that the butterfly or wheels on such-and such a car aren't original. But, by and large, Garlits has addressed a multiplicity of restoration projects and problems with absolutely the right instincts.

Some cars merit full-blown restoration, some are better off with just cosmetic work, some ought to remain pretty much as is when received (people who restore their own race cars have a lamentable if understandable tendency to go overboard). But anyone who thinks that the workmanship and attention to detail on full-blown restorations is in any way deficient ought to hang around there, as I have, when something is given the treatment. 

For starts, the museum has complete runs of just about every drag-racing periodical that ever existed (that's why I was hanging around), so this maximizes chances of finding the proper photographic references. Garlits also has stockpiled a huge cache of parts and pieces, about 50-years-worth, so this maximizes his chances of finding proper replacements when components are missing. The people he has doing bodywork and paint are always first-class, and I'd rate the general quality of care and craftsmanship as up to most of anything I ever saw done at the Smithsonian.

Most important, though -- as Cole [Coonce] notes -- Garlits beat everyone to the punch, and, given the increasing scarcity of truly historic cars, I'm quite certain that nobody will ever be able to match his collection of original drag-racing machinery. Sure, you can build replicas from scratch, or starting from a box of miscellaneous components that are said to be original, but that's another matter altogether.

Bob Post

Robert Post is a curator at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History and the author of the excellent High Performance, The Culture and Technology of Drag Racing 1950 1990. He wrote this letter in response to some minor criticisms of some of Don's restorations. bp

 

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