U.S. Nationals Memorable Moments: Carbone upsets Garlits

Mac Tools U.S. Nationals Memorable Moments Moment No. 7: Carbone upsets Garlits in 'The Burndown' CLERMONT, Ind. --Don Garlits was voted the best drag racer in NHRA's first 50 years, but at the 1971 U.S. Nationals, he proved that even ...

U.S. Nationals Memorable Moments: Carbone upsets Garlits

Mac Tools U.S. Nationals Memorable Moments
Moment No. 7: Carbone upsets Garlits in 'The Burndown'

CLERMONT, Ind. --Don Garlits was voted the best drag racer in NHRA's first 50 years, but at the 1971 U.S. Nationals, he proved that even the best can be fallible.

Garlits was driving the revolutionary rear-engine dragster that he had debuted in January of that year after losing half of his right foot the previous January when the transmission in his front-engine-style dragster exploded. The innovative racer and his crack two-man team of Connie Swingle and T.C. Lemons had worked feverishly in the fall of 1970 to put the engine and transmission behind the driver. When they got the novel and previously uncompetitive style of dragster to work -- by slowing the steering ratio so that it wouldn't dart around at speed -- it worked far better than any slingshot dragster ever had. Garlits won virtually every race he entered in 1971, felled on occasion more by his own foul starts in his quicker-leaving dragster than by being outrun.

His opponent in the 1971 U.S. Nationals final was Steve Carbone, a veteran Top Fuel driver who for the 1971 season had assembled a state-of-the-art front-engine dragster, in part specifically to beat Garlits, who had beaten Carbone in the 1968 Indy final after taking what Carbone thought was too long to stage. By the time the two rolled into Indianapolis Raceway Park for the 1971 event, the feud pot had been heated to a boil.

Drag racing fans voted their thrilling final round meeting in 1971 as moment No. 7 in the top 20 Memorable Moments of the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. The final six moments will be announced in the weeks leading up to the 50th anniversary of the world's most prestigious drag race, Sept. 1-6, at Indianapolis Raceway Park. The top five moments will be revealed on Monday, Sept. 6, during pre-race ceremonies prior to final eliminations.

"I had [Carbone] covered completely," said Garlits, "but word was going around that I was going to have to stage first. Well, there is no rule that says anybody has to stage first. I gave the race away by being stupid. I should have gone right up there and staged, and it would have been all over. I hated myself."

Two weeks before Indy, according to the second edition of Garlits' book Big Daddy, Garlits had been reinstated at the big independent Popular Hot Rodding Meet in Martin, Mich., on what was known as the break rule after his first-round foul; because he had the quickest losing e.t. of the round, Garlits advanced when a competitor couldn't return for the next round. Garlits then outclassed the competition with 6.3-second times and beat Carbone in the final round.

One week before Indy, according to Carbone, who like Garlits remembers the 1971 Indy final as if it were run yesterday, the two competed at a 16-car AHRA event in Ohio. Carbone lost each preliminary round but got back in on the break rule every time before losing once again in the final round -- to Garlits. For his part, Garlits was none too pleased that he had to race Carbone, who now had the second-quickest car in the field, for a fourth time.

In Indianapolis, Garlits dominated qualifying with a 6.21 best that was almost two-tenths quicker than the 6.39 from No. 2 Carbone. Garlits cruised through the first four rounds of the 32-car field by margins of 6.28 to 6.65, 6.32 to 6.46, 6.25 to 6.44, and 6.31 to an early shutoff 7.29. Carbone had been fortunate to advance on three red-lights and had run 6.39 on his only full pass.

After Carbone won the coin toss for final-round lane choice, Garlits added, "Let's flip to see who stages first." A determined Carbone answered, "We don't need to flip for that because you are."

Garlits: "No I'm not."

Carbone: "We'll see."

This was still in the days of push starts, and because Carbone had run an extra dose of water through his engine block to cool it further, his car didn't start as easily. As a result, Garlits started first. He also did his burnout and pre-staged first.

"He was playing right into my hands," Carbone said.

Carbone turned on his top light, and then they just sat there. Carbone had said previously that he would sit there until Garlits staged first or "until I ran out of fuel or the headers melted off."

After a period, the late NHRA Chief Starter Buster Couch waved photographers and others back from the starting line (before restraint straps and engine blankets, parts flew when engines blew).

"I saw smoke beginning to come out of the valve-cover breathers and thought, 'It's going to be an oil bath at the top end,'" Carbone said.

After about two minutes, Lemons stepped up and waved Garlits forward. Carbone followed immediately and the race was on -- then over almost as quickly. Garlits' tires began spinning before he reached the Tree while Carbone was hooked up and marching. Carbone won by a 6.48 to 6.65 margin with both running 229 mph.

Recalled Carbone, "I let the clutch out, and then I didn't see him. I kept waiting to see him, thinking, 'He'll be here any minute.' Then, 'Hmmm, that's the first light; I won this damn thing.'"


The following lists results (Memorable Moments 20-7) to date of an online vote at nhra.com where NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series fans determined the order of the top 20 Memorable Moments from the last 49 years of the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, the most prestigious drag racing event in the world. Position six will be revealed prior to the historic race. The top five moments will be announced during pre-race ceremonies on Monday, Sept. 6 at Indianapolis Raceway Park.

No. 20 -- 1958: Ted Cyr drives outdated 'Old Blue' to winner's circle

Ted Cyr and partner Bill Hopper brought two entries to Oklahoma City, a new lightweight supercharged entry, painted orange, and their old reliable unblown dragster, painted blue with shoe-polished "For Sale" lettered on the nose and driver cowling. The orange car carried the team's primary hopes of winning the "Big Go," while the blue entry was considered spare parts. Cyr piloted both, hopping back and forth between the entries, but it was "old Blue" that carried him to the national championship.

No. 19 -- 1969: Santucci chokes on gum, doesn't choke in final

The late Domenic "D.A." Santucci, a respected Top Gas racer from Pittsburgh who had yet to win a national event, choked on his gum when the chute hit on a qualifying run, and it became lodged in his throat. After surviving that funny but potentially dangerous episode, the future fuel Funny Car independent plowed through a huge field Monday and won the final on former Indy Top Fuel winner Phil Hobbs' foul start.

No. 18 -- 1961: Sneaky Pete's Big Idea

While the majority of his competitors were using horsepower produced from Chrysler engines, "Sneaky" Pete Robinson chose the road less traveled and raced to victory in a lightweight Chevy dragster with a single engine.

No. 17 -- 1974: Marvin Graham stuns TF field

Marvin Graham, an Oklahoma City television repairman unknown to all but the most hardcore drag racing fans, came from nowhere to win the premier category in drag racing's premiere race. He ran a series of competitive 6-teens and 6.0s to win the rain-delayed race on a Tuesday morning and went on to a distinguished career that included three more wins before his retirement in 1982.

No. 16 -- 1966: Snively mirrors the Snake

In the mid-1960s, Indy may have meant more than it does now simply because there were only four nationals per year. Don Prudhomme, driving Roland Leong's Hawaiian dragster, had swept the two biggest races of the season, the Winternationals and Indy, in 1965, then left to form his own Torkmaster team. In 1966, while Prudhomme initially struggled on his own, his replacement in the Hawaiian, the late Mike Snively, defied the odds and duplicated Prudhomme's feat, sweeping both Pomona and Indy in 1966.

No. 15 -- 1955: Calvin Rice wins the first U.S. Nationals

The one that started it all: NHRA's first National Champion was crowned in a race that began on the 8,000-foot runway at the Great Bend Municipal Airport in Kansas and finished two months later in Arizona, where 25-year-old Calvin Rice of Santa Ana, Calif., defeated Fred Voight.

No. 14 -- 1991: The Impossible Double

Dominating Top Alcohol Funny Car racer Pat Austin nearly pulled off an amazing double category win when he entered the U.S. Nationals in both Top Alcohol Funny Car and Top Fuel. After winning the AFC title moments earlier, Austin's dragster, which he purchased from the estate of the late Gary Ormsby, broke at the start of the burnout in the Top Fuel final. An emotional Austin climbed from his car and watched helplessly from the guardwall as Kenny Bernstein rolled on for the unopposed victory.

No. 13 -- 1967: First Funny Car eliminator

Doug Thorley dominates a talented Funny Car field in a true Chevy-powered entry. NHRA used the U.S. Nationals as the backdrop for the first Funny Car eliminator.

No. 12 -- 1963: Introducing the Christmas Tree

Teenager Bobby Vodnik, acting on a tip that revealed the Christmas Tree would be used in place of flag starters for the first time at the '63 U.S. Nationals, was the surprise winner after the 19-year-old driver put months of pre-race practice into perfecting his reaction time to the new device. Ironically, Vodnik's final round opponent, Don Garlits suffered a red-light start in the final.

No. 11 -- 1972: The Rookie

Top Fuel rookie Gary Beck surprised everyone with an upset over Jerry Ruth in the final round. Holding his NHRA competition license for only two weeks, Beck promptly entered the biggest drag race of them all and earned his first victory in his pro debut.

No. 10 -- 1976: Burgin ends Snake's streak

Gary Burgin, a Southern California veteran who always ran hard but never won any national events or appeared in any final rounds, stunned Don Prudhomme in the Funny Car finale, handing "the Snake" his only loss in what still stands as the greatest season in the sport's history, regardless of category. Prudhomme hazed the tires and suffered what would be his only loss from September 1975 to March 1977.

No. 9 -- 2001: Big Daddy Returns, Part II

At age 69, Big Daddy Don Garlits returned to competition at the U.S. Nationals during the NHRA's celebration of its 50th Anniversary. He accomplished his mission in clocking a performance quicker than five seconds and faster than 300 mph. Paired for the qualifying round alongside another ageless veteran, 71-year-old Chris Karamesines, Garlits steered Gary Clapshaw's dragster to a time of 4.720 seconds at 303.37 mph. Earlier in the weekend, Garlits squared off in another memorable qualifying round with Shirley Muldowney, as the pair were given the green light by original NHRA Safety Safari member and longtime NHRA Chief Starter Buster Couch.

No. 8 -- 1988: Bob Glidden dominates Indy

Bob Glidden earned his fourth consecutive U.S. Nationals victory, and his ninth overall at the prestigious event. The win was Glidden's 12th consecutive final round appearance at the U.S. Nationals, one of the most remarkable final round runs in NHRA history.

No. 7 -- 1971: The Burndown

Steve Carbone and Don Garlits pull to the starting line for the Top Fuel final and one of the most intense staging duels begins. Prior to the final round, Carbone insisted that he would not stage first in response to a Garlits-psyche job that he felt cost him the 1968 Top Fuel final. Carbone out-waited Garlits in one of the most dramatic burndowns in NHRA history. When the race finally started, Carbone's strategy paid off as he rumbled to the victory over the heavily-favored Big Daddy.


1967: Big Daddy Loses His Beard

After failing to qualify at the Springnationals earlier in the season, Don Garlits vowed not to shave his beard until he ran his first six-second run. Garlits used some Indy magic to record his first six-second run (6.77 seconds) when he needed it the most, in a final round win over rival James Warren, who clocked a 6.95. Ironically, it was Warren who gave Garlits a fresh set of tires for eliminations. Before the memorable final, Garlits offered to return the tires, but the confident Warren declined. Following the round, 20,000 fans cheered as Garlits' beard was shaved off in a dramatic winner's circle celebration.

1970: The Crash

After Don Prudhomme wins a close final round encounter over Jim Nicoll, 6.45 to 6.48, a clutch explosion on Nicoll's car sends debris in all directions as his car was speeding along at more than 225 mph. What was left of his slingshot dragster slid hundreds of feet to a stop. Nicoll emerged from the wreckage with only bumps and bruises.

1978: Mongoose bites Snake

Still shaken by the death of his son Jamie to leukemia weeks earlier, Tom "The Mongoose" McEwen earned the biggest victory of his career, defeating storied Hot Wheels rival Don "The Snake" Prudhomme. Ironically, it was Prudhomme that offered support for the still-grieving McEwen and encouraged him to enter the event as a form of therapy. For McEwen, who clocked a career-best run of 6.05 seconds during the final round meeting, the victory avenged a lifetime of being outperformed by Prudhomme.

1982: Shirley's Victory

Shirley Muldowney defeated former companion and crew chief Connie Kalitta in this legendary grudge match. At the time, an emotional Muldowney called the victory "the race of her life."

1982: Snake Clocks the Run of All Time

With engine oil trailing in his wake, Don Prudhomme made what most fans still consider the run of all time, regardless of category. He clocked a 5.63-second effort, nearly two-tenths of-a-second better than any Funny Car had run prior.

1984: Big Daddy Returns, Part I

After a lull in his drag racing career which had him contemplating retirement, Big Daddy Don Garlits, 52, returned to form with a final round victory over Connie Kalitta. The win sparked Garlits to earn U.S. Nationals titles the next two seasons and back-to-back NHRA championships in 1985-'86. Garlits won the U.S. Nationals eight times during his storied Top Fuel career.


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