Veteran Nitro Funny Car pilot Roger Garten, 69, tragically lost his life on Sunday morning due to injuries sustained in two car incident at the Auto Club Famoso Raceway’s Saturday Night Nitro event.
The Fallbrook, California native had qualified earlier in the event with a 5.92 in his “War Horse” 1973 Mustang and was lined up alongside Matt Bynum during eliminations when his car reportedly crossed the centerline around the 300-foot mark and made contact with Bynum’s machine. The pair of cars ended up well down the race track, with both bodies torn from the chassis.
Safety crews had to cut Garten from the chassis and transported him to the Kern Medical Center by ambulance for what was believed by many to be a routine observation. However, news began to trickle through the drag racing community on Sunday morning that Garten, one of the most respected racers in the sport, had succumbed to his injuries.
Bynum was uninjured in the accident.
Garten’s drag racing career was particularly unique, as he’d entered the sport with great success before stepping away for nearly three full decades. Garten got his start in the blown Gasser ranks before joining forces with Mike Tocco and Harry Harper to field a AA/Fuel Altered. Then in 1973, Garten and Tocco debuted the original War Horse at the Winternationals. Garten was a regular at Southern California venues such as OCIR, Irwindale, Fremont, and Sacramento, and won the Division 7 championship in 1975. He then promptly retired from the sport.
Following his retirement from the construction industry in 2010 and with nostalgia racing soaring in popularity, Garten brought the War Horse back to drag racing. He attended Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School and earned his NHRA license. Then he, along with Tocco, assembled the new War Horse — featuring a Plueger chassis and a Brad Anderson powerplant with Alan Johnson cylinder heads and a ’73 Mustang body, to go racing with the NHRA Hot Rod Heritage and IHRA Nitro Jam Series, along with match races and other events. Garten qualified at every event he attended that first season and even won the Sacramento Nitro Night of Fire — an event he’d won in the original War Horse 35 years earlier.
Like everyone in the racing community, our thoughts are with Garten’s wife, Carlene, and the entire Garten family and War Horse team.
Photos by Jeff Burghardt