With 88-year-old drag racing legend Don Garlits in his corner at Gainesville Raceway, two-time Top Fuel world champion Steve Torrence captured an Amalie Oil Gatornationals victory 50 years in the making.
The reigning NHRA Mello Yello Series champion delivered the victory driving a Capco Contractors dragster paying homage to Garlits’ famed “Swamp Rat 14” — a car he raced at the 1971 Gatornationals, not far from his home in Ocala, Florida. The car featured the livery and throwback logos that appeared on Garlits’ dragster — complete with a classic analog tachometer mounted in the bodywork forward of the windscreen.
Torrence defeated his father Billy, in an all-Capco finale, 3.80 to a 3.81, to earn his first career Gatornationals victory. It was, in fact, his first final round appearance at Gainesville. In the process, Steve assumed the Top Fuel points lead from Doug Kalitta, putting himself in a prime position for a third title with four races remaining.
“Don, I just want to say thanks for giving us an opportunity to run your car and to just celebrate the greatness of Don Garlits,” Torrence said after winning his third race of the season. “I never won here at Gainesville before, never even been to a final. But today, we had magic. We were racing ‘Big Daddy’s’ car and we got a win for ol’ Dom (a reference to friend and Capco crewman Dom Lagana who remains hospitalized with injuries suffered last month in a traffic accident.)”
As dominant as “Swamp Rat 14” was, it didn’t carry Garlits to victory at the ’71 Gators, as “Big Daddy” lost in the second round to eventual runner-up Sarge Arciero. Torrence’s “Swamp Rat 14” tribute car will go into the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing.