DON GARLITS 30TH ANNUAL DRAG RACING HALL OF FAME

Story and Photos by: Phil Hutchison

I’ve been attending the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame ceremony for a long time. But this year’s edition will go down as one of the most surreal banquets I have ever been to. First, hours before the start of the banquet, NHRA announced that the professional cars at the Gatornationals would not be racing that weekend due to the coronavirus and that a make up date would be announced later. And if that was not enough to cast a pall of weirdness to the night’s activities, our host, Don Garlits would not be in attendance due to his brother Ed’s health issues and that Garlits and his family were at the hospital with Ed. 

During the evening, awards were presented, introductions and speeches were made, dinner was served, drinks were consumed, but something was off. The usual guests such as Don Schumacher and John Force were not in attendance. There were NHRA stars there like Jack Beckman, and Ron Capps along with Larry Dixon Jr. But the room seemed emptier than usual. 

NHRA announcer Joe Costello was the master of ceremonies for the evening, a first after years of Bob Frey working the mike. The first inductee of the evening was Robert “Bones” Balogh. Balogh, who made a name for himself during the California gasser wars of the 60’s and working for cam grinder wizard Ed Iskendarian, was introduced by Jack Beckman.

Top Fuel tuner extraordinaire Lee Beard was next to enter the Hall of Fame and was introduced by former funny car racer Whit Bazemore. Beard, who began his career as a driver, tuned some of the quickest cars in the country including Jerry Ruth, Gary Ormsby during his run to NHRA world champ, Kenny Bernstein and Larry Minor to name just a few of the drivers he helped make famous.

California racer Don Enriguez was next to be inducted and Greg Crawford did the introducing. Enriguez was a pioneer in the unblown A/FD class and he along with partner Gene Adams terrorized the West Coast with their dragster winning class at the NHRA Winternationals and Super Nationals in 1970. Later the team moved up to Alcohol Dragster again, winning races and setting records along the way. Enriguez still is active in the nostalgia scene and competes in the NHRA Heritage Junior Fuel Championship which he has won four straight times.

Pro Stock and Drag Racing School impresario Roy Hill was up next and former IHRA honcho Ted Jones and fellow racer and track manager Steve Earwood introduced Hill. After few years of campaigning a Chrysler Super Stocker in the late 60’s, Roy got his start in Pro Stock with a Petty Enterprises prepped Hemi Duster that, other than the Sox and Martin team and a handful of Chrysler sponsored racers, held his own against some of the best during the beginning years of Pro Stock. Later Hill switched to Ford power and was, along with Bob Glidden, the face of the Blue Oval at the drag strip. In addition to his racing, Hill also found time to open Roy Hill’s Drag Racing School, which included instruction on how to drive everything from Pro Mod to a Junior Dragster.

Billy Meyer, who, as a teenager, burst upon the funny car scene in the early 70’s driving his Mustang funny car to a slew of wins including the 1972 Manufacturers Funny Car championship at Orange County, which was unheard of in the day. During his driving career, Meyer finished in the top 10 of the NHRA Winston Series Championship 10 out of 11 times and was three-time Winston series runner up. After he hung up his driving gloves, Meyer built the Texas Motporplex in 1986. The track, the first all-concrete stadium style facility, set the tone for future tracks in the US.

Driver, team owner, off-road racer, and one time potato farmer Larry Minor has done it all. As a driver and team owner, Minor set records throughout his career and produced NHRA championships with Gary Beck winning the title in 1983 in Top Fuel and later Cruz Pedregon in Funny Car in 1992. Minor also introduced the sport to non-automotive sponsors such as Miller Beer and McDonalds which become major sponsors on both his dragsters and funny cars.

The Pat Garlits Memorial Award is one of the highlights of the evening and unfortunately, this year’s recipient, Etta Glidden could not attend. Accepting for Etta was Sandra Mizell.

The last award of the evening, the Founders Award, does not go to a racer, owner, or tuner, but to someone who has shown a love of the sport through other forms such as a writer, photographer, etc. This year’s recipient Don Prieto is unique as Prieto began as a driver and owner in New Orleans, LA. After a stint owning a Top Fuel dragster Prieto made his move to journalism in 1966 as editor of Drag Racing Magazine. During his run as editor, Prieto pushed tacks into providing better facilities for the racers and the fans. After Drag Racing Magazine, Prieto moved to Peterson Publishing and later SEMA. Prieto was instrumental in lobbying the US Congress on behalf of the high performance industry. Prieto continues to cruise around in his hot rods and is still part of the nostalgia scene, as he owns the Frank Cannon Hustler VI dragster along with Tommy Ivo’s original Buick powered dragster.