Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Ocala, Florida

The wonderful thing about the Don Garlits Museum and Drag Racing Hall of Fame is that it is almost completely incomprehensible. The displays are haphazard and out of sequence, as if the interior were arranged with the great care and complete idiosyncrasy of a child arranging a museum of his Hot Wheels. Tucked in the middle of an aisle is Joe Amato's 1984 Top Fuel car, the first to reach 260 mph on a quarter mile track. (It uses 45 gallons of gas per minute.) Elsewhere, the Navy Rocket Car, which has run over 300 mph more than any other car in the world. The placards list specifications that may or may not be useful: Isky Roller Cam and Rev Kit; Jim Diest 16 Ft. Ring Slot Chute; Dart Water Heads; Hamburger 12 qt. pan.

Garlits's actual cars are all named “Swamp Rat”—but at the museum, Swamp Rat XXX might come before Swamp Rat III but after Swamp Rat XII. They have long aluminum bodies and massive rear tires and bicycle wheels on the front. The same sponsor logos that cover his cars cover the walls of the museum, competing for eye space with exhibits you are there to see.

What I like best about the museum is that there is no coherent narrative whatsoever. It's not difficult to make one out of Garlits' life, whether his transition from Garbage Don to Big Daddy Garlits or he story of the partial loss of his foot in a drag racing explosion. And there are other stories as well: Drag racers are nicknamed Snake and The Mongoose, and Garlits's collection has a mess of experimental cars that cost thousands of dollars and never quite worked out. Oh, and the World's Largest Drag Trophy, which is, appropriately, from Texas.

Not having a narrative keeps outsiders out. We don't know why Swamp Rat XX is worth looking at, don't know why Garlits likes Dodge engines so much. It's an exclusivity, and way of making sure that those who don't get it continue not to get it. It's a way of keeping something for yourself.

No comments: