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Don Garlits’ Swamp Rat III at EMMR

Swamp Rat III A, Don Garlits’ first Chrome Moly tubing car built in 1960, is now on display at EMMR.

Garlits was sidelined due to injuries in 1961, so Connie Swingle drove the Top Fuel dragster in a match race against Art Malone at Detroit Dragway. The car was successful during the summer of 1961 reaching a top speed of 189.43 mph in 8.23 seconds.

On August 6, 1961, Swingle was hoping to break the 200-mph mark at Emporia, Virgina. His parachute failed to open at the end of his run, and Swamp Rat III rolled off the end of the drag strip into a grove of pine trees.  Swingle escaped with minor injuries, but the frame was totaled. Garlits and his team rushed back to Tampa to build a replacement car an upcoming race.

Two additional versions of Swamp Rat III (B & C) continued to make headlines. Less than a month after the Emporia crash, Swingle took top speed honors (180.36 mph) at the American Hot Rod Association National Championship drag races held at Green Valley Dragway in Texas. In 1962, Swingle drove Swamp Rat III to victory in a match race against Dick Belfatti at U.S. 30 Drag-O-Way.  Garlits sold Swamp Rat III to Paul Venderly of Biloxi, Mississippi, after the 1962 season.

Garlits saved the original frame for Swamp Rat III A and rebuilt the car in 2006. Swamp Rat III A has been displayed at the Don Garlits Drag Racing Museum in Ocala, Florida.

Learn more about Swamp Rat III by visiting