By CHRIS HARRIS, CJ Staff Writer Commonwealth Journal
Go, Big Daddy! Go!
Or, you can go to Somernites Cruise this weekend in downtown Somerset to see “Big Daddy” yourself — that is, Don “Big Daddy” Garlits, a living legend on the drag racing circuit.
Considered by many to be the “father” of the drag racing sport, the 81-year-old 17-time world champion Garlits was the first to set numerous speed marks in the quarter-mile, and is an internationally-known name.
“He’s still very active,” said Cruise team member Mark Hansford. “He gets out to shows, makes appearances. He’s world famous. ... He’s one of those guys like John McEnroe in tennis. No matter where you are, if you hear the name, you know who they’re talking about.”
Garlits will only be participating in the May Somernites Cruise event on Saturday. He’ll be signing autographs at the “Show and Shine” display of classic cars downtown. He’ll also be appearing at the seventh-annual Don Marshall Mania event Saturday at Don Marshall Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram at light no. 10 on South U.S. 27.
It’s the second time for Garlits at Somernites Cruise — his first was in 2011 — and he enjoyed his first time in Somerset so much that he spoke to a friends associated with the Cruise wanting to come back, according to Hansford. It promises to be a fan-friendly visit.
“It doesn’t matter what you own; if you want him to sign it, he’ll sign it,” said Hansford. “He’s pretty open. Last time he was here, guys were bringing in parts off their car. Some guys brought in the sun visor off their old Chrysler. He’s wanting to sell some stuff too.”
Garlits’ appearance ties in with the familiar May theme, “Mopar Mania,” featuring Chrysler, Dodge, and Plymouth products — that’s what Garlits always drove, noted Hansford.
“One thing that always sets the Mopar Mania showcase apart is that Don Marshall really runs with it,” said Hansford of the local dealership’s pre-Show and Shine Saturday function. “For the last seven years, they’ve done this. They’re so involved, it keeps people interested.
We always have a good turnout for (Mopar Mania) going back to the first year,” he added. “If you own a Dodge or Chrysler, you get excited about May because you know you’ll essentially have two shows for one.”
Somernites Cruise weekend events begin today with the Early Bird “Meet & Greet” today at noon at Danny’s Rod Shop on North U.S. 27.
At 6 p.m tonight, the Rock & Roll Block Party (sponsored by Walmart) begins in downtown Somerset. The Double Nickel Band will be providing live music; “They’re always pretty popular,” said Hansford.
The Saturday Morning Fun Run will go to Cumberland Falls, departing from the South Hardee’s location on U.S. 27. And after the “Show and Shine,” the second Cruise-a-Palooza — a new event this year — will be held at the Somerset Mall.
Hansford said the Cruise-a-Palooza is themed “Get Mooned at the Somerset Mall,” tying in with the full moon in the sky that evening and providing free baby Moon Pies to visitors along with other fun events.
Garlits isn’t the only drag racing presence at this month’s Cruise. Hansford said that members of the Kentucky Motorsports Hall of Fame will be on hand Saturday, with a collection of class drag cars to show off. Drag racing aficionado Jim Barillaro will bring a classic dragster as well.
“We’ll fire all the cars up at one — it’s called a cackle-fest,” said Hansford. “It’s called that because of the type of sound the exhaust makes. It’s pretty loud. It was very exciting the last time we did it. ‘Big Daddy’ is here, so we’ll do it again.”
The best part of the weekend, however, may be the weather. With sunny skies and no rain in the forecast — but 70-degree temperatures, significantly cooler than in Garlits’ last appearance when the heat was about 20 degrees higher — Hansford is hoping for a much more well-attended Cruise than last month’s, when wet weather dampened the festivities.
“It’s great weather for a change,” said Hansford. “It’s rained every weekend since the April show. It affects everybody, not just us, but we need a break.”