I WISHED HIM GOOD LUCK

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1971. Jocko pokes his head back into the scene when his Allison-powered liner (now powered by a big-block Chevy and dubbed the Moon-liner, named not for its resemblance to a lunar module, but eponymously for its owner, performance parts magnate, Dean Moon) is used in a Budweiser commercial shot out at the Salt Flats. (Footnote: the stunt driver in the commercial is Gary Gabelich). There is another intellectual carrot dangling for Jocko: “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, having had half of his right foot blown off by an experimental transmission that exploded in his Wynn’s Charger Top Fuel car, has shifted the paradigm of dragster design, having drawn up a crude blueprint for a rear-engine Top Fuel dragster, a somewhat novel design. (Previous attempts would, as often as not, understeer and dart – or “push” – towards the drag strip’s guardrail, assuming it had one.) To avoid “pushing,” Garlits’ pit guy Connie Swingle installs a radical 10-to-1 steering system (for every ten degrees of steering input, the front tires would turn one degree) and Garlits dominates the Top Fuel scene. Jocko is piqued. Had Top Fuel cars finally caught up with his designs? Was the drag strip scene ready for streamlining for the first time since 1959? Maximum downforce with minimum drag? How fast could such a creation go in the 1/4 mile? Jocko — and the drag racing press — reckons it would go 275 mph — no jet engine, no rocket engine, but 275 with a blown hemi burning nitro. (The 1/4 mile record in 1971 was 243 mph, held by Garlits himself.)

Beginning that year, Jocko makes the mold for a fully-enclosed streamliner body in California. And Garlits agrees to pay for a body based on the mold and have Swingle build a chassis for the car. It will be known as the DON GARLITS WYNNS-LINER. In the same size type-face, the lettering on the front wheel-wells will read “Body By Jocko.”

But it takes forever.

1973. Fourteen years after Jocko sets the world on fire with his Jocko’s Porting Service streamlined AA/Fuel Dragster, Garlits finally unveils the WYNNS-LINER. It is overweight (the bane of streamlining being the weight penalty, as the added body work will cost the car performance, and often negate the benefits of the contoured air flow.) It is behind schedule and it is w-a-y over budget.

None of which is Garlits’ doing. Garlits tours the country with his Swamp Rat Top Fueler while Jocko and Swingle continue to build the car in Florida.

Amidst much anticipation, Garlits tests the car a couple of times before making the marquee debut at the well-publicized American Hot Rod Association race at Orange County, California, June of ‘73.

Before it is even loaded off the trailer, Garlits makes no secret that he is spooked by the car. During testing, he claims the rear tires were spinning at 9000 revolutions per minute, proof that the back of the dragster was not making contact with the pavement — a most frightening and scrotum-tightening phenomenon. Garlits says later that “the car wanted to fly.” Jocko is emphatic that the car is doing everything but lifting off the ground; the entire design was based on maximum downforce, thereby planting the massive slicks firmly on the track surface, just as the machines designed and driven had done when setting speed records in the 1930s and 40s.

But the lines are drawn: Garlits wants no part of driving the WYNNS-LINER, the radical and revolutionary car which he had so patiently patronized. Which is a problem: track promoters across the country have expressed a keen interest in what, in essence, looks like a spaceship driven not by an alien, but by the most famous drag racer on this planet: “Big Daddy” Don Garlits.

At the Grand Am, Garlits hires journeyman driver (and recent burn victim) Butch Maas to shoe the liner. Maas is certainly fearless enough (during his rehabilitation and surgical reconstruction, his hands were partially formed to grip a race car’s steering yoke), but for reasons that remain unexplained, Maas drove it once during qualifying and clicked the engine at half track and coasted to the finish line a tortoise roller skating uphill.

The car qualifies 32nd. Dead last. It loses in the first round after another aborted run. Two weeks later, Garlits parks it permanently. This time drag racing dropped the curtain on Jocko — and not the other way around.

“… (I) towed to Fremont for the AHRA World Finals. It was rained out and postponed until the following weekend, on top of the IHRA World Finals at Lakeland, Florida. I decided I would run my regular car at Fremont and have “Mad Dog” Don Cook run the ’Liner at Lakeland. I won Fremont… but poor Don Cook, even with all his experience, was never able to get the ’Liner to go straight. I had taken a couple of passes in it earlier in the weekend and vowed never to drive it again, so with Cook’s failure, the entire project was scrapped and the body and frame given to Russel Mendez for a rocket engine installation. I wished him good luck.” —“Big Daddy,” the Autobiography of Don Garlits.

It is important to note that “Mad Dog” Don Cook is out of his mind sufficiently enough to drive any piece of vicious machinery on wheels. Once, after a night of excessive libation, he drove a fuel-burning dragster like a true professional despite a whanging hangover and having vomited into his facemask and firesuit.

It is also important to note that 15 years after the WYNNS-LINER has been shelved as a tax write-off, Don Garlits is catapulted in the air on two different occasions by conventional dragsters.

Which is parenthetical. With the failure of the DON GARLITS WYNNS-LINER, streamlining Top Fuel dragsters becomes a lost art. Jocko claims sabotage: “Don Garlits’ ego could not stand to see another man design a car that was successful,” he says.

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