From Bikes to Books

 

One clear evening last February, amid the crowd of screaming fans and the stench of race fuel permeating the stadium, Bodie Colangelo walked away from his professional motocross career to focus on a new dream.

Having been dropped from his sponsors earlier that year, Colangelo was considered a privateer racer. Privateers paid for the sport out of pocket. With endless medical bills and large sums of money contributing to his profession, the wrist injury he suffered at that Supercross Arena competition had been the last straw.

“I realized the risks outweighed the reward,” Colangelo said. “I was constantly getting hurt and the money just wasn’t there.”

His success throughout his career had left him unprepared of what steps to take if it had ended. Attending a university after graduation had not been a consideration. The goal had been to focus on riding but Colangelo was forced to reconsider school as option after his injury.

“I felt if I wasn’t going to race anymore that I would go to school and pursue a degree in business,” Colangelo said. “At that point I was just ready to take it easy.”

Colangelo enrolled at Hillsborough Community College in the spring and has been focusing on completing his degree. The slower paced lifestyle gave light on how years of riding have affected his health.

“I’ve broken so many bones they have my racing jersey hanging in USF’s Morsani Center,” Colangelo said. “When the weather changes my bones will ache and I have constant back pain.”

David Colangelo, who served as a father, coach, mechanic and trainer while his son was a racer had also benefited from the change of pace. There were no days off between working as a supervisor at a Water Treatment Plant and traveling for races.
“Every sacrifice I made was worth it to see his dream come true,” David Colangelo said. “The focus is to now see him through school.”

On nostalgic days, Colangelo will take his bike out for a spin. He isn’t a stranger to his old racing track where he spent much of his adolescent years. Unable to stay away from hobbies that bring him a thrill, he has since shown interest in muscle cars and racecars.

Brandi Colangelo, the racers mother, has a hard time seeing her son in any dangerous sport. Staying home with the youngest sibling while her husband and son were away at races gave her plenty of time to worry. Now that the racing days are behind them she now faces a new wave of fear with her son’s new obsession for muscle cars.

“The first thing he did after he stopped racing was buy muscle car,” Brandi Colangelo said. “I don’t know what’s worse, worrying about him on that bike or worrying about him in that car.”

With the continued support of his family, Colangelo is set to graduate in the spring of 2018. Unsure of where his life will go now that racing isn’t the dream he’s following, he was hopeful for a bright future.

“Things didn’t go as planned for me but I know that somehow I’ll end up back on that track,” Colangelo said.

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America’s Greatest Drag Racer 84-Years Strong

 

 

Ocala – An 84-year-old drag racing legend from Florida, has all the time in the world these days to tell his fans the story of his successful racing career and antique car museum.

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Don “Big Daddy” Garlits smiles with delight on a bright and sunny Friday afternoon, as he poses next to his 2011 Dodge Challenger Pro-Stock dragster.
  (Photo by Daniel S. Fisher)

 

Don “Big Daddy” Garlits is a retired American drag racing driver, and an automotive engineer for American drag racing.  Garlits is the all-time winning drag-racer with 144 national event victories, and a record 17 world drag racing championships, according to his online biography on garlits.com.  During a private tour at the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing, Garlits said he first earned the nickname “Big Daddy” from race announcer Bernie Partridge, after a dominant win at the 1962 U.S. Indianapolis Nationals in his famous Swamp Rat IV dragster.

“Back then, I was more of a top fuel driver because I like to build my cars light and fast,” Garlits said.  “When we first ran Swamp Rat IV at Indianapolis, the car kept breaking axles to a point where all the young drag racers started making fun of me.  Eventually, we got it fixed, and I set a new world record of 180.36 mph, and the announcer Bernie Partridge says, ‘Well, we’re gonna have to call him Big Daddy from now on, for he set a new world record folks.’ ”

Garlits eventually went on to break more quarter-mile speed records in his Swamp Rat dragsters, most notably for reaching a personal career best of 323.04 mph at the 2003 Gator-nationals in Gainesville, Florida with Swamp Rat 34.  In a 1985 Motorsport documentary by Steve Evans, Garlits said the Swamp Rat I was his favorite dragster.  In 1958, Garlits traveled to the Bakersfield quarter-mile in California with Swamp Rat I and became the first person to top 180 mph.

 

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To the right is Don Garlits’ Swamp Rat I, resting peacefully on a Friday afternoon in Swamp Rat Alley.  It was the first car back in 1958 to reach 180 mph on the quarter-mile.  (Photo by Daniel S. Fisher)

 

“Swamp Rat I is my favorite car in the whole world,” Garlits told Evans.  “It was the first car that I ran both nitro-methane gas, and the Chrysler Hemi engine.”

Even in retirement, Garlits still feels the need for speed, like a 5-year-old Ricky Bobby driving mama’s station wagon.  Garlits designed the world’s first and fastest all electric dragster in May 2014.  Garlits, who named the car Swamp Rat 37, set a 185.60 mph speed record at Bradenton Motorsports Park’s quarter-mile track.  Despite Garlits’ SR-37 being short from the 200 mph mark, he said he believes that the race is still on.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  “Swamp Rat 37 is an all-electric dragster that I am experimenting with now,” Garlits said.  “Two years ago, I set a world record of 185.60 mph on batteries, and I am trying to make it go 200 mph.”

In 1984, during Garlits’ storybook career in drag racing, he and his wife, Pat, started preparing grounds for his famous antique car and drag racing museum.  Thirty-three years later, the Don Garlits Drag Racing Museum is still in business off of Interstate-75 in Ocala.

“In the opening year, we sold 27,000 tickets,” Garlits said.  “Since then, we have been averaging about 45,000 people a year, and have expanded the museum to about 65,000 feet of show area.  As you can tell, we are full up, so we’re going to need more space.”

Garlits was born in Tampa in 1932, and has remained a resident of the Sunshine State.  Today, he lives with his family in Ocala, on the same 16 acres of land near his museum.

Garlits has won the National Hot Rod Association U.S. Nationals eight times, and was the first to top 170, 180, 200, 240, 250, 260, and 270 mph, according to his online biography. For having such an illustrious career, it is no wonder that his name is synonymous in the Motorsports world.

Among the nine people who attended a private tour recently was Jim Morningstar from Dayton, Ohio.  Morningstar enjoyed his first time at the museum, which he said was part of his five-day Florida vacation.

“Recently, I have spent two days out of my five-day Florida vacation coming here,” Morningstar said.  “And I have enjoyed every minute of my time with Mr. Big Daddy.”