The day of the match race finally arrived and the stage was set for the two biggest names in the sport, Don Garlits and Don Prudhomme, the only two men to win drag racingâs triple crown.
At 6:15 a.m. that Sunday, cars blocked traffic on Highways 1 and 92. The Half Moon Bay air strips huge parking lot was packed. Parked cars spilled out on entrance roads in all directionsâa great turn-out and tribute to these world-class athletes.
â15 thousand people showed up,â? Don âBig Daddyâ? Garlits told me in 1998. âThey came to see their man, Prudhomme, beat âBig Daddyââ?.
(Remember the trophy was already etched with Prudhommeâs name).
The race was run in three heats: two wins got the trophy and the $5,000 purse.
Garlits easily won the first heat but Prudhomme came back with a magnificent effort in the second heat.
On the scene was a reporter from Drag Racing Magazine. âNow the drama was really tense,â? he wrote. âWe had just watched two-thirds of the best match race we had ever seen.â?
Now came the final deciding heat. A quarter-mile, 7-second rush of acceleration.
The magazine reporter wrapped it up:
âThe two cars were perfectly matchedâ¦.The two giants of drag racing pushed down the lanes for the final chapter of one of the truly great moments in the sport.â?
And with the starting flags, Don Garlits was gone. He grabbed the lead, over a full car lengthâit was impossible for Prudhomme to catch him.
Don Garlits had defied the race experts who said he couldnât win.
âIt was the most important, most satisfying victory of my career,â? Garlits told me. After he won the race he said, âI drove 50 miles before I remembered that I forgot to get my $5,000 prize money. Jim McLennan was waiting for me at Half Moon Bay when I returned. He grinned and said, âWe wondered when youâd be backâ.â?
Jim McLennan, a former Woodside resident, lived in San Francisco when I interviewed him in 1998. The Half Moon Bay Bakery’s Mark Andermahr proclaimed that âDon Garlits is the most famous drag racer in the world.â? Don Garlits operates the very successful Museum of Drag Racing in Ocala, Florida.
Three years after the famous race between Don Garlits and Don Prudhomme, the Half Moon Bay Drag Strip closed its gates forever.