Great Race: 1975 World Finals
by Kevin McKenna
Of the 500-plus major events NHRA has hosted during its first 50 years, it would be virtually impossible to single out one as the greatest race ever. However, if such an event did exist, in the minds of many it would be the 1975 Winston World Finals at Southern California's Ontario Motor Speedway.
Nearly all of the national events held in 1975 have been included in National DRAGSTER's yearlong Great Race series, but few have the historical significance of the season-ending Ontario gathering. Don Garlits and Don Prudhomme, the era's two biggest stars, provided most of the drama. Garlits, who was engaged in a down-to-the-wire Top Fuel points battle with reigning champ Gary Beck, set a national record that lasted for nearly seven years and broke the 250-mph barrier with his historic 5.63, 250.69 run. Prudhomme, who had won five of the season's first seven Funny Car races, capped the year with another win, and the sport's first five-second Funny Car run with his Army Monza.
Prior to the event, Garlits was quoted as saying, "I came to Ontario to win the world championship, and I knew it would take the sport's best-ever clockings." As it turned out, "Big Daddy" was right.
In 1975, five-second runs were still a rarity in NHRA competition, but the high-traction surface of Ontario Motor Speedway produced more than two dozen fives during the weekend, including the sport's first all-five-second Top Fuel field. There were even eight alternates for the 16-car field that ran in the fives, but all of them were overshadowed by Garlits, who made what is arguably the greatest single run in the history of the sport when he drove his black Swamp Rat entry to a 5.63, 250.69. The mind-boggling performance was more than a tenth and a half quicker than Garlits' own NHRA Top Fuel e.t. record of 5.78 seconds, set two years earlier at the same event.
Though overshadowed by the sheer weight of the performance numbers, the 1975 OMS event also featured a titanic championship battle between Garlits and his archrival of the era, 1974 champion Beck. Garlits entered the weekend trailing Beck and the Export A team by 148 points. Under the old NHRA scoring system, which awarded 1,500 points for an event win and substantial bonus points for national records (e.t. and speed), Garlits erased Beck's edge and eventually won the title by 703 points after downing Herm Petersen in the final.
During qualifying, Beck beat Garlits into the 5.6-second zone with a 5.69 and briefly held the e.t. record and the 200 bonus points that went with it. However, Garlits backed up his 5.63 run with a 5.67 in eliminations, and when Beck lost in the semi's to Petersen, the championship battle was decided.
Following the victory, Garlits promptly announced another of his many retirements. By mid-1976, though, he had returned to action, eventually reaching the winner's circle at the 1977 Gatornationals.
Prudhomme's performance in Ontario was no less historic. With the first of his four straight Winston Funny Car championships already clinched, Prudhomme enjoyed a pressure-free weekend in Ontario. After qualifying in the top spot with a 6.15, Prudhomme initiated the Cragar 5-Second Funny Car Club in the semifinals with a 5.98 win over Raymond Beadle's Blue Max Ford. Prudhomme also became the first Funny Car driver to run in excess of 240 mph with a 241.53 blast during Friday's qualifying rounds.
The win and the five-second run capped what remains as one of the greatest seasons ever enjoyed by an NHRA competitor. All told, Prudhomme won six of the eight races held that year — the only blemishes on an otherwise perfect season were a round-one loss to Tom McEwen at the Summernationals in Englishtown and a final-round loss to Beadle at the U.S. Nationals.
Like Garlits, Pro Stock's Bob Glidden came into Ontario in second place in the points battle but rallied to win the championship. Trailing fellow Ford racer Wayne Gapp in the standings, Glidden appeared to have lost the title in round one after red-lighting against Paul Blevins' Vega; however, Glidden got a reprieve and was reinstated when Blevins' entry came up light at the scales.
Gapp, driving the famed Gapp & Roush Tijuana Taxi four-door Maverick, could have clinched the championship by reaching the final, but a broken connecting rod ended his bid in round two. With his main rival on the sidelines, Glidden finished the job with a close 8.851 to 8.854 win over Bill Jenkins' Grumpy's Toy Monza in the final.