Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing: a hot rodder’s must-see FL attraction
Just a short drive from Orlando you'll find the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing- a Disney World for motor heads… Dragsters, funny cars, antiques, and more.
Ocala, Florida may be known as horse country with rolling pastures and cypress-lined roads, but if you’re looking for a higher octane version of “horsepower,” in Ocala, the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing is the place for you.
FULL PHOTO GALLERY AT BOTTOM
During a lifetime of drag racing and hot rodding, Don Garlits has managed to amass a car and memorabilia collection rivaling any racing collection in the world, and nearly each and every day, he opens up the doors to share that with diehard drag racing fans, hot rodders, and curious road travelers.
Located just off I-75 a few miles south of Ocala, the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing is a perfect side trip for the amusement-park-weary in Orlando, snowbirds coming to and from up north, and folks like us who found ourselves bound for Tallahassee on the 2018 MINI Takes the States cross-country tour.
Truth be told, I hadn’t been to the museum since I was in 5th grade. In the 20+ years since my last visit, the museum changed dramatically, yet somehow felt exactly how I remember it… The biggest additions since my childhood days have to be the second building full of antique cars and hot rods and “Don’s Garage.”
Inside the main portion of the museum, I found many of the same cars from when I last visited… cars that made drag racing history over the years.
Of course, the museum is full of Garlits’ famous “Swamp Rats,” from the very first Swamp Rat 1 to some of his more modern endeavors.
Walking through the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing is like walking down the timeline of drag racing as slingshot dragsters give way to more advanced creations with plenty of designs that fell by the wayside along the way.
Memorabilia, placards, and plenty of trophies (many of them Wallys) help tell the stories of the cars and the men and women who drove and crewed each one.
While Garlits certainly has made enough racing history to fill the museum, there are quite a few other cars from famous drag racers like Shirley Muldowney and John Force to round out the collection.
After getting your racing fix, head on over to the “Antique Building” where you’ll find all sorts of trinkets and antiques spread among row after row of classic cars and trucks.
For us, the most spectacular part of this building was reading the stories accompanying some of these cars. Somehow, Don Garlits has managed to hold on to or track down dozens of cars from his past from the first race car he worked on to his earliest personal hot rods.
After exploring both buildings, it’s time to head back to the gift shop for everything from t-shirts to all sorts of signed collectibles. A Don Garlits’ autographed used spark plug is still the best deal in my humble opinion, just as it was when I visited as a kid.
For those of you with nitro running through your blood, you’ll want to allocate some extra time and call ahead for the private tour. This tour gets you some one-on-one time with Big Daddy himself and access to “Don’s Garage,” where he continues to create, restore, and build.
At only $20 for adults and less for children, veterans, and seniors, the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing is a central-Florida must-see.
Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing
13700 SW 16th Ave.
Ocala, FL 34473
About MINI Takes the States
The 2018 MINI Takes the States was our third time motoring around the country with hundreds (seriously, hundreds) of MINIs. Every two years, MINI puts together a route full of fun activities and adventures for any MINI owner to participate for an remarkably reasonable fee. It's also how I ended up at Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing!
The best part? It’s for charity! This year, MINI and MINI owners partnered with Feeding America to generate over 1 MILLION meals for those in need through this year’s event!
Not only did we enjoy taking the backroads in our slick, 2018 MINI hardtop, but we also enjoyed the camaraderie that permeates through the MINI community. It's an event like no other for a car company unlike any other.