Don Garlits Sets Electric Dragster Record

If you’ve written off electric cars as dull, tinny machines for moving around the city, you might change your mind after learning just how fast a battery-powered car can be at the quarter-mile. Drag racing champion “Big Daddy” Don Garlits set a new record for an all-electric dragster, finishing a run in 7.258 seconds at 184.01 mph.

The Swamp Rat 37 dragster uses GE electric motors, a 1500-kW array of lithium-ion batteries, and specialized power controllers from Manzanita Micro, giving it a claimed output in excess of 2000 hp. Although the car is several orders quieter than a standard internal-combustion dragster, it’s still able to create giant clouds of smoke from burnouts with the Goodyear Eagle Racing tires.

After testing runs at 33-percent power netted a 10.90-second quarter-mile time, Garlits and the “Quest for 200 MPH on Batteries” team turned the systems up to 50 percent, and finally 100 percent power before setting the record time. After a run of 7.53 seconds at 178.42 mph, the final run of the day netted the 7.26-second time. Unfortunately, it was a bit too fast: the dragster’s parachute failed to deploy at the end of the run, and the SR-37 dragster ended up in a sand trap at the end of the strip. Fortunately, neither car nor driver was injured.

Garlits and the Quest for 200 MPH team hope to reach that magic number with the electric dragster this year. It’s a significant time because 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the first time that Don Garlits hit 200 mph on a quarter-mile drag strip. He first cracked the 200-mph barrier in 1964, running a 7.78-second quarter mile at 201.34 mph.

For a closer look at the electric dragster’s run, watch the video below.

Photos courtesy Lisa Crigar Photography.