Sure, Don Garlits will tell you, I remember the day of my first big win in one of my dragsters. It was at an old World War II air field, concrete everywhere, near Lakeland, Florida, some time in 1955, racing at, for the time, a big meet called the NHRA Southeastern Drag Safari. I had beaten all the big dragsters there in my homemade flathead rail and ended up in the Top Eliminator run against this guy from New Jersey, Frank Wurtz, in a flathead ’32 Ford coupe, and I beat him, too. I won everything except for top speed of the meet, which was taken by this guy in a tiny dragster that went 110 mph to my 108.
I remember Wurtz, Garlits says, because I beat him in Top Eliminator, and all that put me in “Hot Rod” Magazine, which was my first big win of my career. You tend to remember things like that, Garlits says.
What he doesn’t remember was that Frank Wurtz, an unheralded but drag race-passionate mechanic from Paulsboro, New Jersey, nearly beat Garlits. This picture of the finals at Lakeland Drag Strip that day clearly shows that. Wurtz and his deuce coupe, in the far lane, had the holeshot, but once past half-track, Garlits’ lighter rail took over, taking the win at 108 to Frank’s 102-and-change. Close racing, that. Don Garlits went on to become the greatest drag racer ever, a mechanical innovator, many-time world champ, museum owner and curator, and a racing historian whose name is still spoken today with respect, even by racers a third his age.
Frank Wurtz is now about the same age as Garlits, 73, and he still lives in his long-time hometown of Paulsboro, New Jersey. His little deuce coupe B/Altered is long-gone to who knows where, and so is his ’55 Mercury, which doubled as Frank’s tow car and his D/Gasser at Lakeland (it, like the ’32 Ford, also won class that day). But Frank Wurtz, now retired from his automotive shop and a variety of other jobs, still races. He has this ’68 Cougar that still makes passes at Atco Raceway, his long-time home track, and it still turns a respectable time, 11.50s at 117 mph.
Called the “Cougar Jet,” (above) it has but 150 miles on the odometer, all from on the drag strip.