swingle.jpgConnie Swingle, one of the true pioneers of drag racing, passed away Sept. 29, peacefully in his home in Oklahoma City, Okla., the city of his birth. He was 72. Swingle had health problems for the last 10 years and finally succumbed to cancer. His faithful nurse, Virginia, was at his side.

After serving in the Air Force in the late 1950s, he moved to Tampa Fla., and arrived at Garlits Automotive Inc. in 1960 and began welding and became one of the best welders in the world. Don Garlits' Swamp Rat III-A had been started, so “Swingle,” as he liked to be called, finished the project and took the new chrome moly car on tour. Swingle won many races with the car, the biggest being the Hot Rod Drags at Riverside Raceway in 1962.

Swingle was instrumental in the success of the Garlits chassis business from 1961 through 1964, at which time Garlits relocated to Troy, Mich., a suburb of Detroit.

Swingle went west and joined up with the “Old Master,” Ed Pink. Driving Pink's AA/FD, Swingle enjoyed his biggest win at Fontana Dragstrip in the fall of 1965, when he beat Garlits in the final for the Mickey Thompson 200 mph Meet and took home all the gold, about $10,000, a very large purse for that era.

He also won the Drag News Invitational in 1962, held at Dragway 42 in Ohio, held the Drag News #1 spot several times, and also the Drag News 1320 E.T Record of 7.88 seconds at 198.22 mph. Swingle also was Garlits' crew chief during the Drag Racer Magazine Number One Spot held at Half Moon Bay in 1966, which Garlits won.

When the weather “got to Garlits” in Detroit and he moved back to Florida to his longtime based in Seffner, Swingle returned from California and rejoined the chassis business. Together Swingle and Garlits built some outstanding slingshot dragsters. The best and fastest one, Swamp Rat 13, blew the transmission at Long Beach in March 1970 and Garlits, Swingle, and T.C. Lemmons proceeded to build Garlits famed rear engined car, Swamp Rat 14

According to Garlits, Swingle always referred to SR14 as a “front driver” car, which it technically was. After must frustration and many, many tests, Swingle told Garlits, “If you think the steering is too fast, why don't we slow it down?”; the rest is history and the drag racing world now  had a successful, working rear engine dragster.

"We can all give Connie Swingle a great big 'Thank You' for his participation in this endeavor that took drag racing to the next plateau," said Garlits.

Swingle finally wanted to slow down, so he opened a small shop in South Tampa and did small jobs to make a living.

"As I look back, he was probably getting sick then and didn't have the energy to go the way I was racing," said Garlits. "The last job that he did was the re-creation of Swamp Rat IV, with the blown Dodge wedge on gas. He did a beautiful job, but I could see he was all done welding as his hands shook too much for welding. We all got together and moved him back to Oklahoma with his mother and dad, who have since passed away.

Swingle was installed into the Southeastern NHRA Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 1991 and the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 1998.

"Connie was a tireless worker, could go for days without sleep and always had a new idea on how to go fast," concluded Garlits. "He left his mark on our sport and he will be sorely missed."

Swingle is survived by his son, Theodore “Teddy” Swingle, named after his grandfather.