In Memory of Eric Garland a True Karter Written by: Bruce C. Walls WASHINGTON, NJ-According to his father there was a special twinkle in Eric Garland's eyes the first time he saw a go-kart. That was in 1980. In a few years karting would reach...
In Memory of Eric Garland a True Karter
Written by: Bruce C. Walls
WASHINGTON, NJ-According to his father there was a special twinkle in Eric Garland's eyes the first time he saw a go-kart. That was in 1980. In a few years karting would reach a plateau. During karting's heyday one of the top motor building shops in the country was Garland Racing Engines. His custom-built motors powered top Horstman Gold Cup competitors and others for many years. It wasn't unusual then to see more than one Garland Powered pilot on Gold Cup National podiums.
It was a friend of his father who first introduced karting to young Eric. "Gar Frey got him started and he took to it right away. Eric got in that kart and was hooked. We built a backyard track and Eric pounded out laps and he just kept getting better and better," John remembered.
"We started racing in a farmer's field in our back yard," Eric's father recalled. At 7-years old Eric was piloting a home made King enduro racing chassis made into a sprinter racing against adults. The following year his parents took him to Shellhammers Speedway in Shellhammer, PA. During his second season at Shellhammers he hired Craig Wesner to build his motors. That's when the wins started coming.
"I remember his first win," his mother Sharon recalled. "It was at Shellhammers. A kid put him into the wall and after that he got aggressive. After the race he didn't even realize he'd won."
"He (Eric) started winning and we decided to branch out," John described. They went to Orville raceway in Topton, PA and Island Dragway Kart Track in Great Meadows, N.J. "Eric got tossed from Island Dragway Kart Track that year because he was 10-years old racing as a 13-year-old," John recalled with a chuckle.
"When the trophies started coming in we made a shop in the back of the house," Sharon said adding, "Eric was very private about winning. He never bragged about it.
Booted from Island Dragway Kart Track Eric went back to Orville during 1984- 85 seasons. According to John, "That year he raced 2 and 4-cycles earning trophies taller then he was." Eric also started racing with the World Karting Association (WKA) that year. Eric was then competing as a Junior. "Eric was turning faster lap times than Seniors with no restrictor plate, John proudly recalled adding, "The more we traveled the better he got."
As they traveled around the country competing against the best of the best Eric made friends with every one he met. Eric had an aggressive driving style, but that didn't keep him from being friends with his competitors off the track.
Wins continued coming one after another. Trophies filled the shop. "You never saw so many trophies," his parents said. "We had trophies all over the house, in his room, out in the garage and in the shop," his mother Sharon added.
Eric started building motors in 1990. Once competitors found out that Eric was building his own engines they began asking him to build theirs. "Eric started fooling around with engines," John said. "(Craig) Wesner was getting out of the business. Eric worked by trial and error and started talking to other engine builders and basically it grew from there."
"We went to all of his races Rockingham, Charlotte, Shellhammers, Orville, Herbine (Family Grand Pix Raceway called Herbine by racers for track owner Dennis Herbine) or where ever he went," Sharon recalled adding, "I remember standing on a bridge one time. There were some kids up there talking and they said they didn't want to race with Eric in the field, but they did anyway."
Long time friend and fellow competitor Randy Delp recalled racing against Eric at Herbine. "It was Eric's favorite track," Delp explained adding Eric was always one of the top five. When we were competitors we weren't friends Eric was known for his aggressive driving style."
It was the first IKF race on the east coast. Herbine 1991. "Chuck Garafar was on the pole and I was on the outside pole," Delp said setting up the story. " Eric didn't qualify as well and we didn't see Eric in the first race. Chuck and I were battling lap after lap. (IKF Nationals run three races for each class) I have no idea where he (Eric) finished in the second race. Chuck and I were battling back and forth in the third race. We were back-and-forth down the long straightaway. Three quarters of the way down I was pushing Chuck getting ready to hit the breaking point and here comes Garland. Eric had a head of steam. He didn't want just me he wanted both of us. He came into the corner passed me and then was in over his head. He drove into the side of Chuck and was over his head as usual."
Delp says he met Eric through a mutual friend, Frank Kelleher. " Eric won Limited Modified Heavy's Championship in 2000. It was his only National Gold Cup Championship. The next year (2001) he wrenched for Michelle and Rowan Pennick.
"Going into 2003 Eric decided he wanted to drive in the Gold Cup Series again. He asked me to go to Jacksonville and wrench for him at the Tomar Winter Nationals. He won Stock Heavy at Jacksonville; it was his last Gold Cup win. When we went to South Bend and Tony (Barton, former WKA official) dq'ed him. That was the end. We were the kart to beat. Also that year Eric asked me to wrench for him," Delp explained.
"There are a lot of things people didn't know about Eric," Delp continued. "He liked to read books mostly mystery and government conspiracy. He was very interested in politics and was becoming more vocal about politics the last couple of years. He didn't have cable; he liked listening to CDs. He also loved spending time with his nephew Brandon."
Gary Mac Queen met Eric in 1996. "My son and I were just getting started in karting. A fellow competitor told us to see Eric Garland. We went up there and John was there. Eric was just a kid. He was going on vacation, but he'd heard of my son Brian. They seemed to pick up on the red hair."
MacQueen needed a motor dynoed. Eric's dyno was broken. Mac Queen fixed the dyno and Eric built Brian a motor. "That was the beginning of our relationship. We invented stuff and dynoed motors all night. Eric and Brian hung out almost everyday. What always impressed me about Eric was how inventive he was and how he understood the geometry of front end. Everything Brian does in racing he credits back to Eric. Eric took a lot of kids under his wing. He took it seriously, but made it fun.
Two memorial races were held last year. One held at Shellhammers Speedway, the other at Orville Raceway. MacQueen won the Shellhammers race. "Brian cut school on the west side of Ohio," his father explained. "He left at midnight, got home an hour later. He drank a glass of orange juice and we went to Shellhammers.
"Kevin Colborn got the pole, but he flipped giving us the pole. Brain won the race with a Garland Racing Engine. We haven't raced it since. Brain couldn't take the checkered flag for a victory lap and couldn't be interviewed because he was crying so hard that he had help that night."
Zach Linsell won the Orville race. Zach was also good friends with Eric. In a letter to Linsell Eric opened up to his younger friend .
First off, Happy Birthday. I think this letter and scrapbook idea is a really good one. It's important to hold onto your memories, the older you get the more distant they become. Some of my fondest memories haven't been captured on film or in writing. As you can probably guess some of my favorite memories involve racing duh, big surprise there right? Racing has been a huge part of my life, other than my family and friends I would say it's the biggest part of my life.
Some things about it I can't say that I remember. I don't recall my first win, my first flip, or the first time I was in a go-kart. Some things I'll never forget.dodging a blown apart flywheel down the backstretch at Charlotte (I was extremely lucky that day), riding to South Carolina in the back of a pickup truck with another kid, 2 karts and everything that you needed to run a national back in the day. I remember my first national win; it was at Adkins Raceway in Ohio. I was a chubby 15-year-old kid from Jersey who all the southern guys barely noticed.
Back then, this was in 1989, all the fast guys were considered to be from down south. If you lived north of the Mason-Dixon line you were looked down on by the big teams. On Saturday, in Stock Lite, (Yeah I actually made that weight at one time), I had a good run and almost won for the day. They ran 3 heats back then and then averaged the 3 for the overall finish. Keith Gutberlet was the hotshoe at the time, he ran for Piedmont Kart Shop, and won just about every race he entered. He won the first heat in a pass back and fourth all race kind of race. I won the second heat. So whoever won the third heat was going to win for the day. The two of us pulled away and were passing back and forth. On the last lap, I pulled to the inside and was going past him, then my carb broke. I reached around and pushed the back of the tank forward and kept going. Keith was gone and that was it. I finished second. It was a strange feeling. It was the best that I had run up to that point, but it was still kind of a bummer. Some of the big shots at the time noticed that I ran good and went out of their way to say, "Great Race, we thought you had him."
It was just me and my dad running against the biggest kart shops at the time, and for these guys to tell me I did a good job really meant something to me. I went out the next day for Super Stock, qualified on the pole and won by a straightaway. After that weekend I won several races that year and consistently ran in the top 3. When I think back to my first win it's not about Super Stock on Sunday, it's that Stock Lite race the day before, realizing that I could run with and beat the best. I don't have any pictures from that weekend, but I still remember that feeling.
Ever since I started building engines I've been pretty lucky. I've met some great people and traveled to a lot of different places. I've had a moderate amount of success at it, but the best part about doing what I did for a living was the feeling I got from helping someone. When I helped people out at the track and they did good I felt great. The absolute best though is when I would help someone and they got their first big win. Standing at the fence and watching someone get everything they can out of a kart and just wheel it to the front. I like sharing the excitement and it feels like I just won for the first time too. I remember all of those times.
I was lucky enough to be a small part of your first win and I keep that memory up there with some of my all time racing favorites. Thanks for the great memory Zach, I'm proud to call you a friend.
While passionate about sprint racing Eric did tackle asphalt and dirt ovals once in a while early on. Never a title contender in oval disciplines, he was always capable of capturing their checkered flags.
"I pitted next to him (Eric) at Rockingham," said long time friend Chip Disharoon, of Salisbury, MD. That was in 1989 when the Gold Cup was the real deal. He kicked everyone's butt in three races. That's when I first noticed him.
"I always looked up to Eric as a garage talent and driving talent," Disharoon added. "I won a national title in Controlled Stock Heavy with his motor in 2000."
"Eric came over for Thanksgiving. He'd been having headaches," Sharon recalled. "I gave him some Tylenol and told him to call the doctor. That's when they found the tumor."
Surrounded by family and friends Eric vowed to fight the cancer attacking his brain. "He was very optimistic," Sharon said. She and John were with him every day for the next six months. Eric bravely fought with everything inside him. But it was a race he wouldn't win. "I was with him round the clock at the end," Sharon described. May 15th 2007 the karting family lost a true friend of the sport. His passing was a crushing blow to everyone whose life he'd touched. Hundreds attended the memorial service a testament to the friends he made in this life.
-creit: bruce c walls