RELIVE DRAG RACING’S TOP RIVALRY 11/10 ~ THE SNAKE VS. THE MONGOOSE

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One of the greatest rivalries in all of Drag Racing history has to be the classic Wildlife Racing matchup– Don “Snake” Prudhomme vs. Tom “Mongoose” McEwen.  Any red-blooded boy born of that era remembers their famous Funny Cars decked-out in bright Hot Wheels badges screaming down the 1/4 mile in a furious blur that lasted all of 5 sweet seconds.  The two faced-off in match races that raged over a period of about 3 years.  Don Prudhomme, being the stronger competitor, usually came out on top. Their epic West Coast battles, fueled by huge sponsorship deals (Mattel, Coca-Cola, Plymouth, and Goodyear) were a major draw, and their loyal fans never tired of seeing them go head to head.

The Petersen Automotive Museum is celebrating the opening of their new exhibit, NHRA: Sixty Years of Thunder by paying tribute to – Don “The Snake” Prudhomme – during their annual Tribute Night on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2010.  Honored guests include– Roland Leong, Tommy Ivo, Carroll Shelby, Ed Pink and many others. Special guest Dave McClelland, the Voice of the NHRA and longtime friend of Don Prudhomme, will be the Master of Ceremonies. Their will be a film featuring The Snake’s epic history, and several other drag racing icons will share their stories of the legend. A live auction of amazing racing memorabilia will follow with proceeds going to the Petersen’s educational programs.

If you’re a Drag Racing fan of any age– this is an epic event not to be missed.

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Racing rivals- the Snake and the Mongoose at Dallas International Motor Speedway (1969-1973). DIMS opened in June of 1969, a new, modern super track that should have been destined for a long, bright future. The first event for the new dragstrip was the ’69 NHRA Springnationals. So new, they were still paving the pits when time trials started on Friday of that weekend! That event was marred by a tragedy however, it was the first sign of trouble for the track which would have a rather short, sad life. Round one of Funny Car eliminations pitted F/C builder-driver Pat Foster in a Mickey Thompson’s Mach I versus Gerry Schwartz in his “Ratty Cat” Chevy powered Cougar. Foster had left on Schwartz, but lost traction and mid-track, ended up sideways in the path of the oncoming Cougar. The resulting collision left Foster slightly injured. Gerry Schwartz was declared D.O.A. at Parkland Hospital, the same hospital JFK was taken to only 6 years before.  Photo ©Fordflashback.com/David Graves Photo via

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Don “Snake” Prudhomme heating and cleaning his tires prior to lining up against an unknown opponent in the 1976 Fall Nationals at Seattle International Raceway in Kent, Washington.  via

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Tom “Mongoose” McEwen staging at Lions, circa 1972.  More Lions history on TSY here–

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Circa, 1972– Don “the Snake” Prudhomme blazing down the track in Seattle, WA –photo by Al Keen

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Tom “Mongoose” McEwen smokin’ the hides.  There’s no doubt Tom McEwen played a lot of second fiddle to Don “the Snake” Prudhomme, but there’s no disputing that “Goose” was a master showman. Check out this rolling fog bank in his Hot Wheels Duster at Cecil County! via

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Don Prudhomme started out his career as a car painter. In the late 1950s he joined the Los Angeles area car club– the Road Kings. Don attended drag races, and worked as a crew member for “T.V.” Tommy Ivo. With Ivo’s help, Prudhomme toured throughout the United States in the 1960s, learning the ropes from Ivo, who is one of the true pioneers of professional drag racing. via

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The Road Kings, with Tommy Ivo standing at far left, seem ready for another pass at the Santa Ana Drags. The car appears much as it does today, with Hilborn fuel injection, race slicks, Mercury hubcaps, and full top.  I wonder if Prudhomme is in this pic… More Tommy Ivo on TSY here–

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A Young Don Prudhomme strapping in Drag Racing legend and mentor Tommy Ivo.

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Don “The Snake” Prudhomme checks the percentage of a batch of nitromethane prior to the first run on the Army Plymouth Arrow AA/FC. photo ©1977 Norman Blake. via

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Their magic moment: Prudhomme won it all. Four championships and 49 national event wins; McEwen accrued just four NHRA Wallys. McEwen had never beaten Prudhomme in an NHRA final, and “the Snake” personally stopped McEwen from winning four times — in the Funny Car finals at the 1975 Fall Nationals, the 1976 Spring Nationals and Summer Nationals, and the 1978 Spring Nationals — but McEwen got the one that mattered most, the 1978 U.S. Nationals. In a storybook ending, McEwen, still grieving the loss of his son, Jamie, to leukemia just weeks earlier– upset Prudhomme in the final round at Indy. McEwen, overcome with emotion, sat in the car at the top end, and Prudhomme slithered his way beneath the body to join his old pal, rival, and occasional thorn in the side in a truly emotional and unforgettable moment that a few years ago was voted the Most Memorable Moment in U.S. Nationals history. via NHRA

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Tom McEwen’s ‘English Leather’-backed Corvette, seen here winning the ’78 U.S. Nationals against then all-conquering Don Prudhomme, just a few weeks after McEwen’s son died of lukemia. via

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Tickets for An Evening With Don “The Snake” Prudhomme are $125 each. Tickets for the Match Race Madness panel discussion are $50 each. A combined ticket for both events is $150, a $25 savings. Special pricing is available for certain levels of Petersen Automotive Museum Membership. For more information call (323) 964-6325, or to buy your tickets on-line, go to www.petersen.org. Event proceeds support the Petersen Automotive Museum’s educational and cultural mission.

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9 thoughts on “RELIVE DRAG RACING’S TOP RIVALRY 11/10 ~ THE SNAKE VS. THE MONGOOSE

  1. excellent JP!!

    I was at the SIR track in Seattle in 72 and 76 when those pics were taken, we spent a lot of time at the track back then, hardly ever missed it when the “big guys” came to town!

  2. Oh, Magoo, you’ve done it again !! And why . . . . . ? Because, yooouuu, asked for it !! The monotony of “cool” around here is just neverending, thanks once more J.P

  3. Another excellent post and for me another walk down memory lane to those days when the question wasn’t “Wanna go to the drags?” it was “Where we gonna go; Irwindale, Lions’, Pomona, Fontana…?”

    Thanks for the heads up regarding the Peterson event. I’m popping for the full package.

  4. My brother had The Snake Hotwheels and I had The Mongoose. Wish I still had them but like most of our toys we played with them till they wore out unlike most kids of todays video game generation. Thanks again for the memories !!

  5. I still have the snake and the mongoose hot wheels. They stay at my moms and these are the only two I won’t let my boy take to our house because I don’t want him to facking loose them in the dirt somewhere.

  6. Those were the days. Don Prudome, Shirely “Cha Cha” Muldowney, Big Daddy Don Garlits, Jungle Jim Liberman, Mongoose. Me and my brothers used to build revell and monogram funny car models on our back porch.

    Makes me want to run down to a hobby store and take it up again!

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