In a Motorsport.com exclusive, the four-time NHRA Funny Car champion and International Motorsports Hall of Fame inductee talks about his incredible career.
Don “The Snake” Prudhomme won the U.S. Nationals seven times during his drag racing career. The first three were in the Top Fuel category, and the final four were in the Funny Car category. Prudhomme’s dominance on the track helped bring the sport to new heights in the 1970s, and he will be among the legends honored this year at the 60th Anniversary of the Chevy Performance U.S. Nationals.
In a phone interview with Motorsport.com, Prudhomme spoke about the upcoming race in Indianapolis. “From my perspective, it’s going to be a reunion because [Don] Garlits will be there and Shirley [Muldowney] and Mongoose and all the guys.” He went on to say, “Never thought I’d be part of a celebration of 60 years because the first time I was there was in 1965, so it’s been a long time.”
It's been a heck of a ride
It’s also been one heck of a ride for The Snake, who won a total of 49 NHRA events in his 32 years of racing.
In 1973, Prudhomme switched to the Funny Car category for the first time at the U.S. Nationals, and won the event. He said, “Well, we were pretty good in our Top Fuel car. We won the thing back-to-back in ’69 and ’70, and won it in ’65, so to me, Top Fuel was a big deal, but Funny Cars were becoming very, very popular.”
Snake and the Mongoose
The progression to funny car racing began in 1970 when The Snake and Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen partnered with Mattel, the maker of Hot Wheels toy racing cars. The deal with Mattel greatly enhanced the careers of both Snake and Mongoose because kids across America wanted to purchase miniaturized versions of the cars driven by their heroes on the track. The partnership also helped introduce non-automotive sponsors to the sport of drag racing.
Prudhomme and McEwen’s story was recently made into a movie called Snake and Mongoose. The film includes the early days of Prudhomme’s career when he had to persevere through a lack of funding before reaching the top of the drag racing world.
We were like the Beatles or the Rolling Stones. We pull in the track, it was a big deal
Don Prudhomme on himself and Tom McEwen
“You will see everything you need to see about the U.S. Nationals, about us, and what we did,” Prudhomme said about the movie. “We set records. We left them breathless when we left the racetrack. We were like the Beatles, or we were like the Rolling Stones. We pull in the track, it was a big deal.”
Prudhomme’s funny car was a Plymouth Barracuda, and he said that the NHRA not only provided entertainment for the fans, but also an environment to quench the need for speed in the muscle car era.
(You could) buy a Hemi ‘Cuda right off the showroom floor, and they would even put a super charger on it for you...you’d take it to U.S. 30 Dragstrip or the U.S. Nationals, and you would run the son of the bitch right there
“Those were special, special days, and Wally Parks (the founder of the NHRA) had a whole lot to do with all that. He was the grandfather of it all. And it gave people a place to race these performance cars,” Prudhomme said. “[You’d] go to Grand Spaulding Dodge in Chicago, and buy a Hemi ‘Cuda right off the showroom floor, and they would even put a super charger on it for you. And you’d take it to U.S. 30 Dragstrip or the U.S. Nationals, and you would run the son of the bitch right there. And you were a big deal, and win races, and it was the time of your life.”
The Snake also had the time of his life during his racing days. He said, “We loved it. We lived for it. We didn’t do it for the money, we didn’t do it for any of that. I mean you needed the money to go on and carry on, but we did it before there was any money in it.”
Prudhomme’s passion for the sport helped usher in a new era of drag racing in the 1970s, and he will be able to share those memories along with his fellow drag racing legends at the 60th Anniversary of the U.S. Nationals (August 27th – September 1st).