'It's a High Honor to be No. 3,' says Don Prudhomme
VISTA, Calif. - When drag racing legend Don "The Snake" Prudhomme retired from driving following the 1994 NHRA Winston Series season, his 49 victories (35 in Funny Car, 14 in Top Fuel) were the most by any driver in the nitromethane-fueled categories.
Since then, Prudhomme's primary focus has been as a car owner, and the objects of his attention have tripled, growing from Larry Dixon's Miller Lite Top Fuel dragster (1995) to Ron Capps' Skoal Racing Funny Car (1997) to Tommy Johnson Jr.'s Skoal Racing Funny Car (2001). He channeled his fierce competitive desire as a driver into that of an owner, and he hasn't had any regrets. His drivers have won 28 times (Dixon 16, Capps 11 and Johnson 1) giving Prudhomme 77 overall race wins.
His continued passion for and involvement in drag racing for more than 40 years and his ongoing contributions to the sport were recognized by the panel voting on NHRA's top 50 drivers when they chose him No. 3 overall. Following is a brief question and answer session with Prudhomme, who operates race shops here and Indianapolis:
Q - What was your reaction to being No. 3 in NHRA's Top 50?
Can I ask for a recount? How much does it pay? (Those were his tongue-in-cheek responses, followed by his real reactions.) It's wonderful. You always question whether or not you're doing your job right at the track and how you've handled yourself. It's a high honor to be chosen No. 3 when you consider who you're in there with. Apparently I've done my job fairly well and am recognized in the sport as one who got the job done.
Q - How would you like to be remembered?
When it's all said and done, the thing I always strived for was to help elevate this sport to a level so that people respected it and respected what I'm doing. I loved automobiles but it wasn't real fashionable to love hot rod cars back in those days (in the late 1950s). But I always felt drag racing was something the average guy could do. You didn't have to be a brain surgeon; the average guy could do it, especially if he had the love of the automobile. And I had that. I just hope I helped elevate the sport as far as bringing sponsors into it, as far as how our equipment looked and the way we presented ourselves at the racetrack. When I look around now and see the type of equipment and type of people that are at the racetrack, I'm pretty proud of it. We've come a long ways.
Q - What keeps your enthusiasm for the sport up?
I have a real passion for the sport and the people involved in it. It was a passion when I was driving and I've been able to carry on with that same passion as a car owner. I have a real desire to do things right, win races and give 100 percent every time we go out there.
I guess you could say I'm kind of like an actor that's behind the camera and behind the scenes instead of in front of the camera. And I like that. I've found that it is a good nitch for me and I've liked that role. It helps having Larry Dixon, Ron Capps and Tommy Johnson as my drivers. But it really helps to have three of the best sponsors out there - Miller, U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company and Mac Tools.
Another thing that keeps me full of enthusiasm is when you go out and do your job and your sponsors say thanks for the job you're doing. I like to give them their money's worth, I like to give the fans their money's worth and, most of all, I like to make myself happy, too, when I leave the racetrack.
Q - When you were racing, what did other drivers fear most about you?
I really don't have any idea. For me, I think, they knew that when I raced them that we were somebody to contend with and that we were going to be as tough as they come when it came time to race. I think people knew then and I like to think they still know that when they race one of my cars that it's going to be a bad hombre they're pulling up next to. After all, that's what it's all about.
Q - Why do you think you were successful as a driver?
I had a passion for winning and a passion for what I was doing and I knew that I had to answer to myself if I didn't do it right. And I had a hard time living with that. The passion for what I was doing and the desire I had was everything. I was completely focused. Certainly I didn't win any popularity contests out there at the time. I just tried to do my job and it was a thrill.
But I find this is quite a challenge now as a car owner. It's basically the same thing. That hasn't changed. You'd think it would but it really hasn't. There's an unbelievable passion there when you see it done right, put together right. I don't have to be the one talking on camera. I like being behind the scenes. I like to see it all operate and do it to the best of my ability.
It's been a good year. Our goal is to keep improving every year. We've done that with the dragster and this is just one of those highlight years to be fighting for the championship. The Funny Car team is basically new. It's our first year with two new cars. To be honest, my full intentions are to try and improve for next year. I am responsible for that as an owner and I try to do it to the best of my abilities.