All photos courtesy NHRA and National Dragster

Don ‘Snake’ Prudhomme on Tom ‘Mongoose’ McEwen: ‘Like brothers’ for 60 years

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Don “The Snake” Prudhomme is heartbroken following the death Sunday of best friend, business partner and racing rival Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen.

“Tom was like a brother to me,” Prudhomme told MotorSportsTalk in an exclusive interview Tuesday morning. “We fought, argued like hell, and we laughed like hell, like brothers.

“That was pretty much our whole 60 years together. That was always a cool thing, our relationship.”

Prudhomme and McEwen were best friends for 60 years. Photo: NHRA/National Dragster.

Prudhomme wasn’t kidding about McEwen being like a brother to him. Prudhomme lost his only brother many years ago. McEwen was there to console him and assumed a big brother type of role to Prudhomme – four years younger than McEwen – from then until his death on Sunday.

“Basically, Tom became my brother after that,” Prudhomme said. “We spoke constantly on the phone, every day, for 60 years.

“I’m really going to miss him. We were like an act together, you know? We were a couple of characters, a couple of kids that found a way to make a living in drag racing, and largely because of him with his great mind that he had as far as marketing and promoting ourselves.

MORE: Drag racing legend Tom ‘The Mongoose’ McEwen dies at 81

MORE: Column: How ‘Mongoose’ McEwen turned Hot Wheels into sheer genius

“Not only did he do a lot for me, he did a lot for drag racing. He showed me and people that are racing today that you could go out and get sponsors and turn our sport into a legitimate motorsport. He was one of the guys that really made that happen.”

Prudhomme revealed that McEwen died at the age of 81 due to complications following recent colon cancer surgery.

One of the many times that McEwen and Prudhomme raced each other in their careers. Photo: NHRA/National Dragster.

“They operated and got the cancer out, but he had complications after that,” Prudhomme said. “Basically, he died from complications of the operation.”

McEwen not only had a great mind for marketing and promotion within the sport, he also had a big heart, helping countless drivers throughout his career and life.

Sadly, though, that loyalty to everyone else came at a cost.

“Tom, as much as I loved him and as much as he looked after other people including me, he didn’t look after himself very well,” Prudhomme said. “He was more concerned about how someone else was doing than how he was doing. That was his nature.”

While they were friends for six decades and on-track rivals for more than 30 years, McEwen and Prudhomme were perhaps best known for their sponsorship by Hot Wheels from Mattel Toys in the early-to-mid 1970s.

Mattel had a marketing bonanza on its hand that still continues today with the same Hot Wheels brand. It was McEwen who, along with Prudhomme, approached Mattel in 1969, trying to convince the company to back their racing efforts. The rest became drag racing and toy history.

While Prudhomme won multiple championships and races in both his NHRA Funny Car and Top Fuel careers, McEwen won just five NHRA national events, the biggest being Mongoose’s upset win over the Snake in the 1978 U.S. Nationals in suburban Indianapolis.

Prudhomme first met McEwen in 1958 at Lions Dragstrip in Long Beach, California.

“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Prudhomme said with a chuckle. “I was in a car club called the Road Kings of Burbank, and in the club there was a guy named Tommy Ivo (known in drag racing circles as “TV Tommy Ivo” because he was also an actor), who was quite a racer.

“Ivo had a roadster to push his dragster to the starting line and I drove the roadster. Mongoose came up to me and said, ‘Hey, can I ride with you?’ And I said, ‘No kid, you’ve gotta ask Ivo.’

Tom ‘Mongoose’ McEwen, left, and Don ‘Snake’ Prudhomme first met in 1958 and were lifelong friends from that point until McEwen’s death on Sunday at the age of 81. Photo: NHRA/National Dragster.

“So I threw him out and wouldn’t let him ride down the track with me. To this day, he always brought it up how I just blew him off (Prudhomme said with a laugh).

“That’s the first time I met him, and for some reason or other, he and I became instant friends. We were complete opposites. He had money and I painted cars in the San Fernando Valley.

“We just clicked together. We could go into a sponsor and the two of us, for the most part, would crack a joke and the sponsor would like it. We were an act, we fed off each other. Even today, if we’d go to a press conference or sign t-shirts and stuff, we always had a way to get the crowd laughing and having a good time.”

Prudhomme had a very poignant answer when asked how he will best remember McEwen: “Every time my name, Snake, comes up, I’ll remember it because there’s a Mongoose that’s attached to it. We’re forever embedded in each other.”

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IMSA Prototype Season in Review

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IMSA Wire Service

It was a year of change for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda. The longtime sprint series evolved in 2018 to six one-hour, 45-minute endurance races that allowed teams to run single or two-driver combinations with a required minimum-time pit stop. The result: record-high car counts in the LMP3 class with Kris Wright ultimately winning the series championship for Extreme Speed Motorsports, while Cameron Cassels took home the LMP3 Masters title. In the MPC class, meanwhile, series veteran Jon Brownson won his first championship in the final season for the class with a breakthrough win one week ago in the season finale at Road Atlanta.

This season-in-review takes a look back at the path each of the three champions took on their way to history.

1. Daytona International Speedway, January 6

Winners
LMP3: Roman De Angelis, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Gary Gibson, No. 44 Ave Motorsports Ave-Riley AR2
MPC: Robert Masson, No. 11 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
Not only was the season-opener during the Roar Before the Rolex 24 weekend the first endurance race for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda, it also was the first race for the series at the iconic Daytona International Speedway. Wright, driving the No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3 scored his first podium of the season alongside co-driver Daniel Morad with a third-place finish behind Porsche GT3 Challenge driver and winner Roman De Angelis and co-drivers Austin McCusker and David Droux, finishing second for the upstart Forty7 Motorsports team. Masson scored the MPC win, lapping all but one car, while Brownson came home fifth.

2. Sebring International Raceway, March 16

Winners
LMP3: Leo Lamelas / Pato O’Ward, No. 7 Charles Wicht Racing Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: James McGuire Jr., No. 26 K2R Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Dave House, No. 86 ONE Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The round at Sebring featured a late-race restart that saw eventual 2018 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship Prototype Challenge champion O’Ward drive from fourth to first in the closing laps to secure the win for full-time driver Lamelas. Wright, meanwhile, finished third for the second consecutive time to start the season with a new co-driver, Michael Whelden. The No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports entry again finished second with McCusker now joined by TJ Fischer, who would go on to run the full season with the team. Coming out of Sebring, McCusker would lead Wright by four points, 64-60. Between Sebring and the next round at Barber Motorsports Park, Wright would decide to contest the full season for Extreme Speed Motorsports.

It was a special victory in the MPC class with House becoming IMSA’s oldest race winner at the age of 75. Foreshadowing a points race that what would ultimately come down to the season finale at Road Atlanta, the top five in the MPC standings are separated by two points leaving Sebring, with Brownson seventh, 12 points out, after a ninth-place finish.

3. Barber Motorsports Park, April 21

Winners
LMP3: Kris Wright / Yann Clairay, No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Rob Hodes, No. 51 K2R Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Michal Chlumecky, No. 31 Eurosport Racing Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The only standalone event for the IMSA Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda would prove to be the turning point in the LMP3 class. Leading all but one practice session on the weekend and starting the race from the pole, Wright and co-driver Clairay dominated the event, only losing the lead briefly on a cycle of green flag pit stops. Wright’s biggest competition for the championship, meanwhile, the No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports team, seemed poised to score its third consecutive runner-up finish of the season to hold onto the LMP3 points lead, but contact between Fischer and an MPC car with five minutes remaining relegated the team to a 16th-place finish. Entering the weekend down four points in the standings, Wright left Barber up six points, 95-89, over Lamelas.

Chlumecky scored his first MPC class win since 2012, while teammate Brownson, the Sebring pole winner, capped off a Eurosport Racing 1-2 finish placing second in the team’s No. 34 entry. Masson rounded out the podium with a third-place finish in the No. 11 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02 to regain the class lead. Brownson left Barber eight points behind Masson, fifth in the standings.

4. Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, July 8

Winners
LMP3: Austin McCusker / TJ Fischer, No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports Norma M30
LMP3 Masters: Dean Baker, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Howard Jacobs / James French, No. 77 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The long overdue first victory for Forty7 Motorsports finally came at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park for McCusker and Fischer, but a second-place finish for Wright meant McCusker could only gain three points on the series leader, with Wright keeping the deficit at 13 points. Dean Baker would score the LMP3 Masters win, the fourth winner in four races following Gibson at Daytona, McGuire Jr. at Sebring and Hodes at Barber. Cassels finished on the LMP3 Masters podium for the first time in 2018 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, finishing the race seventh overall and third in LMP3 Masters.

Leading the MPC standings coming into Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Robert Masson enlisted son and defending series champion Kyle Masson as a co-driver for the remainder of the season. The plan appeared to work with the duo crossing the line first, but upon post-race analysis of drive-time requirements, it was concluded that Kyle Masson did not record the minimum 40 minutes of drive time and the car was moved to the back of the MPC results. That penalty elevated Jacobs and French to the race win in Performance Tech’s No. 77 entry and moved Brownson, who finished second for the consecutive race, to the class championship lead. Coming out of Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, the top six in points were separated by just two points with two races remaining.

5. VIRginia International Raceway, August 18

Winners
LMP3: Kris Wright / Stephen Simpson, No. 30 Extreme Speed Motorsports Ligier JS P3
LMP3 Masters: Dean Baker, No. 4 ANSA Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Howard Jacobs / James French, No. 77 Performance Tech Motorsports Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
Wright enlisted IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship regular Stephen Simpson as co-driver at VIR and delivered a knockout punch in the LMP3 title fight, scoring the win and opening a 23-point lead over McCusker, who finished sixth. Baker would win his second consecutive race in LMP3 Masters with a second-place finish overall alongside Zacharie Robichon. Hodes would lead the LMP3 Masters points by two points over Jim Garrett, eight points over Cassels and nine points over Joel Janco.

Robert Masson seemed poised to take the points lead and win alongside Kyle Masson as the duo drove brilliantly in the rain, building a nearly one-lap lead. A mechanical issue with 17 minutes remaining, however, set up a late-race sprint to the finish with French winning on the last lap for Jacobs.

With only one race remaining, House moved into the class lead by three points, 143-140, over Jacobs. The top seven teams were mathematically eligible for the championship and separated by a mere eight points.

6. Road Atlanta, October 12

Winners
LMP3: Austin McCusker / TJ Fischer, No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports Norma M30
LMP3 Masters: Cameron Cassels, No. 75 Performance Tech Motorsports Ligier JS P3
MPC: Jon Brownson, No. 34 Eurosport Racing Elan DP02

How the Champions Fared
The second win of the season for the No. 47 Forty7 Motorsports entry and co-driver McCusker and Fischer was not enough to take the championship away from Wright, who finished second at Road Atlanta to sweep podiums in all six races on the series schedule.

Cassels scored his first LMP3 Masters win of the season, and despite entering the weekend eight points behind in the standings, would also win the LMP3 Masters championship after each of the title contenders ran into various issues on-track.

Brownson called it an “honor” to win the final race for the MPC class. Brownson, who started in the first race for the series in 2006, scored his first win of the season in the No. 34 Eurosport Racing entry to win the final championship for the class.