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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Indy 500 analyst role part of looking forward for Danica Patrick

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It’s been 10 months since Danica Patrick last competed in an auto racing event and she is completely fine with that.

Patrick was last seen in a cockpit in last May’s Indianapolis 500, part of her mini-retirement tour from racing that also included a run in the Daytona 500.

Now she’ll be back at the track, serving as an analyst for NBC’s broadcast of the 103rd Indy 500 on May 26.

It will be an interlude to her post-racing career.

“I really don’t miss racing,” Patrick said during a teleconference Wednesday.  “I’m really happy. I selfishly set out (with) the intention I wanted to travel a lot. I’ve definitely done that. Also working on my other businesses.”

Without racing, Patrick is able to look over her “Warrior” clothing line and her Somnium wine. She’s also been a host of ESPN’s Espy Awards show.

“I’m not a look-back kind of person, I’m a look-forward (person),” Patrick said. “This is something that’s part of looking forward. This is something totally new and different for me. It’s coming at a place where I have a lot of history, but it hasn’t been my job, which is why I’m going to work really hard to make sure I’m ready, like anything else I do that’s different.

Since retiring, Patrick said she watches racing “when I can.”

“I’m not going to lie, I’m happy doing what I’m doing,” Patrick said. “It’s allowed me new opportunities like this.”

This won’t be the first time Patrick has served in an analyst role for a race. She did the same for some Xfinity Series race broadcasts in the last few years of her NASCAR career.

“It’s very good to have had that experience,” Patrick said. “Obviously I was giving my driving experience sort of perspective and that insight, which is something I’m going to be doing again. But it was a guest spot.

“This is firm and established, part of a small team of two with Mike (Tirico) and I. I think there’s going to be a lot more preparation involved, I’m going to need to know a lot more information.”

Patrick said there will be one difference in her Indy 500 experience this year compared to the eight times she competed in the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

“I didn’t purposely look at the buildup of the day,” Patrick said. “I didn’t want to see the fans rolling in, all the pomp and circumstance. I really liked to keep it quiet. I wanted to just walk out there and have it be the event, not let myself get built up too much in my head with nerves, just the platform, the iconic event that it was, the millions of people. I just wanted to stay focused and go do it.

“This time, I’m sure I will see the buildup. I’m sure I’ll see the place fill in and turn from a quiet, peaceful, magical place, (and) at the shot of a cannon it’s going to start unraveling. That will be a cool perspective for me that I purposely haven’t really watched closely.”

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