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

All photos courtesy NHRA and National Dragster
0 Comments

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.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E and Ian James set to race ahead of electric motorsports’ curve

James McLaren Formula E
NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team
0 Comments

As Formula E enters their ninth season and McLaren Racing is set to compete in last year’s championship winning car, Ian James is passionate about pushing electric motorsports forward at a critical stage as race technology begins surpassing that of the street cars.

Midseason, McLaren acquired the assets of the Mercedes-EQ team as they were already on their way to winning a second consecutive championship. With those assets in place and coming off a successful debut in the Extreme E series, James is set to usher in a new era in electric car racing.

Last week’s announcement that Jake Hughes will join Rene Rast behind the wheel of the NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team was the last piece of the puzzle.

McLaren’s electric portfolio is building with the Formula E team coming one year after they entered the Extreme E rally series in 2022 with Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour. There were a lot of lessons to learn in that series with growing pains during the first three of five rounds. Rounds 4 and 5 were a completely different matter with the team crossing the finish line first in Chile before being assessed a time penalty.

In the final round in Uruguay, they scored an elusive podium.

“McLaren kicked off the season in Extreme E at the beginning of this year, so our first [electric] race took place Neom, actually out in Saudi,” NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team Principal James told NBC Sports. “At the time, we were in very early discussions about opportunities with the Formula E team. I actually went out there to meet with Zak [Brown, CEO McLaren Racing] and that was my first taste of Extreme E.

“Since the transition, I joined them in Chile in Atacama Desert, and then Uruguay last weekend. [The second-place finish was] a lovely way to round out the season. The fact that they got that podium. It was very well deserved. It’s a great team and a great series actually. It’s just so very different from anything else. The team’s done a great job in getting set up, and it’s nice now to, we’re trying to use that momentum that we’ve got from Uruguay to get us into next season when it kicks off next year, which will be great. I think we’re mid-March is looking like the first race, so a little bit of time to get things prepped for that.”

 

James McLaren Formula E
The NEOM Mclaren Racing Formula E Team was created through the acquisition of last year’s championship team from Mercedes-EQ. – NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team

Synergies exist between the single seater and rally series. Lessons learned about battery power and sustainability in the electric SUV carry over so long as one is mindful of keeping focus on the individual needs and nuances of each series.

Especially now that electric racing technology has caught up, and is ready to surpass, the existing technology that has gone into building street cars.

When internal combustion engines gained the upper hand soon after automobiles were invented, racing paced alongside. The pressure of competition pushed the development of their commercial equivalents. The same has not necessarily been true of electric cars. Street cars were not designed to undergo the same stress as racecars – and that vulnerability showed up on the racetrack.

“Formula E has come along a long way,” James said. “I think one of the most notable developments is in the battery technology. In Gen 1, you had the drivers jumping from one car to another car midrace because the battery technology and capacity simply wasn’t where it needed to be to do the full distance. That obviously changed in Gen 2 and we saw a power increase as well to the 250 kilowatts.

“Now going to Gen 3, we have 350 kilowatts in a smaller battery. But that means that we’re relying on the regeneration of energy and for that reason, we’ve got also the opportunity to regenerate on the front axle as well as the rear axle now. So, there’s all sorts of things that are developing in the right direction.

“In terms of throttle response, actually, we’re now in a situation with electric racing and the motors that it’s instantaneous. And one of the advantages of electric over combustion engine is that the torque is instantaneous as well, so that gives you a lot more room to play with.”

No matter the power source, racing has always been about resource management. Drivers and teams select tire strategies they believe produce the fastest elapsed time and fuel conservation comes into play.

On one hand, electric racing is the same, but there is a critical difference. With the battery as both the power source and an integral part of the engine, there are multiple reasons to manage it.

In electric racing, the brain of the car is the software – and that is where James sees the greatest room for advancement.

“As we are working with our drivers and engineers – and start to look at functionality to improve our efficiency and our performance, that’s something we’ll continue to push because that development is open throughout the season,” James said. “That’s going to be our focus going forward and provides enough of a challenge for us to get our teeth into.

“What’s going to be fascinating is as Formula E continues, is to really look at which areas of development on the car are going to be the most relevant and ensuring that we can focus on those together with the manufacturers so we continue and use the series as a platform for technical development that can then feed back into the road car side of things as well.

“At the end of the day, that’s what motorsports always been, a very powerful tool for, and I see Formula E as no exception.”

James McLaren Formula E
Jake Hughes and Rene Rast were chosen for their ability to drive fast and execute the necessary strategy for energy management. – NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team

Selecting Rast and Hughes as McLaren’s Formula E drivers was not simply because they know how to drive fast. James believes both drivers have the mental aptitude to execute energy management strategies throughout the race and squeeze maximum performance.

“As with many other motorsports, you’ve got a certain amount of energy that you’re able to deploy during the race and the management of that energy is absolutely crucial,” James said. “What we’re seeing typically in electric motorsports now is the hardware side of things. The efficiencies that we’re seeing in the powertrain as a whole, they’re getting up to the sort of 96%, 97%, 98% efficiency, so the gains that you get through that further and further become more marginal.”

With much more room for improvement, software is a different matter. To make the best decisions, the drivers need data, and that is where James believes McLaren Formula E will make their greatest impact.

“And then you really switch that focus to the software and that’s where you’re going to see the most the most improvement and the most gains,” James continued. “It’s then using that software to ensure that you’re deploying the energy in the most efficient manner during race, and thereby giving the driver the most performance. And that’s something which is incredibly complicated, but I find it a fascinating area to work in.

“The benefit of being involved in racing is you can really push the envelope in a way that you can’t do on road cars. And I think that that’s where that value comes in. It means that you accelerate the development a lot quicker. We will get ahead of the curve – and we are getting ahead of the curve now – and that will mean that the electric motorsports remain part of the overall development process.

“The key to that is also making sure that the racing’s exciting and fun for the fans. If we can, we can tick both of those boxes, then it’s got a very bright future ahead of it.”