NHRA: John Force on death of Tom ‘Mongoose’ McEwen: ‘I never said I loved him, but I always did’

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Like many of his contemporaries such as Don “The Snake” Prudhomme and Kenny Bernstein, NHRA Funny Car legend John Force is also devastated by the death of Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen, who passed away Sunday at the age of 81.

Force issued a lengthy and emotional statement Wednesday morning recalling his close relationship with McEwen, one that lasted over the last 40-plus years.

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

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

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

Force last spoke with McEwen nearly a month ago after McEwen left a message on Force’s cell phone voicemail, wondering why Force had three big motor explosions, as well as three crashes related to those explosions.

“Force,” McEwen said, “are you trying to kill yourself?  Let’s talk, call me.”

When McEwen talked, Force always stopped to listen.

“He could do that,” Force said. “I know I don’t listen like I should because I’m always too busy talking about my kids or my sponsors or something else, but I would always listen to Mongoose.

“He’d be honest. If he thought I was screwing up, he’d tell me. Sometimes it would piss me off, but when I thought about it, he was usually right. He didn’t pull any punches. He knew the life.”

The late Tom ‘The Mongoose’ McEwen passed away Sunday at the age of 81 from complications related to colon cancer surgery. Photo courtesy NHRA/National Dragster.

McEwen not only was a formidable opponent to Force early in the latter’s racing career, he also was also a mentor to Force, particularly when it came to attracting sponsorship for Force’s Funny Car.

“He was a hustler,” Force said of McEwen. “He was the first marketer (in drag racing). Kenny Bernstein and Raymond Beadle, they sold the sport to corporate America, but Mongoose in my opinion was the first. He was the one who showed the way.

“He was one of the guys who taught me how to chase money and that the sponsors always had to be taken care of.

“Back in the early days he taught me how to talk to the racetrack promoters and what they really expected of me as a race car driver. Tracks like Irwindale, Orange County, Seattle, Bakersfield, Fremont and Phoenix, they wanted a showman, a fast talker, tire smoking, hot cars, and story teller, and he was the king.

“(McEwen) would always tell me like it was and I’m telling you, he was the PT Barnum of drag racing. When I won my first round at an NHRA event in Baton Rouge, all he said was ‘Johnny boy, I’m proud of you.'”

Force then launched into his own personal eulogy of McEwen.

“Drag racing never would be where it is right now without the Mongoose,” Force said. “My kids would never have the kind of opportunities they have, or the lives they live.

“It’s very emotional for me because I’m losing all my heroes Gene Beaver (Force’s uncle), Keith Black, Joe Pisano, Raymond Beadle, (Dale) Armstrong, (Steve) Plueger, and now Mongoose.

“I know (death is) going to happen to all of us; we ain’t getting out of this alive. But this one is really hard because, to me, the Mongoose was invincible. He loved drag racing, he loved the fans and he loved life.

“He would come to my shows for hours and sign (autographs) for the fans. When I was 16 at Lions Dragstrip (in Long Beach, California), I knew that all I wanted was to race but I knew it was impossible.

“But when I saw Hot Wheels with Snake and the Mongoose years later, I saw that you really could make a living in this sport. Mongoose put us on the map.

People who never heard of John Force know about the Snake and the Mongoose. That’s how big they were.

“We all learned from him and right to the end he was still so big in the sport. People who never heard of John Force know about the Snake and the Mongoose. That’s how big they were.

“I was emotional after hearing of his passing while at Richmond (this past weekend’s most recent NHRA national event), because the Mongoose was a racer that took care of so many, including me. He loved the sport, he loved his family, he loved his friends, he loved his fans and NHRA drag racing.”

Force admits he has one regret over McEwen’s passing: “I realized something that I had missed. I never said I loved him, but I always did.”

But Force also takes consolation in knowing McEwen’s legacy and impact upon the sport will continue to be felt for a long time still to come: “Heroes live on, but legends never die.”

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Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023; leaves open possibility of returning at Ganassi

Jimmie Johnson race 2023
Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images
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Though he remains uncertain of his plans for next year, Jimmie Johnson won’t race full time in 2023, scaling back his schedule after running a full 17-race NTT IndyCar Series season.

“This was a difficult choice for me, but in my heart, I know it’s the right one,” Johnson said in a statement Monday morning. “I’m not exactly sure what the next chapter holds, but if an opportunity comes along that makes sense, I will consider it. I still have a bucket list of racing events I would like to take part in. Competing at this level in IndyCar has been such a great experience.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better team to race for than Chip Ganassi and Chip Ganassi Racing. Everyone worked extremely hard for the last two seasons, pushing to get the best performances out of me every single week. The support from my crew and teammates Dario (Franchitti), Scott (Dixon), Tony (Kanaan), Marcus (Ericsson) and Alex (Palou) went above and beyond anything I could have ever asked for.”

WHAT’S NEXT FOR JIMMIE JOHNSON: An analysis of his racing options for the 2023 season

Driving the No. 48 Dallara-Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing, Johnson ranked 21st in the 2022 points standings with a career-best fifth place July 24 at Iowa Speedway.

After running only road and street courses for Ganassi in 2021, the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion added ovals this year. In his Indy 500 debut, he qualified 12th and finished 28th after a late crash.

“I do have a desire to go back (to IndyCar), it’s just at this point, I know what’s required to do a full schedule, and I don’t have that in me,” Johnson told AP. “I don’t have that passion that I need for myself to commit myself to a full season.”

That leaves open the concept of Johnson returning part time with Ganassi, perhaps exclusively on ovals.

“We are fully supportive of Jimmie,” team owner Chip Ganassi said in a statement. “He has been a valued member of our team and if we can find a way to continue working together, we would like to do so.”

During IndyCar’s season finale race weekend, Johnson told reporters Sept. 9 that he planned to explore his options with wife Chandra and daughters Evie and Lydia. Johnson told the Associated Press that his family is considering living abroad for a year or two, and he has toyed with the idea of running in the World Endurance Championship sports car series because of its international locales.

Johnson hasn’t ruled out IndyCar, IMSA sports cars or even a cameo in NASCAR next year. Since retiring from full-time NASCAR after the 2020 season, he has entered the endurance races of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac (including Saturday’s Petit Le Mans season finale). Johnson also wants to race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and is a prime candidate for the Garage 56 entry (a joint project of NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports).

Johnson told the AP he is interested in becoming the latest driver to try “The Double” and run both the Coca-Cola 600 and Indy 500 on the same day (the most recent was Kurt Busch in 2014).

“You know me and endurance sports, and ‘The Double’ sounds awesome,” Johnson, a four-time Coke 600 winner, told AP. “I’ve always had this respect for the guys who have done ‘The Double.’ I would say it is more of a respect thing than a bucket-list item, and I’d love to put some energy into that idea and see if I can pull it off.”

It is less likely that he would return to IMSA’s endurance events because its top prototype series is being overhauled, limiting the amount of inventory available for the new LMDh cars in the rebranded GTP division.

Johnson has confirmed that he would retain primary sponsor Carvana, which has backed him in IndyCar the past two years. He revealed his decision Monday during the last episode of “Reinventing the Wheel,” Carvana Racing’s eight-part docuseries about his 2023 season.

“I’m thankful for the partnership with a company like Carvana for allowing me to take this journey in IndyCar, for seeing the value in our partnership and being open to future opportunities together,” Johnson said. “They have truly showed me that there are no finish lines in life. Along with Carvana, The American Legion, Ally, cbdMD and Frank August were there every step of the way, and I couldn’t have done it without all of them. Most importantly — and the true rockstars in all of this –my family, Chani, Evie and Lydia. They have always allowed me to chase my dreams, and we are all just really excited about what the future holds for all of us. I have enjoyed every minute of these last two years.”

Said Carvana co-founder Ryan Keeton: “During the past two years, Jimmie Johnson has been so amazing to collaborate with. Our team admires his passion, hard work and commitment to continuous improvement while also having fun, and we look forward to continuing to support him next year in this new chapter.”