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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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Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images
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LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.