NHRA: Tom ‘Mongoose’ McEwen wanted to be remembered as a ‘good guy, kind of a smart aleck guy’

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NHRA’s National Dragster is an outstanding publication with its comprehensive coverage of both pro and sportsman drag racing.

Veteran National Dragster editor Phil Burgess recently re-published a Q&A interview he had several years ago with legendary Funny Car driver Tom “Mongoose” McEwen, who passed away last month at the age of 81.

The interview was both poignant and timeless, really capturing the essence of who McEwen was and what he meant to the sport of drag racing, and what the sport meant to him.

We’d like to share a few excerpts of that interview with some of McEwen’s poignant comments. At the end of the excerpts, we’ll give you the link to the full story from NHRA.com, which you’re sure to enjoy.

NATIONAL DRAGSTER: How does it feel to be a living drag racing legend? 

McEwen: In some people’s eyes I am, but not so much in my own. I’ve done some things and have helped the sport, but I never won that many races like (Don) Prudhomme. I know I was right there, and without me to beat they wouldn’t be champions, but to be compared to Prudhomme and [Don] Garlits and other such people, I don’t know. I always felt I was a very good driver, but I was never a tuner. There are other people who are bigger heroes than me who don’t get the recognition they deserve, like Ed McCulloch. He has never gotten his true deal. He has won a lot of races, tuned cars, and done a lot of things in the sport, but somehow he gets overlooked a little.

The other difference between me and someone like Prudhomme or Garlits is that I didn’t have that killer instinct every round. Prudhomme was 24-7; me, I liked doing other things. I always knew that was the difference between us, but it never bothered me because I didn’t want to be like those guys.

NATIONAL DRAGSTER: Does it bother you that Prudhomme always seemed to run better, won championships, and got the bigger sponsors?

McEwen: I’m not the jealous type; I just made sure I had fun doing what I did. I didn’t let it eat me up.

NATIONAL DRAGSTER: What kind of rivalry was it (with Prudhomme)? 

McEwen: The rivalry was very serious, and we tried to be friends off the track, but we’re just different people. His fire burned a lot hotter than mine; he was possessed. He hated to lose, especially to me, not that that happened a lot.

NATIONAL DRAGSTER: And, of course, there’s Indy in 1978, when you beat Prudhomme in the Funny Car final just a few days after your son Jamie died of leukemia.

McEwen: That was a big deal; probably the biggest. Prudhomme always seemed to have a tenth on us back then, so we built a special ring-and-pinion with a shorter gear. We put it in for the semifinals when we had a bye run and it stuck, so we kept it for the final. We made our quickest run, and it all worked out and we won. I turned off into the grass and was sitting in my car crying. The people were going crazy, and Prudhomme came up under the body with me and we shook hands, both of us crying. I think it was probably the only time he didn’t mind getting beat. People still talk to me about it.

NATIONAL DRAGSTER: How would you like to be remembered?

McEwen: As a good guy. Kind of a smart aleck guy who liked people and enjoyed what he did. I was serious at the track but had fun away from it.

To read Burgess’ entire interview with McEwen, please click here.