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

Photos courtesy NHRA
1 Comment

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.

 

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
Joe Portlock - Formula 1/Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images
2 Comments

Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”