Photos: Richard Shute/Auto Imagery

Don ‘Snake’ Prudhomme pairs with Parnelli Jones’ grandson for Mexican 1000

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Legendary drag racer Don “Snake” Prudhomme vowed after competing in last year’s National Off-Road Racing Association 1000 off-road race (also known as the NORRA 1000 and the Mexican 1000), that it was a one-and-done effort or him. After all, he had just turned 77 and had long sought to check the 1000 off his bucket list.

Well, so much for that idea.

Prudhomme, who turned 78 on April 6, is coming back for more in this year’s NORRA 1000 (April 28 through May 2) .

It was during last year’s race, it was in the middle of the night and in the middle of Mexico and I said there’s no way I’ll ever do this again,” Prudhomme told NBC Sports. “Then a few months pass by and you go, ‘Hmmm, if I go back, maybe I’d do it this way.’ Well, I’m going back.”

But Prudhomme isn’t just going back. He’s in it to win it.

I have some unfinished business from last year’s race,” said Prudhomme, who finished 95th out of more than 150 entries — but he completed the entire 1,300-mile circuit. “I made a lot of mistakes, I didn’t know the course, I didn’t know the GPS. I was like a duck out of water there.

But this time, I get it now. I’m not going to say I’ll do any better, but I’m pretty sure I will because I get it and I understand the course.”

MORE: K&N Series’ Jagger Jones, drag racing icon Don ‘Snake’ Prudhomme pair up for Baja race

The drag racing icon spent more than 30 years piloting Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars, winning numerous championships and countless races. But he’s a relative newcomer to off-road racing. Last year was only his second-ever race, and it came 50 years after he was unable to make his initial debut in 1968 when the motor on his ride blew up the night before that race was to kick off.

While he said a top-five finish in this year’s 1000 “would be great,” Prudhomme has an even higher goal this year.

It would mean everything to me to win it,” Prudhomme said. “I’ve won in drag racing and I’ve done really good things there, but running off-road, I never have won. It would probably be the greatest achievement I’ve ever accomplished if I could win that thing. That would be over the top – and we stand a shot at it, we really do.”

Prudhomme will be paired with young up-and-coming NASCAR K&N Series driver Jagger Jones, the 16-year-old grandson of iconic racer Parnelli Jones and son of race car driver PJ Jones, whose performance company built the off-road vehicle Prudhomme and Jagger will pilot.

Doing it with Jagger, he’s a young, real aggressive driver and he’s really fast,” Prudhomme said. “I couldn’t think of a better kid to be my co-driver.”

Jagger competed for another team in last year’s NORRA 1000, which was his first career off-road race as a competitor. The younger Jones and his brother Jace were leading the race late when the transmission on their vehicle broke, ending their winning hopes.

Jones is looking forward to being paired with Prudhomme.

It’s really cool to be able to do a race with the one and only Snake, who has been such a legend in the drag racing community,” Jones said. “I’m only 16 years old, so I think it’s pretty awesome.

I’ve always been around the off-road scene and watched my dad do a lot of races off-road. I grew up around Robby Gordon and off-road places like Parker (Arizona), where we always go there every year and go camping. I’ve always wanted to do off-road racing. My brother and I both enjoy it. It’s a lot of fun and a lot of different than the pavement stuff. It’s really fun when you’re sideways and stuff.

 

(If we win) I think that would be super awesome. We definitely have a shot at winning. It’s like an endurance race. First, you have to finish to win. That’s probably going to be our biggest goal. We want to do good, but if we can just finish, I think we’ll wind up in a good place. If we finish, anything else is a bonus. To win would be awesome. My dad won last year, so if we could follow that up this year, it’d be super cool.”

Even though Prudhomme said no more after last year’s NORRA 1000, he is back for this year’s race. But that will be it, he vows.

This is my last tango in Baja,” Prudhomme said. “But the kid’s got me excited. I ran with him some last year and he’s really fast. He was born to race and fortunately I’ve got him with me and we’re going to have a ball.

But this is my last tango, trust me.”

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Ben Hanley relieved to make Indy 500 debut

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Qualifying for the Indy 500 is never an easy task, especially for a new driver and team, and with 36 cars vying for 33 starting positions last weekend, 34-year-old rookie Ben Hanley knew there was a chance he and his DragonSpeed team would not make the show.

“I wouldn’t say we were very confident, but we wanted to [make the field],” Hanley told NBC Sports. “The biggest thing we were trying to achieve was to not be on track on Sunday in the shootout because it only takes one mistake or one little issue and that’s it, you’re not in the race.”

But Hanley would not have to worry about being bumped from the field. He qualified 27th after making three attempts on Day 1, which was enough to lock the No. 81 team into the show. Not too shabby for a driver and team making only their third NTT IndyCar Series start.

THE 103RD INDIANAPOLIS 500: Click here for how to watch, full daily schedules

“That last run everything just came together,” Hanley said. “We trimmed out a little bit more and found a good balance of trim and grip over four [qualifying] laps and it was enough to get us through.

“It was a huge relief to get through in P27. A massive achievement for everybody involved.”

Indeed it was a massive achievement, as DragonSpeed is one of the smallest teams in the garage, with no corporate sponsors and a tiny team of around 20 personnel. Many of those were picked up by the team just a week before qualifying, when members of the team’s regular crew were denied entry into the United States due to visa issues after leaving a sports car race in Italy.

“It was all down to the team organizing some people who were in and around Indianapolis who weren’t needed for the race weekend,” Hanley said. “Obviously, I don’t think many people are going to refuse the chance to work on a car that’s trying to qualify for the 500.”

Though the team made its first Indy 500 on Day 1 of qualifying, the DragonSpeed team did not spend Saturday night out late celebrating. Instead, Hanley said the extra time was spent preparing for the race.

“We went straight on to race prep then for the car, so Sunday was a good day for the guys to take time to prep the car into the race spec and get everything sorted out in a nice, organized manner.”

Following the Indy 500, DragonSpeed will run two other races this season at Road America and Mid-Ohio. The team is hopeful that a good run at Indy will result in an opportunity to run a bigger schedule next season and attract sponsors.

Hanley stated that though he’s happy to have made the Indy 500 starting grid for the first time in his career, the magnitude of his feat hasn’t hit him yet.

“It hasn’t really soaked in yet,” he said. “I think it will soak in on Sunday when we roll out to the grid.

“It was such a huge relief to not be involved in Bump Day. Even just watching [Bump Day] it was intense, especially with the weather. I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to be involved in that.”

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