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.”
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.”