Tom “the Mongoose” McEwen and Don “the Snake” Prudhomme were two of the fiercest rivals in NHRA Funny Car history. However, for most of the time, Prudhomme came out on the winning end in their legendary side-by-side races.
It was a different story, however, in the 1978 Funny Car final at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Indy.
This time, “the Mongoose” finally got “the Snake.”
Spurred on by sheer emotion following the passing of his 14-year-old son Jamie weeks earlier to Leukemia, McEwen had what he called “the race of my life” and was able to defeat Prudhomme to earn his only victory in the world’s most prestigious drag race.
“It was a sad situation,” McEwen has said. “I was really bummed, but one of the last things (Jamie) told me was that he wanted me to go to Indy and beat Prudhomme. He and Prudhomme were buddies.”
During the weeks leading up to the running of this year's Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, NHRA is unveiling six of the most iconic moments in the history of the event that will remember the very heroes who made them. NHRA will conduct official presentations to honor each of the moments — including the epic 1978 Funny Car final — in the Hot Rod Junction on Friday through Sunday of the Indy race weekend.
This is the fifth iconic moment that NHRA has announced it will celebrate during the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. Earlier NHRA announced that on Sunday of race weekend “Big Daddy” Don Garlits will reenact his famous beard shaving scene that followed his triumphant 1967 victory; on Saturday, Kenny Bernstein will be honored for becoming the first double-up winner at Indy; on Friday, the harrowing 1970 Top Fuel final between Jim Nicoll and Don Prudhomme will be remembered; and Shirley Muldowney’s triumphant Top Fuel victory in 1982 will also be celebrated on Saturday.
Tom McEwen, near lane, defeated Don Prudhomme in the Funny Car final at Indy in 1978, then joined his crew for an emotional winner's circle.
A remembrance of the classic 1978 Funny Car final, which was named the most memorable moment in U.S. Nationals history by fans during the 50th anniversary celebration of the Big Go in 2004, will also take place on Saturday of race weekend.
In the final-round race, McEwen got the jump at the starting line in his black and silver English Leather Corvette and finished with a career-best 6.05-second run while Prudhomme’s famed white, red, and blue U.S. Army Plymouth Arrow lost traction and slowed near midtrack.
McEwen, overcome with emotion, pulled off into the grass at the top end and sat in the cockpit. Prudhomme coasted to a stop nearby, and when the body was raised on McEwen’s Corvette, “Snake” climbed inside.
Ironically, in the days leading up to the race, it was Prudhomme that offered support for the still-grieving McEwen and encouraged him to enter the event as a form of therapy.
“We were both crying,” McEwen has said. “It was pretty emotional.”
Prudhomme, who won seven Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals Wallys during his distinguished career, wasn’t surprised that McEwen found the power that day to contend with his track-record-setting, No. 1 qualifying U.S. Army machine.
“Tom ran a smart race,” Prudhomme has said. “He got a single in the semis, so he was able to test something that he had just done to the car. It left like a rocket. He knew that he was on to something. He was ready when he came up to race us.”
McEwen gained momentum from the U.S. Nationals victory and also finished runner-up at the Winston Finals in Pomona to secure a career-best second-place finish in the championship points standings. He finished his career with six NHRA victories, but none were bigger than his 1978 Indy triumph over Prudhomme.
The most historic and tradition-rich event in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals has been contested annually since 1955.
The milestone 60th installment of the Labor Day weekend drag racing spectacular will feature more than 1,000 competitors in 12 categories during the event. The 18th of 24 events in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series is also the final event in the regular season. Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Mike Edwards (Pro Stock), and John Hall (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were last year’s winners of the race that will once again be televised by ESPN2 in more than 10 hours of coverage.
On the racetrack, the 60th anniversary Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals will feature intense side-by-side racing at more than 320 mph when drivers in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock, and Pro Stock Motorcycle compete for their share of the $2 million purse and battle for important world championship points. The race is the final regular season stop for the circuit and will establish the top-10 fields for the NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship playoffs. Perhaps more importantly, drivers will compete to earn a permanent spot in NHRA history, as a Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals winner.
The race will also showcase the Traxxas Nitro Shootout, where the top drivers in Top Fuel and Funny Car will race for $100,000 bonuses, as well as the annual Mopar Hemi Challenge for Super Stock cars and thrilling competition in both the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series and Pro Mod Drag Racing Series.
In addition, the event will feature fan-favorite Cacklefests, vintage race cars on display in the Hot Rod Junction, autograph sessions with many of the legends of the sport, a Monday edition of the SealMaster NHRA Track Walk, fireworks displays, and much more.
To purchase tickets for the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, fans can contact NHRA’s Ticket Sales Center at 800-884-NHRA (6472), or get their tickets online at www.NHRATIX.com.