In the Top Fuel final round during the 1970 Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, Don “the Snake” Prudhomme lined up against Jim “Superman” Nicoll for a much-anticipated battle at the world’s most prestigious drag race.
As the two slingshot dragsters powered down the racetrack and crossed the finish line at more than 225 mph, Nicoll’s machine suddenly suffered a clutch explosion, and the parts failure broke his dragster into two pieces, scattering parts and debris into many directions on the track.
Prudhomme won the race, but the celebration was short-lived. Fearing the worst for Nicoll, Prudhomme was so shaken at the sight of the crash and resulting wreckage that he said he was through with the sport of drag racing.
“I think I’m quitting,” an emotional Prudhomme said in the shutdown area following the race. “Oh my God. I saw that car go by me, and I couldn’t believe it. There was no back section on it or nothing. How bad is he?”
The Nicoll-Prudhomme 1970 Top Fuel final is one of the most memorable moments in the history of the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis and will resonate again this year as part of a series of special tributes that will highlight the 60th edition of the Big Go, Aug. 27-Sept. 1.
During the weeks leading up to the 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 Nicoll and Prudhomme’s – in the Hot Rod Junction Friday through Sunday of the Indy race weekend.
This is the third 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, and on Saturday, Kenny Bernstein will be honored for becoming the first double-up winner in Indy.
The Nicoll-Prudhomme presentation will take place Friday of race weekend.
The 1970 U.S. Nationals Top Fuel final between Don Prudhomme, near lane, and Jim Nicoll ended spectacularly when Nicoll's dragster was cut in two by an exploding clutch. Nicoll was not seriously injured.
Nicoll received only minor injuries in the incident, thanks to the car’s blossoming parachute that lifted Nicoll and the cockpit over the guardwall and into the trackside grass.
“I remember everything but the actual crash,” Nicoll has said. “I remember doing the burnout, and it seemed like the clutch wasn’t acting right. When I left the starting line, everything was cool, and we were side by side, and about 1,000 foot, I felt the clutch start to slip. The last thing I remember was reaching over and putting my hand on the parachute handle just in case, but that probably saved my bacon.
“I remember waking up in the ambulance, and then went out again and woke up in the hospital. I had a concussion, and my right foot was swelled up. I went to the hotel and then to the banquet that night. When I saw the footage, I was surprised how bad it had been; I had no clue.”
Nicoll was named Drag Racer of the Year in 1970 by several of the sport’s top magazines and tabloids. He continued his career, racing a rear-engine Top Fuel dragster and later moving to the Funny Car category.
As for Prudhomme, once he realized Nicoll was OK, he also continued his career, winning four NHRA Funny Car world championships and 49 national event victories as a driver and earning several more championship titles and race victories as a team owner.
“It probably looked scarier from where I was than it did for him,” Prudhomme has said about the incident. “I figured he was killed, so it shook me up pretty good. But Jim’s a rough and tough Texan guy. I wasn’t too surprised to find out he walked away from the crash.”
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. 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 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 as 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 Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship. Perhaps more important, 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 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 NHRA 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, call NHRA’s Ticket Sales Center, 800-884-NHRA (6472), or log on to NHRATix.com.
Six decades of drag racing to be celebrated during Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals
Fans encouraged to Grow Like Garlits for 60th annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals celebration
Bernstein double to be saluted, remembered at 60th annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals