Don “the Snake” Prudhomme, one of the most accomplished drivers and revered team owners in the history of motorsports, announced his retirement today, ending a career spanning five decades in drag racing.
Prudhomme’s 47-year career featured him behind the wheel for 32 seasons before he retired from driving at the end of his 1994 Final Strike campaign. He then transitioned to the role of team owner. Overall, Prudhomme has an impressive combination of six NHRA world championships and 112 national event victories.
“I feel very fortunate to have been able to make a living in drag racing and to have enjoyed some success along the way,” said Prudhomme. “I would like to thank all of the great sponsors we’ve worked with over the years, everyone at NHRA, the many track owners, operators, and promoters, our past employees and team members, and all of the drag racing fans that have supported Snake Racing.”
About Don “the Snake” Prudhomme
Ask even the most casual of motorsports fans who the biggest name in drag racing is, and you are almost always sure to hear one name — Don “the Snake” Prudhomme. A true legend of the sport, Prudhomme, 68, concluded his 47th year in drag racing in 2009, his 15th season as an owner after logging 32 seasons behind the wheel as one of the sport’s elite drivers.
“Snake’s” remarkable driving career began in 1962 with his first Top Fuel victory at the Smokers March Meet in Bakersfield, Calif., and ended with 49 NHRA victories — the sixth-most in NHRA history — following his farewell Final Strike tour in 1994. Prudhomme reached the final 68 times, posting a remarkable 35 wins in 45 Funny Car finals (.777 win percentage) and 14 wins in 23 Top Fuel final rounds (.609 win percentage). Overall, he won 389 of 589 rounds of competition for a .660 win percentage.
Along the way, Prudhomme reached many important milestones and broke several barriers. He became the first driver to earn four consecutive NHRA world titles, won the prestigious U.S. Nationals seven times, was the first Funny Car driver to break the 250-mph mark (250.00 mph), was the first to post an elapsed time under 5.20 seconds (5.193), became the first to win seven of eight national events in one season (1976), was the first NHRA Winston world champion (1975), and was the first driver to win the U.S. Nationals and Winternationals in the same season (1965). At age 51, he became the third Top Fuel driver to pass the 300-mph mark (301.60), in 1993.
Off the track, Prudhomme gained notice in the early 1970s when Mattel released the “Mongoose” (Tom McEwen) and “Snake” Hot Wheels car sets, helping to introduce drag racing to a larger, more mainstream audience.
Prudhomme did not stop rewriting the NHRA record books despite leaving his role as a driver to become a multicar team owner. Wins by Larry Dixon (Top Fuel) and Ron Capps (Funny Car) at the 1998 Winternationals made “Snake” only the fifth owner in history to have cars in two categories earn titles at the season-opening event. Prudhomme’s Dixon-Capps tandem repeated at the 2001 Brainerd race, then again in 2002 near Columbus, Ohio.
The 2000 season included many highlights for Prudhomme. Dixon and Capps finished in the top three in the season standings, and Prudhomme was honored for his accomplishments as a driver with his induction into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega, Ala., with such other racing heroes as A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, and Aryton Senna. “Talladega really was a highlight for me, and I don’t think it can get much better than that,” said Prudhomme.
The 2001 season was one of the brightest for “the Snake” as an owner; Dixon finished just 95 points shy of giving Prudhomme his first championship as an owner. In the 2001 campaign, each of “Snake’s” drivers posted wins — Dixon had six, Capps two, and Tommy Johnson Jr. one; wins by Johnson in Las Vegas, Dixon in Gainesville, and Capps in Bristol gave Prudhomme three consecutive winning weekends.
During the 2002 season, “the Snake” watched Dixon power his Miller Lite Top Fuel dragster to nine victories en route to his first NHRA Full Throttle Top Fuel world championship and the fifth of Prudhomme’s career. In addition, Prudhomme was named the No. 3 driver in NHRA history by a panel of drag racing historians as NHRA celebrated its historic 50th anniversary season.
The 2003 NHRA season was another banner year for Snake Racing as Dixon drove his Dick LaHaie-tuned dragster to its second consecutive NHRA championship, winning eight races in 13 final-round appearances to earn the $400,000 championship bonus.
Prudhomme inched ever closer to his milestone 100th victory in 2004 as Dixon earned two victories, moving the legendary driver and owner to within two victories of the century mark. Dixon’s 35th win in August equaled drag racing icon “Big Daddy” Don Garlits for third on the all-time Top Fuel win list. Johnson also posted career-best performance marks in his blue Skoal Racing Chevy flopper at the season finale in Pomona.
The 2005 season for “Snake” included Johnson breaking an 89-race winless streak when he dusted the field to score at the Winternationals at historic Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. Two months later, Prudhomme become just the third driver and owner in NHRA history to reach the 100-win plateau when Dixon triumphed at the spring Las Vegas event. Dixon added two more victories, including at the prestigious U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, to give the “Snake” 102 Wally trophies. Dixon’s third U.S. Nationals victory was Indy win No. 10 for Prudhomme, who won the Big Go seven times as a driver. Dixon raced to a second-place finish in Top Fuel, and Johnson’s sixth-place finish was a career best for the veteran Funny Car driver.
In 2006, Prudhomme enjoyed two more victories from Johnson and the Skoal Racing Funny Car team as well as a runner-up finish in the lucrative NHRA Showdown bonus event at the U.S. Nationals to finish the season sixth in the points standings. Dixon’s Top Fuel team reached one final round in the season, finishing seventh in the team’s final season with longtime sponsor Miller Lite. That brought “Snake’s” win total to 104 victories as a driver and owner. In 2007, Prudhomme fielded Johnson’s Skoal Racing Chevy Impala Funny Car, which doubled up with Dixon in Top Fuel as Snake Racing swept the Englishtown event. Dixon, who drove that season for SkyTel, also recorded wins in Chicago and Dallas to increase Prudhomme’s win total to 108.
For the 2008 NHRA season, Prudhomme guided Dixon in the U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co. Top Fuel dragster to five final rounds and two victories (Phoenix, Pomona 2) en route to a second-place finish in the season points standings; the two victories brought Prudhomme’s total win count to 110.
The 2009 NHRA Full Throttle campaign featured the debut of rookie driver Spencer Massey taking over the role as pilot of the U.S. Smokeless Racing dragster for Don Prudhomme Racing. Massey, the 2008 IHRA Top Fuel champion, reached five final rounds and collected his first NHRA Top Fuel win in Chicago and his second in Las Vegas (wins 111 and 112 for Prudhomme). At the end of the season, Massey was named the winner of the Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award as NHRA’s rookie of the year. Prudhomme also teamed with Carroll Shelby as Shelby Autos announced the limited production of the Shelby Super Snake Prudhomme Edition GT 500. Motorbooks International also published Tom Madigan’s book: Mongoose vs. Snake – How a Rivalry Changed Drag Racing Forever.
Date of birth: April 6, 1941
Residence: Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.
Birthplace: San Fernando Valley, Calif.
Height/Weight: 6 feet, 1 inch/175 pounds
Hobbies: Dogs, fishing, golf, and landscaping
Career accomplishments and highlights
Career wins/final rounds (driver): 49/68 (35/45 FC, 14/23 TF)
Career wins/final rounds (owner): 63/128 (18/41 FC, 45/87 TF)
Career total victories: 112
Career No. 1 qualifying awards (driver): 58
Career No. 1 qualifying awards (owner): 40
First Professional victory (TF): Bakersfield March Meet (1962)
First NHRA victory (TF): Pomona 1 (1965)
First NHRA victory (FC): Indianapolis (1973)
Best points finish (driver): First (1975-78 FC)
Best points finish (owner): First (2002-03 TF)
Career-best elapsed time (TF): 4.736 (Reading 1994)
Career-best elapsed time (FC): 5.157 (Dallas 1989)
Career-best speed (TF): 302.72 (Brainerd 1994)
Career-best speed (FC): 279.67 (Reading 1989)
• 49 victories (driver)
• 63 victories (owner)
• Eighth-winningest driver in NHRA history (49 wins)
• Fourth-winningest Funny Car driver in NHRA history (35 wins)
• Four NHRA championships as a driver
• Two NHRA championships as an owner
• 1989 NHRA Showdown winner
• Three NHRA Showdown wins as team owner (Ron Capps, 1998-99, 2002)
• Three NHRA Shootout wins as team owner (Larry Dixon, 1995, 2001-02)
• First member of Cragar Five-Second Club (FC, 5.98 seconds, Oct. 12, 1975, Ontario, Calif.)
• First member of Crane Cams Funny Car 250-mph Club (250.00 mph, May 29, 1982, Baton Rouge, La.)
• 15th member of Cragar 4-Second Club (TF, 4.980 seconds, Feb. 2, 1991, Pomona)
• Third member of Slick 50 300-mph Club (301.60 mph, March 6, 1993, Houston)
• First NHRA driver to win in both Top Fuel (1965 Pomona) and Funny Car (1973 Indy)
• Second NHRA driver to qualify No. 1 in both Top Fuel (1965 Pomona) and Funny Car (1970 Ontario)
• One of three driver/owners (John Force and Warren Johnson) to have reached 100 wins
• Still holds the NHRA record with seven consecutive Funny Car national event victories (1975-76)
• Still holds the NHRA record with 30 consecutive Funny Car round-wins (1976-77)
• Still holds the NHRA record with 13 consecutive Funny Car final-round appearances (1975-77)
• Still holds the NHRA record with eight consecutive Funny Car final rounds to start a season (1976)
• Shares the NHRA record at seven consecutive Funny Car No. 1 qualifying positions (1976-77)
• No. 8 all-time with 52 NHRA No. 1 qualifying efforts
Bill Stephens hosts NHRA’s Greatest Races
Take a step down memory lane as NHRA, in cooperation with longtime announcer, television commentator, and author Bill Stephens, relives the great history of NHRA’s most memorable events in a 13-week series entitled NHRA’s Greatest Races presented by ProCare Rx. NHRA’s Greatest Races airs each Sunday at 11:30 a.m. in all time zones for 13 consecutive weeks on Fox Sports Net. The first show aired Sunday, Jan. 3.
“This is a project I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” said Stephens. “Back in the 1970s and 1980s, I was that guy sitting on his couch every weekend watching tape-delayed telecasts of NHRA national events.”
NHRA’s Greatest Races has been produced to preserve and present the great history and tradition of NHRA and its greatest heroes of the time period, focusing on the people, personalities, and their performances. The 30-minute shows highlight key stories from NHRA national event television coverage from 1972 to 1999, featuring the original race call and commentary of the legendary broadcast team of Dave McClelland and the late Steve Evans. The original footage has been selected from NHRA’s extensive video library, much of which hasn’t been broadcast for decades.
The shows also feature recent interviews with many of the drivers spotlighted in the races, who reflect on their memorable performances, along with historical commentary and personal observations from longtime NHRA announcer Bob Frey.
The series is sponsored by ProCare Rx and produced by Stephens’ production company, Ultimate Garage Productions Inc. Each episode will be on DVD and available exclusively online at www.nhradvd.com.
Shirley Muldowney, far lane, defeated Lucille Lee in the first all-female Top Fuel final at the 1982 Springnationals, one of the featured Greatest Races.
The schedule includes the 1982 NHRA Springnationals at National Trail Raceway in Hebron, Ohio, where NHRA’s first all-female Top Fuel final round was contested between three-time world champion Shirley Muldowney and Lucille Lee; the 1978 Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at O’Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis, featuring the dramatic Funny Car final round between Don “the Snake” Prudhomme and Tom “the Mongoose” McEwen shortly after McEwen’s teenage son passed away from leukemia; and the 1984 NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, where Joe Amato unveiled an enormous rear wing on his Top Fuel dragster that revolutionized the performance capabilities in that category.
NHRA’s Greatest Races will reach two audiences: the longtime fans of the sport who want to relive the great history of NHRA’s most memorable events that haven’t been seen for many years and the new generation of fans who never got to see the legends of the sport race each other.
“I think anyone who watches this series and is a true drag racing fan will get goosebumps seeing the old footage and so many legendary stars racing head to head at the peak of their careers,” said Stephens.
39 Days remain to renew tickets for the 25th Annual O’Reilly Super Start Batteries NHRA Fall Nationals
Time is flying by, there are only 39 days left until the 2010 O’Reilly Super Start Batteries NHRA Fall Nationals ticket renewal deadline. Renewing your tickets is the only way that you can guarantee that you will have the same great seats that you had in 2009 for this years event celebrating 25 years of NHRA Drag racing at the Texas Motorplex on September 23-26, 2010.
Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Angie Smith will race a full schedule on the 2010 NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series tour aboard Karl and Kim Klement’s Buell thanks to sponsorship from Coffman Tank Trucks. Smith’s husband, former NHRA Pro Stock Bike champion Matt Smith, will build the team’s engines and oversee the program from the crew chief role.
“I really excited about this,” said Smith, better known to fans as Angie McBride before her marriage to Smith early this year. “This is the first opportunity I’ve ever had to race fulltime. This has been my dream and now it’s coming true. It’s probably the biggest Christmas present I’ve ever gotten.”
Thanks to the sponsorship with Coffman, the Klement Racing team will be ample availability to test as well as conduct research and development programs.
“We are going to have a good program and I feel like we have a team that will perform well,” Smith added. “Our biggest goal is to get in the top ten this year and we feel like we have a team that legitimately to do that.”
“We have a fantastic deal for 2010,” Klement agreed. “I am really excited. The game plan is to win a championship. This will be my third full-time year and with the program that I have with Matt building the engines and Angie riding, is capable of winning a national event at any track on the tour. She just needed some support behind her and with Coffman Tank Trucks, I feel confident that we have got what it takes to get the job done.
Coffman Tank Trucks is owned by J.D. and Terrisa Coffman, former bracket racers who had a working relationship with Klement and attended the NHRA Fall Nationals this September in Dallas.
“I hope this develops into a long term deal because Karl and I have become close friends with everyone,” said Coffman. “We’re looking forward to it.”
Recently, Frank Hawley, founder and instructor of Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School, was invited to speak to a group of NASA employees of the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
The offer to conduct a lecture was extended to Hawley after Chip Kroll, a NASA engineer, attended a Super Class at Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School’s Gainesville, Fla., location in June.
In his free time, Kroll races the Friday Night Street program at Houston Raceway Park in Texas, and he attended Frank Hawley’s class while working to acquire his NHRA license. After the lecture, he decided the topic may be appropriate for colleagues at work and approached management about how to invite Hawley to talk to them.
Once the offer was extended to Hawley, he graciously accepted and plans were made for his trip to Texas.
On Dec. 10, Hawley spoke to a room of approximately 90 attendees, made up mostly from the Avionics Systems Division.
“To me, there are numerous similarities to the extremely fast decisions that need to be made by folks who hold highly technical positions and those of drag racers,” Hawley said. “Many of the same things I teach to my students during a Super Class were conveyed during my lecture for the NASA employees, with maybe a little more emphasis on items that would apply to the general population. Everyone deals with stress in their lives. Some, of course, have a lot more than others. If you work in an environment where you may be challenged with making critical decisions, it can help to have a better understanding of your own human performance capabilities and develop methods with which you can train yourself to handle these situations more efficiently.”
The trip was not Hawley’s first time visiting a NASA facility, but it was his first time being invited for a speaking engagement.
“I am a huge fan of the space program and the folks who make it happen. I have photos of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo rockets in my office,” said Hawley. “On a clear day in Florida, you can see the shuttle launch from the track in Gainesville. We have even stopped classes for a few minutes to watch it. The chance to spend time with these folks at this facility was a great experience.”
“I thoroughly enjoyed my entire visit to Johnson Space Center,” he added. “During my time there, I was pleased to be able to share with them the things I’ve learned throughout my career. It was a very enlightening experience for me, and I sincerely look forward to any opportunities to return in the future.”