Funny Car Legend Tom “Mongoose” McEwen Has Passed Away at 81
One of my earliest memories of drag racing as a sport is learning of the legendary ...
One of my earliest memories of drag racing as a sport is learning of the legendary rivalry between Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen and Don “The Snake” Prudhomme. As a life-long member of the NHRA, my dad would receive VHS tapes featuring various looks back at rivalries and events from the sports past.
Anybody who knew anything about racing in the 60’s and 70’s knew of the rivalry between Prudhomme and McEwen, but not everybody knew the story behind the drivers’ nicknames. This one particular tape, produced by Diamond P and narrated by the late Steve Evans, walked through the story of how Prudhomme – who’d earned his “Snake” moniker with his stellar reaction times – basically walked blindly into one of the sports all-time great rivalries and didn’t even realize it at first.
As told in Evan’s trademark tone, McEwen wasn’t particularly known for being the fastest guy on the track, but he’d always had the gift of gab. Recalling an old fable called Rikki-Tikki-Tavi written by Rudyard Kipling that told of the Mongoose, the one animal with quicker reflexes than a snake. Seeing the potential for a fun rivalry that could draw the fans in, McEwen took the nickname for himself and began prodding Prudhomme to make the trek out west to face him in a match race.
The shtick was so successful that Mattel sponsored both drivers and even created a toy lineup featuring both drivers that was sold nationwide, proving McEwen’s propensity for promoting himself and the sport he loved.
McEwen would retire from drag racing in the early 1990’s having won just 5 national events, but having fielded cars that were as widely known and loved by fans and featured on countless magazine covers and photo shoots due to his creativity and knack for bringing beautiful paint jobs to life. His biggest win came at the 1978 US Nationals, where he defeated a heavily-favored Prudhomme in the finals.
After retiring, McEwen continued to be deeply involved in the sport, working tirelessly to promote nostalgia funny car racing and eventually becoming the publisher of Drag Racing Magazine.
Voted the #16 driver in NHRA history, McEwen was elected to the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame as well as the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America. He passed away June 10th, 2018, at the age of 81.