AutoMatters: Snake & Mongoo$e Movie
By Jan. R. Wagner
Snake & Mongoo$e is based on the true story of Don “the Snake” Prudhomme and Tom “the Mongoose” McEwen. Using a mixture of new and seamlessly intercut historical footage, as well as a wealth of other archival materials including newspaper and magazine clippings, artwork, TV commercials and racing memorabilia, this movie is entertaining and believable.
This is not just a movie for fans of drag racing, although they will enjoy it too. Even though I rarely watch drag racing myself, preferring instead to watch Formula 1, NASCAR Sprint Cup, IndyCar, and professional and amateur sports car racing, I thoroughly enjoyed Snake & Mongoo$e and I heartily recommend it – it’s that good.
The story begins in 1958 and follows the drag racing careers of Don Prudhomme and Tom McEwen. Even though they are now drag racing legends, they both had humble, although quite different, beginnings.
Don Prudhomme was someone who I might describe as the racer’s racer. At first he painted cars to support his racing, all the while believing that if he was really, really successful on the track, the money would follow – and it frustrated him when that did not happen. Yes, he was a great driver but, as we know, driving skill is not enough. Racing costs money. Big money. How fast you want to go is directly related to how much money you need to spend. As the saying goes, to make a small fortune in racing, you have to start with a big fortune. That’s so true.
That’s where Tom McEwen especially excelled. Yes, he could drive with the best of them but he was a truly great promoter. He understood the business side of drag racing. He could see business opportunities where others did not, and he had the upbeat, outgoing personality needed to get potential sponsors to see those opportunities too – and then convince them to come up with the big sponsorship bucks.
It wasn’t just sponsors. Perhaps Tom’s biggest challenge was convincing his good friend Don Prudhomme to join him.
In other ways, too, they couldn’t have been more different. McEwen was like a grown up kid – a personality trait that his wife would grow to resent.
Snake was perhaps more responsible, for lack of a better word, but together they became a dynamic team. Their story is wonderful and you’ll experience much of what drag racing has to offer: entertainment, inspiration, emotions, history, competition, relationships and the very real, ever-present danger.
Their meteoric rise to the top began with a major sponsorship. Any kid from back in the day who collected Hot Wheels® cars and was into motor sports was likely well aware of “the Snake” and “the Mongoose.”
Recall that I told you that I was not really into drag racing. I do, however, collect diecast model cars. I mostly collect the larger, 1:18th scale diecasts but occasionally I’ll venture out of that scale if something really catches my attention.
Such was the case with a particular 1:24th scale model of “the Snake’s” first funny car: a yellow, 1970 Plymouth Barracuda. It was one of three unique Hot Wheels “Legends To Life” cars which I eventually was able to find, the other two being Kyle Petty’s NASCAR stock car and the “Twin Mill” concept car. Each are connected to a display stand as an audiotape, motors and lights bring them roaring to life in a brief, thrilling show.
At the press of a button, an audiotape plays. With a photo of what used to be Lion’s Drag Strip in Long Beach, CA in the background, the track announcer introduces “the Snake.” His funny car does a screeching burnout (yes, the rear tires spin). Then the lights on the Christmas tree light up in sequence, the rear tires spin at the green, the front end lifts and “the Snake” takes off down the track – figuratively speaking, of course. For display, a press of a button raises the bodywork to reveal the powerful engine, the chassis and Prudhomme at the wheel.
At the time I bought it, I just thought it was a really neat Hot Wheels® car. Since I didn’t follow drag racing, I did not understand the magnitude of its historical significance to the sport. Now, after seeing the movie, I get it.
See this movie. For more information and to watch the trailer, go to www.snakeandmongoosemovie.com.
As always, please write to me at AutoMatters@gmail.com with your comments and suggestions.
Copyright © 2013 by Jan Wagner – #297 AutoMatters
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