Don “The Snake” Prudhomme
Date of birth: April 6, 1941
Residence: Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.
Birthplace: San Fernando Valley, Calif.
Height/Weight: 6’1”/175 lbs.
Hobbies: Dogs, fishing, golf and landscaping
Ask even the most casual of motor sports 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, 69, 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 “Smokers March Meet” in Bakersfield, Calif., before ending with 49 NHRA career victories – the sixth most in NHRA history – following his farewell “Final Strike Tour” in 1994. For his career, Prudhomme reached the finals 68 times, posting a remarkable 35 wins in 45 Funny Car finals (.777 win percentage) and 14 wins in 23 Top Fuel finals rounds (.609 win percentage). Overall, he won 389 of 589 rounds of competition for a .660 winning percentage.
Along the way, Prudhomme reached many important milestones and broke several barriers in the sport. He became the first driver to win four consecutive NHRA series 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 driver to win seven of eight national events in one season (1976), was the first NHRA Winston World Champion (1975), and became 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 notoriety in the early 1970s when Mattel introduced the “Mongoose (Tom McEwen) and Snake” Hot Wheels car sets, helping to introduce the sport of drag racing to a larger, more mainstream audience.
Prudhomme did not stop re-writing the NHRA record books despite leaving his role as a driver to become a multi-car team owner. Wins by Larry Dixon (Top Fuel) and Ron Capps (Funny Car) at the 1998 Winternationals in Pomona, Calif., saw Snake become only the fifth owner in history to have cars in two different categories take home event titles at the season-opening event. Prudhomme saw his Dixon-Capps tandem repeat that feat a second time at the 2001 Brainerd, Minn. race. The duo repeated their accomplishment again in 2002 at the Pontiac Excitement Nationals near Columbus, Ohio.
The 2000 season saw many highlights for Prudhomme. As a team owner, both drivers Larry Dixon and Ron Capps finished in the top three in the championship points race while 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 the brightest for “the Snake” as an owner as Dixon battled each week in the Top Fuel category before falling just 95 points shy of giving Prudhomme his first championship as an owner. The 2001 campaign saw each of Snake’s drivers post wins –Dixon (six), Capps (two) and Johnson (one) – while wins by Johnson in Las Vegas, Dixon in Gainesville, Fla., and Capps in Bristol, Tenn. gave Prudhomme three consecutive winning weekends.
During the 2002 season, the Snake was able to watch Dixon power his Miller Lite Top Fuel dragster to nine victories en route to his first career NHRA POWERade Top Fuel championship. It was the fifth title of Prudhomme’s career. In addition, Prudhomme was named the No. 3 driver in NHRA history by a panel of drag racing historians as the 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/owner within two victories of the century mark. Dixon’s 35th career win in August equaled drag racing icon “Big Daddy” Don Garlits for third on the all-time Top Fuel wins list. Prudhomme also saw Johnson post career-best performance marks in his blue Skoal Racing Chevy flopper at the season-finale in Pomona (Calif.).
The 2005 season for Snake saw Johnson break an 89-race winless streak when he dusted the field to score the win at the season-opening Winternationals at historic Pomona (Calif.) Raceway. Two months later, Prudhomme become just the third driver/owner in NHRA history to reach the 100-win plateau when Dixon captured the win at the spring Las Vegas event. Dixon added two more victories, including the prestigious Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, to give the Snake 102 career “Wally” trophies. Dixon’s third career U.S. Nationals triumph 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 the Top Fuel division, while Johnson’s sixth place finish was a career-best for the veteran Funny Car driver.
The 2006 campaign saw Prudhomme enjoy two more victories from Johnson and the Skoal Racing Funny Car team, as well as a runner up finish in the lucrative Skoal Showdown at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis to finish the season sixth in the final point standings. Dixon’s Top Fuel team reached one final round for the season, finishing 7th in the team’s final season with long-time sponsor Miller Lite. Snake now has a total of 104 combined victories as a driver/owner for his career. In 2007, Prudhomme fielded Johnson’s Skoal Racing Chevy Impala Funny Car which doubled up with teammate Dixon in Top Fuel as Snake Racing swept the Englishtown, NJ event. Dixon, who drove last season for SkyTel, also recorded wins at Joilet and Dallas to increase Prudhomme’s overall career win total to 108.
The 2008 NHRA POWERade season saw Prudhomme guide Dixon in the U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company Top Fuel Dragster to five final rounds and two more victories (Phoenix, Pomona 2) en route to a second-place finish in the final season point standings and brought Prudhomme’s total win count to 110.
The 2009 NHRA Full Throttle campaign saw 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 while collecting his first career NHRA Top Fuel win at Joliet, IL and his second in Las Vegas (wins No. 111 and No. 112 for Prudhomme). Massey went on to win the 2009 NHRA Rookie of the Year award. Prudhomme also teamed up 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.”
In 2013, the independent feature film, “Snake & Mongoo$e” was released in select markets across the country. Spanning the 1960’s through late 1970’s, the film explores the early days of drag racing in Southern California, the rise of success and popularity of the sport, the friendship between Don Prudhomme and Tom McEwen, the origin of the widely famous “Hot Wheels Snake and Mongoose” promotion and the personal lives of both the legendary racers.
2014 will see Prudhomme take his iconic, original, restored Hot Wheels ramp trucks and funny cars to the Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction in Scottsdale, AZ where all the vehicles will be sold together, in order to keep these historic pieces together as they belong.
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): 1st (1975-78 FC)
Best points finish (owner): 1st (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)
Career NHRA races (TF): 116
Career NHRA races (FC): 164
Career TOTAL NHRA races: 280 (does not include other series or match races)
- 49 victories (driver)
- 63 victories (owner)
- Eighth winningest driver in NHRA history (49 wins)
- Fourth winningest Funny Car driver in NHRA history (John Force)
- Four NHRA championships (driver)
- Two NHRA championships (owner)
- 1989 Skoal Showdown winner
- Three Skoal Showdown wins as team owner (Ron Capps 1998-99, 2002)
- Three Budweiser Shootout wins as team owner (Larry Dixon 1995, 2001-02)
- First member of Cragar 5-Second Funny Car Club (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 (4.980 seconds, Feb. 2, 1991, Pomona, Calif.)
- Third member of Slick 50 300-mph Club (301.60 mph, March 6, 1993, Baytown, Texas)
- 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 7 consecutive Funny Car National Event victories (1975-76)
- Still holds the NHRA record with 30 consecutive Funny Car elimination 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 8 consecutive Funny Car final rounds to start a season (1976)
- Shares the NHRA record with 7 consecutive Funny Car No. 1 Qualifying positions (1976-77)
- No. 8 all-time with 52 NHRA No. 1 qualifying efforts