Tom McEwen (drag racer)

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McEwen's 1967 slingshot rail.

Tom McEwen,[1][2][3] (born 1937)[4] is an American drag racer who won the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) U.S. Nationals during part of his 45-year career. He is listed as number 16 of the 50 most significant drivers of NHRA’s first 50 years. He received the nickname "the Mongoose" in 1964 from engine builder Ed Donovan. It was largely originally used as a device to entice Don "the Snake" Prudhomme into a high-exposure match race.[5]

McEwen won only five NHRA national events, but his gift for gab and promotional ability made him one of the sport's most influential and controversial figures.[6]

As stated by Roland Leong,[3] “McEwen was the smartest of the bunch. When he came up with the Hot Wheels deal using the Snake and Mongoose characters, it shook the world of drag racing big time. He produced a sponsorship package that allowed him and Prudhomme to buy the best equipment, pay expenses, make money and sell their image all over the United States. I hate to admit it but McEwen and Prudhomme showed us the way to the future. They were a lot smarter than most of us who didn't see past the end of the quarter-mile.”

Early Career[edit]

McEwen gained his early experience in a variety of rides, beginning in 1953 with a '53 Oldsmobile at Santa Ana Drags in Irvine. He then went on to race a '54 Olds at Lions Drag Strip in Long Beach.

He went from the stock ranks to gas coupes, altereds, and eventually dragsters and funny cars. Among the cars he drove were the Stone-Woods-Cook '50 Olds fastback, the Bader & Ferrara Cadillac-powered Crosseyed Crosley, Art Chrisman's Hustler II, the Bud Rasner and Gary Slusser Fiat coupe, Dick Rea's Chrysler-powered blown gas dragster, and Gene Adams' Albertson Olds.


McEwen continued his relationship with Adams for several years. In 1962, he drove Adams' Shark, which was one of the first dragsters to use a streamlined body with an enclosed parachute pack. This would turn out to be one of McEwen's best known rides.

In 1963, McEwen achieved his greatest success at the time when he posted a runner-up finish against Art Malone at the Bakersfield March Meet in California in the Broussard-Garrison-Purcell-Davis car. He also drove Donovan's Donovan Engineering Special dragster,[clarification needed] and it was in this car he first raced Prudhomme.

McEwen's 1975 funny car

McEwen won his race against Prudhomme at Lions Drag Strip on September 12, 1964. He overcame Prudhomme's bright-orange edition of the famed Greer-Black-Prudhomme car in two straight sets, inspiring what may be the most famous match-race pairing in the history of drag racing.[7]

Later in 1964, McEwen drove Lou Baney's Yeakel Plymouth-sponsored dragster[clarification needed] to victory at the 32-car UDRA meet at Fontana Raceway in Fontana. He also took Top Fuel titles at Lions Dragstrip and Pomona Raceway.

McEwen's 1980 funny car

Because their first get-together had received so much attention, two more races between McEwen and Prudhomme were staged at Lions Drag Strip in 1965. McEwen drove the Yeakel Plymouth dragster[clarification needed] past Prudhomme and his new ride, the Leong-owned Hawaiian, two rounds to one in the first, then lost in two straight sets in the second.[clarification needed]

Because McEwen confined his racing to the West Coast, he and the touring Prudhomme raced each other only once in 1966, at the Winternationals, site of their first national event meeting. There, Prudhomme in the B&M Torkmaster Special took the win, with a 7.59 e.t. to McEwen's 7.69. They would not meet again for the rest of the decade.

McEwen won the 1966 Hot Rod Magazine Championships at Riverside Raceway and then went on to win the 1968 Stardust National Open in Las Vegas. He also recorded the lowest ever elapsed time to date with a blistering 6.64 at the Orange County PDA Meet in 1968.

The Promoter[edit]

McEwen also continued to build on his reputation as a colorful promoter. The Plymouth Hemi Cuda[3] he unveiled in 1965 was featured in every major car magazine. He convinced the Southern California Plymouth Dealers Association to support him and displayed the car all over the West Coast.

In 1967, McEwen took the same approach with one of drag racing's great one-shot wonders: Ford Motor Company's Super Mustang. When it made its highly anticipated debut at the Winternationals, it generated significant publicity.

Wildlife Racing[edit]

His strong promotional talent and Prudhomme's success on the racetrack eventually led to the formation of a national touring team sponsored by the toy company Mattel and, in mid-1969, McEwen and Prudhomme corporately became "Wildlife Racing."[8] The Mattel Hot Wheels deal ran from 1970 through 1972; Wildlife Racing secured CareFree sugarless gum as a sponsor in 1973. McEwen and Prudhomme dissolved their corporation at the end of the 1973 season.


In 1972, McEwen won his first major event when he dominated the Top Fuel field at the Bakersfield March Meet. A year later, he scored his first NHRA national event victory by topping the quickest funny car field in history at the SuperNationals at Ontario Motor Speedway.

He went on to win four more national events, including his dramatic U.S. Nationals funny car victory over Prudhomme in 1978. It came a few days after the death of his son, Jamie, who had battled leukemia.[8]

Later life[edit]

McEwen won the AHRA World Finals at Spokane Raceway Park in 1982,[9] the prestigious Big Bud Shootout in 1984, and Top Fuel at the 1991 Summernationals at Englishtown, New Jersey.[10] Toward the end of his racing career, one of his team's co-owners was baseball slugger Jack Clark,[11] and McEwen took the Corvette top off his funny car and raced it as a '57 Chevy.[4][11][12] He retired in 1992, and currently works in as publisher for Drag Racing Magazine out of Southern California.

2013 film[edit]

Snake and Mongoose, a movie portraying the story of Prudhomme and McEwen, was released in the summer of 2013. It follows the story behind the rivalry of the Southern Californian racers.[13]


  1. ^ "Motorsports Hall of Fame - Tom McEwen". 2001. Retrieved January 19, 2010. 
  2. ^ "No. 16 - Tom McEwen". 2001. Retrieved January 19, 2010. 
  3. ^ a b c "Steve Reyes on Tour - Tom McEwen". 2008. Retrieved January 19, 2010. 
  4. ^ a b Schenk, Tony (August 14, 1992). "Drag legends still cherish high octane rivalry". Spokesman-Review. Spokane, Washington. p. C1. 
  5. ^ Hairston, Jack (March 19, 1973). "Tom McEwen is also a good drag racer". Lakeland Ledger. Florida. p. 1B. 
  6. ^ Cash, Phil (May 28, 1976). "Mongoose runs to feed his ego". Milwaukee Sentinel. p. 1, part 2. 
  7. ^ "Great Rivalries: Don Prudhomme vs Tom McEwen". August 24, 2009. Retrieved January 19, 2010. 
  8. ^ a b Bochat, Rel (July 1, 1977). "Son's illness tough foe for dragster". Milwaukee Sentinel. p. 1, part 2. 
  9. ^ Gerheim, Earl (August 23, 1982). "McEwen didn't horse around". Spokane Chronicle. Washington. p. 18. 
  10. ^ Bickhart, Terry (July 8, 1991). "'Mongoose' surprise winner". Reading Eagle. Pennsylvania. p. 16. 
  11. ^ a b Gerheim, Earl (August 16, 1990). "'Mongoose' chases 'Teacher's Pet'". Spokane Chronicle. Washington. p. D1. 
  12. ^ Folk, Kathy (July 19, 1989). "McEwen goes back to the future in '57 Chevy". Reading Eagle. Pennsylvania. p. 9. 
  13. ^