We’ll be posting later today about the best books we read in 2009, but we thought we’d start the day by shouting out a book sure to be atop our to-read list for the coming months: Snake vs. Mongoose: How a Rivalry Changed Drag Racing Forever.
Drag racing owes much of its current success to that rivalry, which pitted Tom “Mongoose” McEwen against Don “Snake” Prudhomme throughout much of the late sixties and early seventies. When the two men started going at it on the strip, drag racing was barely a blip on the public consciousness, a fact that irked McEwen to no end. He thus came up with the idea of giving himself and Prudhomme zoologically correct nicknames, complemented by some insanely awesome helmet art. McEwen, the lesser racer, also volunteered to play the heel to Prudhomme’s face:
“I was the [BSer] and Prudhomme was the racer,” said McEwen. “I’d set up the deals, then we’d go out to the track, and he’d usually beat me. There were times when he was beating me so regularly that the only way I could have beaten him was if he got lost on the way to the track and I got to single.
“We were a good team; we complemented each other. Don was the serious guy, spent a lot of time with his car, and I was more like the wrestlers today; saying how bad I was going to beat him to build interest in the deal.”
That “deal” eventually led to a celebrated series of Hot Wheels, which led to drag racing’s growing popularity throughout the seventies. Little did most of the new fans realize that the Snake vs. Mongoose rivalry was pure showmanship, to the point that McEwen and Prudhomme were actually legal business partners—an arrangement akin to Larry Bird and Magic Johnson secretly playing for the same team during the eighties.
A few vintage clips of the Snake and Mongoose doing battle can be found in this drag-racing montage, though they’re sandwiched between numerous shots of mind-blowing seventies fashion.