A true story that inspired a movie
By Archie Bosman
Pictures by NHRA
The Los Angeles premiere of the Snake & Mongoose movie brought a fine sense of occasion to the racing world on Monday evening, August 26. The new movie tells the tale of two of drag racing’s most illustrious drivers Don “Snake” Prudhomme and Tom “Mongoose” McEwen.
Held at the Egyptian theater on Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood—the venue for the movie industry’s first premiere in the early nineteen-twenties—invited guests began arriving at 4pm. By around 5:30 over 500 had gathered, including movie and racing celebrities, at which time they began their walk along the red carpet toward the theatre.
“We’d move a couple of paces then stop,” said McEwen, “I estimated there were 100 photojournalists taking pictures and conducting interviews, including the New York Times. It was an impressive affair—a much bigger event than I had expected. The place was packed and I was honored to feel part of it all.”
Earlier at 11am the first showing was reserved for the film-maker’s production people, which was followed by another performance at 2pm for the world’s press. Afterward, they were invited to Sadies, a private night club adjacent to the theatre where they feasted on sumptuous cuisine at a $50,000 party with three or four open bars. Reveling in the warmest hospitality, “it was a high-class affair,” declared McEwen.
Most memorable victory in 60 years of drag racing history
In creating the movie narrative, former editor and racing writer Alan Paradise had devoted eight months to writing the script and a further four months to completing the re-writes. His work spanned about 120 pages, each page representing about one minute of screen time. Though the movie portrays racing rivalries, friendships, triumphs and tragedies, Paradise framed his narrative around McEwen’s memorable Funny Car victory at the 1978 NHRA U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis.
It was here that McEwen defeated his former partner, arch rival and longtime friend Don Prudhomme in the final round. And it was memorable because Tom had fulfilled the dying wish of his thirteen-and-a-half-year-old son, Jamie, who had succumbed to leukemia 10 days earlier.
The Leukemia Society subsequently appointed Tom to their board of directors. As he toured the country’s race tracks, he called on hospitals, visited children suffering the deadly disease, which is a cancer of the blood cells, and engaged in promotions to raise money for its cure. A reliable advocate, he continued the practice until he retired from racing.
Before the movie goes on general release on September 6, the two Southern Californians, Prudhomme (72) and McEwen (76), attended the movie’s premier August 29 in Avon, Indiana. The event was scheduled to coincide with this year’s NHRA Indy Nationals, an event both have attended for over fifty years.
The unmelancholy Tom:
The work ethic and the spirit of friendship
Far from an extinct volcano, McEwen, now 76, works each day at Beckett Media’s California office at Yorba Linda. Handling clients’ advertising and editorial issues, his latest contributions can be seen in Maximum Drive, a upscale quarterly publication that celebrates the Muscle car and the street and custom rod.
When he retired from racing, McEwen became the inspiration behind Drag Racer, then a new magazine title launched by Mrs. Yee. Seventeen years later the publication, now available in Wal-mart stores, is owned by Engaged Media, yet Tom with longtime friend and Editor Pete Ward remain its driving force.
Though he still works with gusto and acquaints with the best brains in the business, the ingredients that leave the strongest impression of the “Mongoose” are his interest in learning, his impressive recall of his racing career (although he’ll admit he cannot compete with Garlits’ uncanny recollection) and his engaging good nature.