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RIP Tom McEwen, Legendary Racer

Photo: Courtesy of the NHRA

The Mongoose is gone. 

It was with a heavy heart that we learned yesterday of the passing of Tom McEwen.  The legendary  drag racer passed away on June 10 at 81.  He was instrumental in shaping the sport into what it is today and bringing it to the world's attention.

In 2001, McEwen was voted No. 16 on the NHRA's Top 50 Drivers. Both a funny car and Top Fuel driver,  McEwen primarily kept his racing the to West Coast, getting his start and earning his strips at the iconoic Santa Ana Drags, Lions Dragway and Bakersfield March Meet.   And it was at Lions where he won a race against Don "The Snake" Prudhomme, setting up one of the greatest sports rivalries (and friendships) in racing history.

McEwen is best known for the series of high-stakes races with Prudhomme. The mongoose nickname was bestowed largely to grab Prudhomme's attention and encourage him to agree to another series of races following the attention garnered by that first showdown at Lions.  The subsequent rivalry helped usher in the era of sponsored teams, as Mattel not only sponosored the "Snake" and "Mongoose" but created a series of Hot Wheels around their cars and characters.

McEwen understood the value of marketing, and in creating a character. He was the hype man, while Prudhomme was known as the more serious racer, and Mattel's sponsorship lasted until the mid-1970s, allowing both competitors to race at the top of their game with the best equipment available.

McEwen would hype himself up, calling Prudhomme out, and while he was almost always beaten, the smack talk earned them viewers and their sponsors.

And while McEwen wasn't a big NHRA winner, he was (despite his personna) a consistent and committed racer who helped shape the sport into what it is today. His presence in the drag racing world will be very much missed.

“We are all saddened to learn the news of Mongoose’s passing," says Glen Cromwell, President of the NHRA. "He was truly one of the most brilliant pioneers of NHRA Championship Drag Racing and continued to support the sport through a number of initiatives including our current NHRA Legends Tour in which he played an instrumental role. Everyone at NHRA will miss him deeply. Our thoughts, prayers and deepest condolences are with the McEwen family at this difficult time.”