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‘The Snake’ Welcomed Back To His Second Home

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, October 9 2021

Drag racing legend Don ‘The Snake’ Prudhomme addressed the crowd during a ceremony at Billy Meyer’s (far left) Texas MotorPlex on Friday evening. (Photo courtesy of Elon Werner)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

ENNIS, Texas – He remains the embodiment of California cool, and as of Friday evening, a genuine Texas Motorplex Legend. 

“I’m 80-years-old now, do you believe that?” drag racing icon Don “The Snake” Prudhomme joked while greeting another wave of well-wishers. “It’s like coming home, you know? This track’s done a lot for me _ I’m a California boy but I love coming to Texas. The Texas Motorplex is the last track I won a race at as a driver in 1994. Kind of cool to come back and see how the place has grown. Last time I was here was as a car-owner in 2009…12 years ago!”

A winner at The Plex in both Funny Car and Top Fuel, Prudhomme and award-winning photographer Richard Shute were recognized as Texas Motorplex Legends during opening ceremonies of the 36th annual Texas NHRA FallNationals. The race at Hall of Famer Billy Meyer’s facility is Round 4 of the seven-event Camping World Drag Racing Series Countdown to the Championship and the inaugural nine-day Stampede of Speed.

Prudhomme won the FallNats three times _ a Funny Car title in 1989, Top Fuel in 1991 and that final professional Top Fuel win in 1994. Shute has chronicled every Texas NHRA FallNationals Winner’s Circle during his 50-year career as one of the sport’s most popular photographers.

Prudhomme’s victory in the 1994 FallNats was his 49th, and almost anti-climatic, given his struggles during qualifying. Prudhomme went into the fourth and final round of time trials out of the 16-car field. Crew chief Wes Cerny responded with a setup that saw Prudhomme crank-out a front-wheels-up pass down the track’s all-concrete quarter-mile and into the field. 

“Well, that’s the thing about drag racing _ there’s no guarantees,” Prudhomme said. “You got to make the show, you got to qualify. It isn’t like you’ve got a guaranteed spot, like NASCAR guys do. You can win a race at Georgia and come over here and not qualify for the show because you have trouble or you weren’t fast enough.”

So, whom did Prudhomme beat in the 1994 final?

“I don’t remember. Isn’t that horrible?” Prudhomme said with a laugh. “I’m so bad at that. It’s all a blur to me.” For the record, the driver in the opposite lane was fellow-Californian Cory McClenathan _ fittingly, the first driver honored as a Motorplex Legend in 2019. Seven-time Top Fuel world champ Tony “The Sarge” Schumacher received the honor in 2020. 

Prudhomme acknowledged that the Motorplex changed drag racing when it made its debut in 1986. In addition to its revolutionary all-concrete racing surface, The Plex featured a three-story, stadium-style tower with 24 corporate suites, permanent restrooms, concession stands and paved pit areas.

But Prudomme equally was a trendsetter in the critical area of corporate sponsorship.  “Tom ‘The Mongoose’ McEwen and myself attracted the non-automotive sponsors,” Prudhomme said. “Up to that time it was pretty much Champion Spark Plugs and Pennzoil and companies like that in drag racing. We brought Mattel Hot Wheels in in 1970 with the ‘Snake and Mongoose’ cars.

“I’m not saying it changed kids’ lives but kinda, you know? When they got their Hot Wheels cars they said, ‘Gee, let’s go out to the drag strip.’ I’m still getting people come up to me and saying, ‘Man, I had your Hot Wheels car or I still have ‘em.’ It’s really cool, you know? I’m really pleased.”

Prudhomme 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. His 49 NHRA career victories saw Prudhomme reach the final of a national event 68 times, posting a remarkable 35 wins in 45 Funny Car finals and 14 wins in 23 Top Fuel finals.

Prudhomme was at his peak wheeling the Army-sponsored Funny Car beginning in the mid-1970s.  “We won the championship in 1976, 1977, 1978 and 1979,” Prudhomme recalled. “The Army car, a Plymouth Arrow, that was probably my best car. They (Funny Cars) were harder to drive (than a Top Fuel car) but more fun because it’s a short-wheelbase car and you’re sitting right behind the engine and with the closed aerodynamic body on the car, it was just more fun to drive.”

Fortunately, a number of Prudhomme’s former hot rods survive in museums and private collections around the country. “Rick Hendrick of NASCAR, he’s got a bunch of my cars now,” Prudhomme said. “You look back at what you used to do and it brings back great memories. I wish I was still doing it, you know, but time ran out.”

Prudhomme and wife Lynn are enjoying an idyllic retirement on the West Coast. I live in San Diego in an area called Rancho Santa Fe,” Prudhomme said. “About five miles from the ocean and it’s the most beautiful climate in the world and I just gotta stay there. That’s home for me.”

Prudhomme noted that longtime crew chief Roland Leong is the subject of a new book. “Roland is still like my best buddy,” Prudhomme said. “I just did a book, too, called Don Prudhomme: My Life Beyond the 1,320.”

Released on Oct. 15, 2020, the hardcover, 192-page book costs $49 and is available at snakeracinggear.com. “If somebody wants a book, they can order a book, I’ll sign it for ‘em and send it off,” Prudhomme said.

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Brittany Force blasted to both ends of the track record Friday at Texas Motorplex en route to the provisional No. 1 spot in Top Fuel at the 36th annual Texas NHRA FallNationals.

Robert Hight (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and Steve Johnson (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also are provisional No. 1 qualifiers at the 17th of 20 races during the 2021 NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series season and fourth race in the Countdown to the Championship.

Force recorded the fifth-quickest run in NHRA history in her Monster Energy dragster, powering to a 1,000-foot run of 3.637-seconds at 335.32 mph to jump to the top and collect a $15,000 bonus awarded on Friday night to the low qualifier in the final session. It also was the seventh-fastest run in Top Fuel history. If it holds, Force will notch her 11th pole of the season and the 31st in her career. Her streak of eight straight No. 1 qualifiers was snapped at the most recent race in Madison, Ill.

“That was a killer run,” Force said. “We were going for mid-3.60s, so when they told me what I ran on the top end, that was really impressive. With (crew chief) David Grubnic and Mac Savage, you can’t put that past them. They’re capable of running crazy numbers and setting records. We’re off to a good start to this weekend and the great thing is we get two more qualifying runs (Saturday).”

Point-leader Steve Torrence drove into the second spot at 3.678 and 326.48. The native Texan is the defending event champion and has won at his home track two of the past three years. Mike Salinas took third at 3.680 and 330.47.

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In Funny Car, Robert Hight ended Friday night under the lights in impressive fashion with his 1,000-foot run of 3.878-seconds at 331.94 mph in his Chevrolet Camaro SS. Should that hold, Hight would clinch his second pole this season and 70th in his career. Hight notched the quickest run in both qualifying sessions, with his second run giving him the $15,000 bonus for quickest pass and a double-up for John Force Racing. Hight is seeking his third win of the season. 

Ron Capps of Don Schumacher Racing currently is second after a lap at 3.882 and 329.34. Cruz Pedregon is third at 3.892 and 325.14. Defending world champ and point-leader Matt Hagan, winner of the most recent race in Madison, Ill., went 3.897 at 332.34 and is fourth.

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Greg Anderson continues as a dominant force in Pro Stock qualifying, rolling to the No. 1 position after covering the quarter-mile in 6.553-seconds at 209.23 mph in his Chevrolet Camaro. If it holds, it would give the point-leader his 10th pole in 15 Pro Stock races and 116 in his career. Anderson made the quickest run in both sessions, with the pass under the lights also giving him a $2,500 bonus.

Of course, Anderson is eager to finish the deal this weekend to not only help his chances for a fifth world title, but also give him 98 career wins _ one more than mentor Warren “The Professor” Johnson for the most in Factory Hot Rod history.

Rookie Dallas Glenn is second after posting numbers of 6.567 at 209.14. Defending world and Motorplex champ Erica Enders went 6.571 at 206.67 to sit third.

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Point-leader Steve Johnson made his first pass count Friday in Pro Stock Motorcycle, powering to the No. 1 position with a quarter-mile run of 6.756-seconds at 198.44 mph aboard his Mac Rak Suzuki. Johnson is poised to clinch pole for the third time this season, by far a career-best for the veteran. He entered the weekend 17 points ahead of Angelle Sampey and made a strong run to get going. Johnson has led at every stop in the Countdown in a bid for his third win of 2021 and first world championship. 

Defending world champ Matt Smith, who is 30 points out of first, currently sits second after his run of 6.772 at 200.83, setting the track speed record. He also earned a $1,500 bonus check from Texas Motorplex after making the quickest run of the second session under the lights. Sampey is third after running 6.809 at 197.74.

Qualifying in all four pro classes is set to continue at noon and 4 p.m. on Saturday, with final eliminations to start at 11 a.m. Sunday. Television coverage on Fox Sports 1 will feature qualifying highlights on Sunday from 2:30-3:30 p.m. (CDT), leading directly into eliminations on FS1 from 3:30-6:30 p.m.

Tickets are available at www.stampedeofspeed.com, www.texasmotorplex.com or by calling 800-668-6775. For more information about NHRA, visit www.NHRA.com.

(Editor’s Note: John Sturbin is a Texas-based journalist specializing in motorsports. During a near 30-year career with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he won the Bloys Britt Award for top motorsports story of the year (1991) as judged by The Associated Press; received the National Hot Rod Association’s Media Award (1997) and several in-house Star-Telegram honors. He also was the inaugural recipient of the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame Media Award (2010). His list of freelance clients has included Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, NASCAR Wire Service and Ford Racing).

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Provisional qualifying results Friday after the first two of four rounds of time trials for the 36th annual Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex in Ennis. The race is the 17th of 20 in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series and fourth of seven in the Countdown to the Championship:

Top Fuel _ 1. Brittany Force, 3.637-seconds, 335.32 mph; 2. Steve Torrence, 3.678, 326.48; 3. Mike Salinas, 3.680, 330.47; 4. Justin Ashley, 3.687, 329.58; 5. Billy Torrence, 3.715, 327.98; 6. Josh Hart, 3.728, 325.14; 7. Antron Brown, 3.743, 326.79; 8. Shawn Langdon, 3.754, 321.88; 9. Doug Kalitta, 3.795, 321.88; 10. Alex Laughlin, 3.796, 320.66; 11. Clay Millican, 3.809, 287.23; 12. Leah Pruett, 3.897, 268.81; 13. Krista Baldwin, 3.998, 307.79; 14. Buddy Hull, 4.220, 283.79; 15. Joe Morrison, 4.328, 215.20; 16. Keith Murt, 4.832, 164.29. 

Not Qualified _ 17. Mitch King, 7.243, 83.68.

Funny Car _ 1. Robert Hight, Chevy Camaro, 3.878, 331.94; 2. Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 3.882, 329.34; 3. Cruz Pedregon, Charger, 3.892, 325.14; 4. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.897, 332.34; 5. Bob Tasca III, Ford Mustang, 3.911, 330.80; 6. Alexis DeJoria, Toyota Camry, 3.917, 327.51; 7. Tim Wilkerson, Mustang, 3.936, 327.27; 8. Jim Campbell, Charger, 3.974, 316.08; 9. Blake Alexander, Mustang, 3.986, 320.05; 10. Terry Haddock, Mustang, 4.061, 310.55; 11. John Force, Camaro, 4.122, 248.43; 12. Jeff Arend, Chevy Monte Carlo, 4.183, 248.75; 13. Paul Lee, Charger, 4.183, 247.43; 14. Dale Creasy Jr., Charger, 4.227, 273.05; 15. Jeff Diehl, Camry, 4.298, 231.87; 16. J.R. Todd, Camry, 4.537, 293.28.

Not Qualified _17. Todd Simpson, 7.199, 95.93; 18. Jack Wyatt, broke.

Pro Stock _ 1. Greg Anderson, Chevy Camaro, 6.553, 209.23; 2. Dallas Glenn, Camaro, 6.567, 209.14; 3. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.571, 206.67; 4. Rodger Brogdon, Camaro, 6.580, 209.56; 5. Aaron Stanfield, Camaro, 6.591, 207.24; 6. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.602, 208.94; 7. Kyle Koretsky, Camaro, 6.603, 208.01; 8. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.604, 206.26; 9. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.611, 208.62; 10. Mason McGaha, Camaro, 6.614, 208.33; 11. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.619, 208.52; 12. Troy Coughlin Jr., Camaro,

6.623, 206.42; 13. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.632, 205.69; 14. Deric Kramer, Camaro, 6.643, 207.46; 15. Fernando Cuadra, Ford Mustang, 6.662, 208.10; 16. Richie Stevens, Camaro, 6.680, 205.47.

Not Qualified _17. Cristian Cuadra, 6.688, 206.35; 18. Fernando Cuadra Jr., 6.746, 205.32; 19. John Callahan, 9.254, 101.19; 20. Marty Robertson, 11.061, 99.40.

Pro Stock Motorcycle _ 1. Steve Johnson, Suzuki, 6.756, 198.44; 2. Matt Smith, EBR, 6.772, 200.83; 3. Angelle Sampey, Suzuki, 6.809, 197.74; 4. Hector Arana Jr., EBR, 6.854, 198.73; 5. Chris Bostick, 6.878, 197.22; 6. Karen Stoffer, Suzuki, 6.890, 196.02; 7. Jim Underdahl, Suzuki, 6.890, 195.73; 8. Jerry Savoie, Suzuki, 6.894, 194.32; 9. Scotty Pollacheck, EBR, 6.896, 196.24; 10. Angie Smith, EBR, 6.898, 197.08; 11. Joey Gladstone, Suzuki, 6.907, 195.70; 12. Andrew Hines, Buell, 6.924, 193.77; 13. Eddie Krawiec, Buell, 6.940, 198.76; 14. Jianna Salinas, Suzuki, 6.949, 193.13; 15. Ryan Oehler, EBR, 6.962, 195.25; 16. Michael Phillips, Suzuki, 6.991, 192.41.

Not Qualified _ 17. Kelly Clontz, 6.992, 191.24; 18. David Barron, 7.189, 180.19; 19. Michael Ray, 17.121, 33.31.

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UPDATED 2021 COUNTDOWN TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP SCHEDULE/PROFESSIONAL WINNERS

Sunday, Sept. 12 _ Maple Grove Raceway, Reading, Pa. Billy Torrence (Top Fuel); Tommy Johnson Jr. (Funny Car); Greg Anderson (Pro Stock); Steve Johnson (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Sunday, Sept. 19 _zMAX Dragway, Concord, N.C. Josh Hart (Top Fuel); Tim Wilkerson (Funny Car); Kyle Koretsky (Pro Stock); Angelle Sampey (Pro Stock Motorcycle).

Sunday, Sept. 26 _ World Wide Technology Raceway, Madison, Ill. Steve Torrence (Top Fuel); Matt Hagan (Funny Car); Erica Enders (Pro Stock).

Sunday, Oct. 10 _ Texas Motorplex, Ennis

Sunday, Oct. 17 _ Bristol (Tenn.) Dragway

Sunday, Oct. 31 _ The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Sunday, Nov. 14 _ Auto Club Speedway, Pomona, Calif.

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, October 9 2021
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