Re­mem­ber­ing Tom Mcewen.

Hot Rod Deluxe - - Contents -

Leg­endary drag racer Tom “the Mon­goose” Mcewen, the man who helped make drag rac­ing a house­hold word when he part­nered with Don “the Snake” Prud­homme and Mat­tel Toys to pro­duce the “Snake & Mon­goose” Hot Wheels toy line, died June 10, 2018, from com­pli­ca­tions stem­ming from colon can­cer.

Rated Num­ber 16 on NHRA’S Top 50 Driver’s List, Thomas Hol­land Mcewen was born Jan­uary 14, 1937, in Pen­sacola, Florida, to par­ents Sy­bil and Thomas Mcewen. Tom’s fa­ther Tom Sr. was a Navy test pi­lot, which is prob­a­bly where Tom got much of his dar­ing-do. Mcewen grad­u­ated from Long Beach Polytech­nic High School and at­tended Long Beach City Col­lege, but by then the lore of drag rac­ing had firmly caught Tom’s at­ten­tion. As a mem­ber of the Mar­ron Av­enue Ma­raud­ers Auto Club, Tom started humbly enough, driv­ing his mother’s ’53 Oldsmo­bile at the Santa Ana Drags. The road to be­com­ing a drag rac­ing leg­end also in­cluded driv­ing Tim Woods’ 1950 Olds along with a pretty hot ’57 Chevy, a ’40 Ford coupe, and a K88 chas­sis drag­ster of his own.

As Mcewen’s rep­u­ta­tion as a hot car han­dler grew, driv­ing as­sign­ments in­cluded the Bader and Fer­rara Cadil­lac-pow­ered Crosley, the Budd and Gary Fiat al­tered, Art Chris­man’s Hustler II, the Ras­ner & Slusser coupe, and Dick Rea’s Chrysler-pow­ered gas drag­ster. In 1961, Gene Adams gave Tom got his first pro ride in the Al­bert­son Olds drag­ster, fol­lowed by Adams’ famed Oldsmo­bile-pow­ered Shark Car.

In 1963, Ed Dono­van screwed Mcewen be­hind the wheel of the Dono­van En­gi­neer­ing Spe­cial, and it was dur­ing this time frame when Mcewen of­fi­cially be­came known as the Mon­goose. In Septem­ber 1964, he soundly de­feated Prud­homme in the Greer, Black & Prud­homme fu­eler in a two-out-of-three match race at Lions.

As suc­cess­ful as Mcewen was be­hind the wheel, it’s said his great­est legacy was the deal he set up with Mat­tel Toys. Us­ing con­tacts at the com­pany (his mother worked there), Mcewen and Wild Life Rac­ing part­ner Prud­homme inked a three-year deal to be spon­sored by the Hot Wheels brand. While the Snake and Mon­goose were out mak­ing clinic ap­pear­ances and rac­ing their Ply­mouth-pow­ered Duster and ’Cuda flop­pers all across the na­tion, Hot Wheels be­came sec­ond only in toy sales to Mat­tel’s famed Bar­bie. As the Hot Wheels deal moved into its sec­ond sea­son, the Funny Cars were re­placed with newer and faster mod­els, and a pair of front en­gine drag­sters was added. The third and fi­nal year of the Hot Wheels deal saw the Mon­goose cam­paign­ing a newer and lighter Duster AA/FC along with a new Gar­l­its mid-en­gine chas­sis AA/FD, which an­nexed the Top Fuel Elim­i­na­tor ti­tle at the 1972 March Meet.

The Mat­tel deal paved the way for other non-rac­ing-af­fil­i­ated com­pa­nies to spon­sor not only Mcewen and Prud­homme but

other rac­ers as well. Af­ter the Mat­tel deal had run its course, Mcewen and Prud­homme scored Tri­dent Su­gar­less Gum spon­sor­ships, and af­ter that the U.S. Navy and English Leather, re­spec­tively, came on board.

In 1978, Mcewen switched to the Corvette body style with Coors spon­sor­ship. Just one week af­ter the loss of his youngest son, Jaime, to leukemia, the Goose tri­umphed over archri­val Prud­homme in a highly emo­tional fin­ish to win Funny Car Elim­i­na­tor at the NHRA U.S. Na­tion­als.

The Mon­goose would con­tinue to race for Coors through­out the 1980s with one of his big­gest wins com­ing at the 1984 U.S. Na­tion­als’ “Big Bud Shootout.” When the Coors deal ended, the Goose re-in­vented him­self with the de­but of his Danchuk In­dus­tries-spon­sored 1957 Chevro­let Bel Air Nostal­gia Funny Car, which set the in­dus­try on its ear. Prov­ing that he still had what it takes to win, Mcewen’s last com­pet­i­tive ride was driv­ing the Jack Clarkowned Mo­bil 1 AA/FD, which cap­tured the Top Fuel Elim­i­na­tor ti­tle at the 1991 NHRA Sum­mer­na­tion­als.

—BOB MCCLURG

PIC: BOB D’OLIVO

SLICK SLICK: PPC’S Bob D’olivo mounted a mo­tor­ized cam­era on Tom Mcewen’s Yeakel Ply­mouth fuel drag­ster to record how the slick changes shape un­der load for a Jan­uary 1966 Car Craft story.

PIC: BOB MCCLURG

CRASH TEST: While un­der con­tract to Lou Baney in 1964, Mcewen “crash tested” the South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Ply­mouth Deal­ers As­so­ci­a­tion-spon­sored Hemi Cuda at Lions at 168 mph. It would be the only known crash the Mon­goose ever ex­pe­ri­enced.HRM ELIM­I­NA­TOR: Mcewen won Top Elim­i­na­tor at the 1966 HOT ROD Mag­a­zine Na­tional Drags and ac­cepts the plaque from HRM’S Ray Brock. GAME CHANGER GAME CHANGER: Mcewen’s mar­ket­ing mas­ter stroke of get­ting Mat­tel to spon­sor him and Prud­homme changed the face of drag rac­ing.

PIC: BOB MCCLURG

SEC­ONDSSEC­ONDS: In late 1968 Mcewen showed off his mar­ket­ing chops by scor­ing a spon­sor­ship deal for his new Woody Gil­more chas­sis. The Tirend Ac­tiv­ity Booster & Gold Spot Breath Fresh­ener AA/FD not only set sec­ondquick­est elapsed time at OCIR’S Pro­fes­sional Drag­ster As­so­ci­a­tion Cham­pi­onships at 6.68 sec­onds, it was also run­ner-up to Ben­nie “Wizard” Osborn at OCIR’S First An­niver­sary $14,000 Win­ner Take All Drag Race.ICONS: Mcewen and Linda Vaughn share a mo­ment at the 1966 HRM Drags in River­side.

PIC: BUD LANG

HRM ELIM­I­NA­TOR

PIC: BOB MCCLURG

CRASH TEST

PIC: BOB D’OLIVO

ICONS

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