Memories of Don Prudhomme's Final Strike season of 1994 keep rolling in, the latest from Bill Holland, the former National DRAGSTER Editor and successful advertising and marketing businessman who some of you may remember last month shared here his tales of work at ND back in the 1960s. Holland Communications had a big hand in the Final Strike tour, creating print ads for his tour merchandise, and Bill dreamed up a David Letterman-like Top 10 List contest, complete with cool prizes, for fans to list the reasons that "the Snake" was hanging up the ol' driving gloves.
Holland coaxed Prudhomme, not normally known for agreeing to such shtick, to dress up like Letterman – right down to the trademark glasses and cigar – to pose for an ad promoting the contest. "I've been known to come up with an offbeat idea or two, and this was one of them," admits Holland. "Don and Lynn thought [the contest] would be cool, and you agreed. He was very agreeable to the Letterman gig. I think he was/is a fan of Dave's, too."
The prizes were cool, too; from 10th to first place they were: a 1/64th scale replica Skoal Bandit diecast dragster in a plastic display case; an embroidered Skoal Polo shirt; an embroidered Skoal sweatshirt; a one-year subscription to National DRAGSTER; a crew jacket; a Snake clock; a unique custom-molded, hand-painted sculpture; two four-day passes to any NHRA national event; a limited-edition, gallery-quality, signed and numbered Prudhomme lithograph; and, the grand prize, an authentic, hand-painted helmet worn by Prudhomme during the season.
The Top 10:
10. Hey! I told you I was going to quit when Jim Nicoll went on his head back in 1970.
9. He is starring with Bernstein in an upcoming remake of Easy Rider.
8. It's lonely being the last driver racing with a really cool nickname.
7. More babes will hang around the trailer with Larry Dixon driving.
6. He accidentally signed the same Skoal Bandit contract Harry Gant did.
5. He realized he has shop rags older than Cory Mac.
4. "Front end" doesn't come up as high as it used to.
3. Lorena Bobbitt was seen hanging around the Top Fuel pits.
2. He was picked for jury duty on the O.J. Simpson case.
And the No.1 answer, as supplied by Marsha Funk-Myers of Imperial Beach, Calif. …
1. That damn Kalitta boy!
The Kalitta answer was in reference to Scott Kalitta, who in 1994 won his first Top Fuel championship and denied Prudhomme, who finished second, his first in the class in his final season. In retrospect, I find answers 4 and 5, submitted, respectively, by Jesse Swinson of St. Francis Wis., and Gary Reynolds of Van Nuys, Calif., to be much funnier, and Nos. 7 and 8 aren’t bad either. No. 10 is pretty cool if you recall Prudhomme telling Wide World of Sports that he felt like quitting racing after seeing Nicoll's car break in two in front of him in the '70 Indy Top Fuel final. I don't recall exactly who was on the judging panel besides Lynn Prudhomme (Don's wife) and our own Teresa Long ("Snake's #1 fan), and it's probably too late for a recount, but it was a fun deal.
Christmas memories also are a hot topic, as are Hot Wheels, and one of the coolest messages came from reader Rick Lind, who was lucky enough to have a mom who worked at Mattel in Southern California in the early 1970s.
"My dad's aunt also worked there, and her and my mom would take cars out of the plant in the false bottom of my dad's Aunt's purse. Mom would always bring three of whatever cars home, one for me, one for my brother, and one for dad, and these were cars taken right off the line, never making it to a package. Of course, my brother and I destroyed our cars, but my dad still has the cars he got. Also, a friend of my mom's worked where they made the track, and we used get to the track in uncut rolls of about 100 feet.
"One year at Christmas, about '71-72, after my brother, myself, and my sister went to bed on Christmas Eve, my mom and dad took all the decorations off of the tree, and replaced them with Hot Wheels and Barbies. What a cool sight to see the tree decorated like that on Christmas morning." Unfortunately, no photos, but still a cool memory and, on behalf of all us Hot Wheels fans, we're jealous!
Stuff In My Office, Part 4: If I ever get trapped in my office by a natural disaster, one thing's for certain: I won’t die of thirst. And if I do, I'll be well anesthetized.
This six-pack of beverages spans nearly 15 years and stokes some great memories.
At far left is an 8-ounce Coca-Cola bottle that I received as an exit giveaway at an Atlanta Knights minor-league hockey game (in the now defunct IHL) just before the 1994 Southern Nationals. Senior Editor Kevin McKenna, a transplanted Floridian and loyal Tampa Bay Lightning fan, and I attended the game; the Knights were Tampa Bay's farm team and, hey, we'd never pass up a chance to see a hockey game that fit into our travel itinerary. As can be the case at some minor-league games, it turned into a brawl. I don't remember who the opponent was, but I do remember both benches emptying and the fans littering the ice with debris, including a full cup of beer that clocked Atlanta goalie Pokey Reddick (who had foolishly removed his mask as he skated to the bench) and nearly knocked him out. As Kevin remarked as we exited the Omni that night clutching our souvenir bottles, "It's a good thing they didn't hand these out before the game."
Next is a 12-ounce can of Miller Genuine Draft, autographed by Larry Dixon, Don Prudhomme, and Rusty Wallace that was given out at the Pomona press conference in 1995 officially introducing Dixon as "the Snake's" new driver. I'd probably have to be pretty thirsty to pop the top on a 13-year-old brewski.
Next is a promotional, pre-release bottle of the NHRA-themed POWERade that Coca-Cola introduced in 2003. NHRA.com hosted a poll for fans to choose between a flame design or dragster. More than 60,000 votes were cast online, via a special call-in number, and at kiosks at the track before "dragster" eked out the win with 53.25 percent of the votes. The new flavor was a blend of melon, pineapple and papaya, so I can be sure to stay delightfully hydrated.
Next are two bottles of vino, a white and a red (not sure which goes with the emergency packet of Pop Tarts in my drawer) from NHRA's 50th Anniversary celebration in 2001. The first is a Fleur d'Peche from Chateau Thomas Winery, "a sweet white wine with strong peach, apricot, and honey aromas." The winery says its products are for "the discriminating wine enthusiast," which doesn’t include me, whose greatest wine memories from high school include lowbrow swigs of Boone's Farm, Annie Green Springs, and MD 20/20, the latter once described thusly: "As majestic as the cascading waters of a drain pipe." The red is a 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon from Thoroughbred Vintners in Paso Robles, Calif., in a handsomely engraved bottle presented to NHRA staffers from the employees of NHRA souvenirs vendor Sport Service (now MainGate). The good thing about these wines is that, unlike the Coke and the Miller, wine only gets better with age. I'm good to go.
Finally and most recently is the special-edition bottle of Chandon Methode Traditionelle champagne handed out last Jan. 16 at the official Ashley Force press conference announcing her entry into the Funny Car class. We walked out of Force HQ with an armload of goodies, including Ashley Barbie dolls, collectible cars, and more.