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More 'Snake' sssssssssssstuff

26 Jun 2009
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider
Longtime photo buddy Tom Schiltz sent along this great shot of "Snake's" truck and the 'Cuda being unloaded in York, Pa., in 1970.
Glen Brown shared this photo of "the Snake's" yellow 'Cuda at Rockford Dragway's Manufacturers Meet in 1971.
Steve Ojard has this cool "Snake" 'Cuda model on his desk.
Rick Oldfield got this shot of "the Snake's" famed Army Monza at the 1975 World Series of Drag Racing at Cordova in 1975, then got it autographed to boot!

Response to Tuesday's recap of our fun-filled day with Don Prudhomme was, predictably, off the charts. I'd posted a teaser photo on Facebook last Thursday when we got back that elicited a ton of comments that included many uses of the words "cool" and "awesome" and then more once I'd posted the link there Tuesday.

E-mail response also was strong (and many of you generously have offered to be an unpaid assistant the next time we do something like this; you're such givers), filled with great photos and remembrances from those who had seen the cars and the famed hauler in their glory and were grateful that "the Snake" had opened his doors to us.

"You lucky son of a gun!" raved Canadian reader Jim Millard. "Knowing how busy 'the Snake' is, I realize that interviews with the man must usually take on a time limit, but, not only a day with 'the Snake' but also a chance to see, touch, and even sit in one of a true legend's historical past race cars has to be wayyyy beyond the dreams of any of us old geezers. Holy crap ... lunch and story time as well!! (Who paid?) I've written in the past about meeting 'Jungle Jim' and Pam and how much of an impression they left with me, but 'the Snake' also raced up here in Ontario at the old Golden Horseshoe Dragway and Cayuga Dragway Park. With 'Snake,' it always seemed that he was all business. Each and every run, although match racing, was more important than the last run. The record books speak for themselves as far as national event stats are concerned. It's kind of funny that a 56-year-old still has heroes, and for me, some of the stars from '60s and '70s drag racing still fill that bill, but Prudhomme is at the top of that list."

For the record, "Snake" paid. (All this and a free lunch? Man, it just kept getting better, didn't it?)

Bill Reilly of Bill Reilly Toyota in Atlanta had his own Prudhomme brush with greatness a few years ago. "I, too, was a big fan as a kid in the '60s," he wrote. "Fast-forward many years when I was an executive for Southeast Toyota Distributors LLC. I became friends with Alan Johnson when he was running the White Cap Toyota Celica. I remember about 2002, I was sitting on a golf cart at the starting line at the U.S. Nationals when Don Prudhomme sat on the seat next to me. He said a few words to me, and I remember thinking, 'Wow, I can't believe I am sitting here at the U.S. Nationals next to "Snake"!' I sat there thinking about the hundreds of hours I spent poring over Popular Hot Rodding, Hot Rod, and National DRAGSTER memorizing every detail of 'Snake's' cars and his transporter. I have to admit, I must have been a little starstruck that day because I don't think I had anything intelligent to say back. Seeing those cars and the famous transporter brought back some great memories. Thank you to Don and his guys for sharing those pictures and the article."

Chuck Didion added, "As I am 11 years older than you, I do have a few more memories of 'the Snake' and his bud Mr. McEwen and their match races at Lions. I started my love of drag racing when I was only 14 years old. I had a cousin who was older, and he took me to my first drag race at Lions for a night race. I still remember the first time I saw a TFD run. They push-started those rails, and my heart started to pound. With the green light my ears burned, my knees were knocking, and my heart was coming out of my chest; what a rush, as it is still today. I still follow drag racing as a loyal fan and look forward to the Saturday and Sunday races on TV. Again, what a great article. Long live 'the Snake.' "

Frequent Insider commentator Tom "Fasthair" Scott was one jealous fella. He ranted, "When I saw you sitting in the white Hot Wheels car, I wanted to punch my monitor! 'The Snake' looked like he was having just as much fun as you were, if that's possible. What a gracious host. Just for the record, it is no contest, 'the Snake' is the only one that looks right at home there!"

Old pal Dan "the Sign Man" DeLaney, who I first met while hanging with the Mazi family back in the 1980s, dropped me this line. "Just a short note to let you know that you are the envy of all 50-plus-year-old 'kids.' Not only being at 'Snake's' and pushing those beautiful cars around but to be able to sit in the 'Cuda … they would still be prying me out of that thing; better yet going for a ride in the hauler with 'the Snake' at the wheel. It just gives me goosebumps seeing that thing restored with the 'Cuda on the back. The paint and lettering on those early cars are why I'm in the sign business today. Seeing Kirby's logo on the 'Cuda and Youngblood's lettering does me in every time. Truly a time long gone, but to us purists, they were the best-looking things out there! Youngblood, Nat Quick, Glen, Stratton, Circus, Kirby … we can all thank them for what they did for our sport, and Prudhomme's cars are a great example of that. Again ... it must have been way too cool! Now where's my orange track?"

Dan, you guys might not have been able to take the real ride with us, but there's a little surprise for you at the end of the column. If you can't wait (c'mon, where's your self-control?), then click here.

bb1_0.jpgThe coolest e-mail I received, though, was from Bob Brandt, Prudhomme's longtime right-hand man, who saw the ramp truck and Funny Car in person last Sunday at the LA Roadster Show in Pomona, where "Snake" was showing it off. Brandt was hanging out with some of his old pals: "Snake," Roland Leong, and "the Old Master," engine guru Ed Pink. He included the pics at right.

"The truck is almost 100 percent in the original configuration as when we raced," marveled Brandt. "Willie and 'Snake' did an outstanding job refurbishing and rebuilding it. Steve "Okie" Bernd was the crew guy with us in those days, but there were times that 'Snake' and I traveled together in the truck and raced with the help of others at the track as crew guys always didn't work out with our schedule. We raced a lot during the Hot Wheel days, all across the country, nonstop! Those were the real days of hittn' it.

"We were always on the road and racing. In those days, they didn't have the nitro available at the racetracks; we had to pick up fuel and carry it within big tanks on the truck … same with racing oil. Due to the number of match races and displays, picking up fuel and oil was somewhat of a hassle.

"Our truck was much nicer and safer than other rigs being used in that era," he added, "especially with air brakes and real truck suspension, wheels, and tires. The crew-cab design was also ahead of its time for production trucks. The truck was a real crowdpleaser. We were able to carry a spare engine complete from the intake manifold to oil pan as well as many spare parts. The truck was almost as popular as the race car. A lot of good memories while touring with the Hot Wheels truck, 'the Snake,' and 'Mongoose.' Those were the good old days for sure. A lot of work and long hours, but we loved it!

"Seeing all of the old cars restored actually gives me chills. They look better than ever, the Army cars, the Pepsi cars, and the others. Now if they could only give me the once-over!"

 

So, bummed out that you didn't get to ride with Teresa Long and me in the famous "Snake" hauler? Well, we've got ya covered! Check out the video at right, which T.L. shot with her new Nikon D90 digital camera, which also records high-definition video! She had it rolling as we were rolling and got some great and very candid footage of "the Snake" behind the wheel driving us to lunch.

That's Willie Wolter in the backseat behind "the Snake" and me in the other backseat (trying not to grin too much) while Prudhomme and he chat about the truck and "Snake" works them gears and rolls that big ol' steering wheel (and blasts the air horns!).

Teresa shot a half-dozen or so segments – it wasn't really a planned thing; she just started shooting to memorialize the moment; we're kind of kicking ourselves now for not steering "Snake" into other topics – and worked with one of our senior graphic designers, Jeff Mellem, to edit them and stitch together this little short film.

It can’t quite capture the feel of the real deal, but I thought you'd enjoy it nonetheless.

I'll be in Norwalk all weekend covering the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals for NHRA.com and National DRAGSTER and won't get back to G-town until late Monday. I'll have some tight deadlines for ND when I crawl back into the saddle here Tuesday morning, so my next column might not be until midweek. As always, thanks for reading and contributing.