Returning to the scene of so many of the glorious highlights from his amazing career, NHRA legend Don “the Snake” Prudhomme was back in the cockpit of a Funny Car at the Dodge Power Brokers NHRA U.S. Nationals to warm up Ron Capps’ Prudhomme/Hot Wheels tribute entry.
Capps’ NAPA Auto Parts Toyota GR Supra Funny Car is sporting the throwback livery paying tribute to his former team owner and his legendary Hot Wheels Funny Car. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Prudhomme’s victory at the 1973 Indianapolis event, as well as the 10th anniversary of the Snake & Mongoose film, which featured a cameo by Capps.
Prudhomme, who won the U.S. Nationals seven times in his driving career and was the first driver in drag racing history to win a national event in two Pro categories when he won the 1973 U.S. Nationals Funny Car title, his first of four in the class on top of his three previous Indy Top Fuel wins.
With a phalanx of still and video cameras rolling, Prudhomme climbed into the saddle and, for the first time since 1989, had the thunder of a Funny Car engine in his lap. Under Capps’ guidance, Prudhomme smoothly ran through the warmup procedure, and exited the car shaking his head.
“Man, it pounds you in the cockpit,” he said. “It was almost painful. I don’t know how these guys do it. I didn't realize. I mean, from the outside, standing behind this thing, you know it pounds, but, man, that was almost painful. I decided right then I don't want any part of this.
"Years ago, I'd jump right in there and put it on down through there but not today's world. It's just an amazing piece of equipment but you also have to remember I’m 80 years old. But it's just it's such an honor to be hooked up with Ron again and do this.”
"This has been a dream for a lot of years," said Capps, who explained how all of his current sponsors, including NAPA and Toyota immediately gave him enthusiastic green lights on the project. "I've watched NASCAR and what they do with their throwback weekend, and it's great, but it's a small little change in their current paint scheme with their sponsors, and I don't think it was ever a proper throwback. When I saw the first drawing. It instantly took me back to being a kid. When I first showed it to 'Snake,' he was like right away was like, 'Oh, my God.’ “
"To be honest, I've been asked to do this before on the nostalgia level, people wanting to do the Army car, the Hot Wheels car, and I just was never into it,” said Prudhomme. “But of course, when Capps brought it up, it was a done deal. I remember the first time I got to look at it and it was just blew me away.”
The Hot Wheels entry of Prudhomme, which first hit the track in 1970 with partner Tom “the Mongoose” McEwen u a red version, marked a breakthrough sponsorship for drag racing with a corporate giant like Mattel coming on board.
“It really started a whole wave of things,” Prudhomme related. “I wish 'the Mongoose' [Tom McEwen] was here to see it because I'm sure he'd love it, but I think he'd be a little jealous. It's quite an honor, obviously,. It's amazing to think my career has lasted this long and that I've helped maybe move someone else's life a little bit to help them along the way.”
Capps raced for Prudhomme’s Snake Racing team from 1997 through 2004 and won 13 events in Funny Car together, and they’ve remained close friends in the year after and live not far from one another in Southern California.
"What's great about this is it goes both ways,” Capps said of his friendship with the legend. “You have to remember I got a phone call from him to go drive for him and here I was, a kid that played with Hot Wheels and built his models and someone who was probably my biggest idol growing up, so to get a phone call to go drive for somebody that's that big an idol, it doesn't get any better. I'm not sure I can top that this weekend.”
Capps has the chance for a monster weekend as not only will he be racing for his second career U.S. Nationals title on Monday, but he’ll be in Saturday’s Mission #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge and Sunday’s Pep Boys NHRA All-Star Funny Car Callout/
"When we got the semifinals in Brainerd, it was such a relief to know I was going to be in the Mission Foods Challenge, and to have everything going on every day is special You could run this car at some race and just have qualifying and raceday, so to have it here all weekend like this and a chance to win those three events or one or two or three of them, just definitely takes it to another level.
‘Prudhomme] just kept looking at it and noticing things that were back in the day. He's made a couple of comments that really touched me. He said, 'You know, it was really cool to win it 50 years ago, it was an unbelievable thing that's traveled with me all my life, and now to get the chance to win it again. It gave me shivers. That was the biggest compliment to hear him say the chance for me to do this was going to years later,
“It was emotional there watching him warm up and you know, he would be on ass if I was still driving for him to get my head straight, so that's what we're gonna try to do. I’m going to get my head straight but it's gonna be strange backing up and looking up on the big screen. I'm sure they're gonna have him on the big screen, so I'm trying to put my blinders on from watching that and just get ready to step on the gas."