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Reyes On Tour:

Tom "The Mongoose" McEwen

story by Aaron Green, photos by Steve Reyes

This month ace photographer Steve Reyes gives us a look back at one of the best known drag racing personalities over the years, Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen. It was McEwen that was responsible for bringing the first “big time” non-automotive sponsor into the drag racing arena. That changed the sport of drag racing forever.

In the 1960’s Tom McEwen raced at many of the Southern California tracks of the era, and he was never afraid to try something “different”. Some of his rides included the “Super Mustang”, an unusual streamlined Top Fueler with Ford Motor Company backing, and a steel bodied, B&M Automotive built, 1965 Plymouth Barracuda “Funny Car”, which was a rear engined machine. The first of its kind, that car took off and flew one night at Lion’s Drag Strip at 150 miles an hour or so, and crashed big time!! McEwen rebuilt the rear engined Barracuda and ran it again, reaching speeds of over 170 m.p.h., fast for the era. Along with engine builder Ed Pink and rival racer Don Prudhomme, Tom McEwen helped to develop the slider clutch technique, which along with new tire technology, caused Top Fuelers to dramatically increase their performances in the 1967 drag racing season.

McEwen’s biggest contribution to drag racing may well be the fact that he talked the Mattel toy people and their “Hot Wheels” brand into sponsoring himself and long time rival Don Prudhomme as part of his “Wildlife Racing” concept. That was the first time a major non-automotive company had been involved in drag racing, and it paid big dividends for all parties involved. Mattel made lots of money off of the relationship with McEwen and Prudhomme by selling “Hot Wheels”, and it put Tom McEwen and Don Prudhomme in the spot light as “big time” professional drag racers in the minds of the general public.

It may be fate, but perhaps the biggest wins of McEwen career came in the 1970’s by beating Prudhomme on two important occassions. The first was the final round of Funny Car at the “Last Drag Race” at the famous Lion’s Drag Strip in 1972, a race all of the California stars that had cut their teeth at Lion’s wanted to win. The other was the final of Funny Car at the 1978 NHRA U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, that win came just a few days after Tom McEwen’s son Jamie had passed away from luekemia.

Now Reyes on Tour takes a look at the racing life of drag racing legend Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen. CN

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