Drag Racing Legend Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen Passes At 81

Photo courtesy NHRA/National Dragster

One of drag racing’s all-time greats and its most mainstream stars, Tom “the Mongoose” McEwen, passed away on Sunday evening, June 10, at his home at the age of 81.

Entering the sport in 1953, McEwen competed in and around the early strips of Southern California, later progressing from gas-powered sedans and altereds to nitro-fueled dragsters. Driving a car owned by Ed Donovan, McEwen defeated then-rival Don “The Snake” Prudhomme in their first match race in 1964, setting in motion what may be the greatest match race billing in the sport’s history.

Photo courtesy NHRA/National Dragster

McEwen won just five national events during his 35-year driving career, but it was his promotional ability and his personality for which he became an icon of the sport. Given the nickname “Mongoose” in 1964 as a means of enticing Prudhomme into a match race, the two later became forever linked when they teamed up in 1970 to campaign a pair of Mattel/Hot Wheels-sponsored Funny Cars that made them household names and forever changed the business of drag racing.

McEwen won Top Fuel at the March Meet in 1972 — his first major victory — and won his first NHRA national event title in ’73 at the SuperNationals at Ontario, California. His greatest triumph, however, came in one of the most remembered and emotional events in drag racing history, when in 1978 he claimed the Funny Car crown at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis just days after the tragic loss of his son, Jaime. McEwen’s final victory came in Top Fuel at the 1991 Summernationals. He retired from full-time competition in 1992.

Photo courtesy NHRA/National Dragster

 

McEwen, a member of the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame, the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, and many others, was voted No. 16 on the NHRA’s list of Top 50 Drivers in 2001.

Following his retirement from driving in the 1990s, McEwen remained a part of the sport, taking part in car shows, attending NHRA national events and various nostalgia shows, and performing promotional work for the Snake & Mongoose film that chronicled he and Prudhomme’s partnership.

“We are all saddened to learn the news of Mongoose’s passing. He was truly one of the most brilliant pioneers of NHRA Championship Drag Racing and continued to support the sport through a number of initiatives including our current NHRA Legends Tour in which he played an instrumental role. Everyone at NHRA will miss him deeply. Our thoughts, prayers and deepest condolences are with the McEwen family at this difficult time, stated Glen Cromwell, President of NHRA, in a statement.

About the author

Andrew Wolf

Andrew has been involved in motorsports from a very young age. Over the years, he has photographed several major auto racing events, sports, news journalism, portraiture, and everything in between. After working with the Power Automedia staff for some time on a freelance basis, Andrew joined the team in 2010.
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