The Prudhomme Story: 2 of 5

The Prudhomme Story: 2 of 5

        ROCKY'S ROAD            


Don Prudhomme was going to retire in 1994  Part 2 of 5                           

We learned during the winter Track Operator meetings that 1994 was going to be Don Prudhomme’s "Last Strike Tour" as the “Snake” was retiring from driving to become a team owner. He would continue driving at all the NHRA National events on the tour that year but would continue owning his own team for the future. There was lots of discussion on what the different race sites would do for a special presentation during their events as the tour wound its way around the USA. There was to be a plaque here or there and someone suggested a rocking chair or maybe a motorcycle that he could wheel around on. I felt that I needed to do something very special for this major moment in drag racing...but what in the world would it be?


I had first recalled seeing Prudhomme when I was a crew member on the Northwind top fuel car in 1965 during the “Smokers’ Meet” in Bakersfield. I was just a young 22-year-old kid doing the grunt work on the Northwind back then. I had heard and read a lot about the sport of drag racing as I was hooked and couldn’t get enough information on the sport. The Snake was making headlines way back then as one of the big guns on the West Coast, even winning the Bakersfield event a year or so earlier.

In the early 1970’s, Prudhomme would race at Seattle International Raceway for Bill Doner. Doner had an event called the Northwest National Open which included an open field of top fuel dragsters and funny cars. The race teams would travel to SIR from locations throught the West Coast.

The risk of producing an event like this was huge as the Northwest National Open was always scheduled in early May. That time of the season is a wet time of the year and, with drag racing, the event can easily come to a complete halt. It's such a major risk as a lot of the cars have appearance dollars just to run at the event. They, of course, have their costs to even get to's easy to imagine all the headaches that take place when this happens. A rainy weekend brings rough times, for sure...and a financial disaster.

 Doner had told me a story about him lying in bed the night before one of these events in May with that famous Seattle rain pounding down on the roof of his house. If the event that weekend is unable to take place it would cost tens of thousands of dollars to just pay for the apperance money for some of the cars. Also, all the advertising campaign for the event that was going on for 10 days or so  is also down the drain.  The promoter loses tens of thousands when the rains move in.  Who says promoters don’t take risks? Probably not the best night of sleep Doner has ever had.



A perfect examble of the struggles track operators have, in the early 80's I was all set to run our traditional back-to-back PIR/SIR events. In scheduling these two events I always had to lock in the dates on the schedule in the previous fall. Also, I'd lock in another weekend close to the original one incase the Northwest rains would roll in. We would run the Saturday night in Portland and Sunday in Seattle, with an 8-car funny car event.  I would buy all the advertising in both markets and make up some radio ads for each event. The ad costs were about $10,000. to $12,000. in each market.

Several of the funny cars were from throughout the west coast which allows for ads that has that out-of-town feel to them. So and so coming from LA makes the event a little more special and assists in the spectator draw.

The first weekend was a total wash in both markets, no races that weekend. It would take me a week or so to cut new radio ads and bring back the cars by adding dollars to their travel costs.

The middle weekend was just beautiful with warm, sunny weather in both places...and, of course, I'm running again on the third weekend of the month.

You guessed it the rain came rolling in and washed away another set of ads, and a large showup purse for the cars that did showed up. The whole mess over the two weekends cost about  $30,000. and not a dime of income. Ouch!!

This sort of scenario kept me staring in a mirror, trying to understand why me? It is very hard to handle, not to even mention, making up for the costs. Somehow I made it through this sort of headaches......not very pleasant.

As was Doners’ style, he would bring the best in the sport to Seattle. The top fuel and funny car fields were always socked full of the big names and, of course, Prudhomme was most  often included in these events. In those days he had transferred over to the world of funny cars instead of his familiar location within the ranks of top fuel.

There certainly is a lot of star-power in most sports and drag racing has had a long list of them. Those stars of the sport are generally the ones that win most of the time and receive most of the appearance money. The race fans want to see the best in the sport and Don  the “Snake” Prudhomme is certainly one of the best, maybe even the best draw for attracting a large crowd.


No doubt, Prudhomme was either the most popular throughout the Northwest or, most certainly, one of the most popular drag racers to compete at SIR. He always had a class operation with the best equipment available and he would always run with the best of them. The media seemed to always cover him well when he raced throughout the Northwest.       

This early event was several years before I went to work for Doner in 1973 but I’d heard the story about the wild fireball funny car in the lights at SIR. Prudhomme had blown up his Hot Wheels funny car and flew through the quarter mile lights in a ball of fire with all four wheels of his race car completely off the ground.

As I recall, it was in the final round of competition that day and the incident literally destroyed just about everything, except Prudhomme himself. I had heard that Prudhomme was very fortunate to even walk away from the dramatic explosion which destroyed the entire race car, along with the motor. I could only imagine what that must have all looked like.                               

Next: Let's see, what in the world do I give Snake for his retirement? Part 3 of 5.

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