The Prudhomme Story: 3 of 5

The Prudhomme Story: 3 of 5

        ROCKY'S ROAD            


The “Snake” will be retiring in 1994 and is coming to SIR

What in the world do you get as a retirement gift for Don Prudhomme?  Knowing that question would be on the horizon for me and I had no idea what to get for him.  I gathered up all the information I could get over the 3 days of winter meetings. I took notes so I could immediately start analyzing some sort of a new event, or two, for the coming race season.

I left those NHRA Winter Meetings trying to come up with a special idea to present to Prudhomme when the National Event Tour came through the Northwest in early August, 1994. That year was to be his last year driving race cars as the “Last Strike Tour” circled the country. Race tracks on the tour were planning a celebration for him at each stop. A wall plaque or a rocking chair, or maybe even a motorcycle----none of those items were appropriate to me as Prudhomme has made such a huge impact in the sport of drag racing for so many years. For over 20 years he had raced here in the Northwest and certainly was a fan favorite.

So it was time to get back to Seattle and start working on events for 1994. I just can’t keep from thinking about this gift I need to come up with for Prudhomme. I had lots of work to do as I headed back to the Northwest. Getting the perfect gift for Don Prudhomme was a top priority for me. 

I certainly wasn’t thinking about an extravagant or exotic gift, just something that would have lots of meaning for him and something that would be a complete surprise. Other than that I had no idea!   But I need to come up with something. The pressure is on, what could it be?

After the NHRA Winter Meetings had concluded I returned to SIR with lots of ideas and plans for events in 1994 and even some brand new ones that I learned about from those fellow track operators. Starting brand new events takes a lot of planning so I began to work right away laying out my direction for summer. There just never seemed to be any off time in the track operators’ world. Year around work was always a must.

That year I spent a lot of time buried in the work I had. SIR had a dozen or more car clubs that use the facility every year. Fitting all of those into a schedule always took a lot of time so I had to work on that night and day. It always seemed to me like there was a lot more events and activities, than days available, so it took a massive amount of time to get it all put together.

I solved some of those “too crowded” problems by using the race track more and more.  I had as many as 13 events in a week which makes it really busy for the SIR staff. All of the clubs and event promoters want sunny days. Obviously, you can’t schedule every one on the dry days so they have to take it as is. Go karts, bicycle and motorcycle races and clubs for Ford, Chevrolet, VW, Porsche, BMW, Mercedes Benz…..the list goes on and on…..motocross, dealer shows, advertising commercials, etc.  You can just imagine that they all want the warm days. I just did the best I could do.

Ironically, (and I do mean ironically), months later in early 1994, a guy walked into my office at SIR to give me something. I never knew the guy but he insisted to talk with only me. He was at that early 1970’s event at SIR as a young boy going to the drags with his father. They had heard about the Northwest Open on the radio with all the big-time racers and decided to check it out. The father and son duo had spent the whole day at SIR taking in the sights and sounds of the drags and just having a great time. The pits were socked full of fuel dragsters and funny cars as they were readying their machines for the finals. It just had to be a real delight for this father and son.......together, enjoying the drag races at SIR.

When the pair were ready to leave SIR back then, this young boy had asked his father to back down the convertible, with the top down, near the finish line so he could see Prudhomme making his run.  Gene Beaver and the Condit Brothers in the L.A Hooker and Prudhomme were getting set for the final round of competition. This young boy was in the back seat of his father’s convertible and, as the two funny cars roared down the track, he took his little camera and snapped one final picture, the only one he had left. That photograph was of Prudhomme’s funny car exploding, and on fire, with the front wheels (and even the back wheels) completely off the ground. The “fireball” race car came roaring by dad’s convertible and the young son was standing on the back seat aiming his camera.  One little click by this young boy and an amazing, one of a kind photo had taken place. What incredible timing!!  It took about 5 seconds for the funny cars to travel the quarter mile back then. This one photo was taken when the both cars were directly in front of that young boy….probably, close to 200 miles per hour at that point.               

This whole story is so hard to believe… this all worked out was downright amazing for sure. Things just don’t fall together that easy. I’ve had many times in my life where everything just simply falls together. As I look back at these times the pieces just came together with exciting and great results. This photo was one of those times.

Prudhomme ended up in the hospital at that amazing evening. Although this black and white photo, taken by another race fan, you can see in this photo what  a frightening moment in the career of Don Prudhomme this was….fortunately he didn’t get hurt too bad back in 1971. It was just another example of the Snake giving his all for Northwest race fans…. And, by the way, he did win that race!!

Coming next:   An incredible story and a rare photo from a young boy, Part #4.