Book Name: Don the Snake Prudhomme, My life beyond the 1320.
Binding: Hardcover with dust jacket
Number of pages; 192
Year first published: 2020
Author: Don Prudhomme with Elana Scherr
Who is Don Prudhomme?
Drag racing star Don Prudhomme has always been a cipher. The man known as the Snake seemed remote, always concentrating on his race car and chasing points. I had tremendous respect for the man, but I didn’t know all that much about him other than his win/loss stats.
All that changed after reading this book. It isn’t the typical racer biography. Instead, it feels like someone turned on a tape recorder and asked the Snake to describe everything he can remember of his racing career. The result is an honest exploration of one of drag racing’s biggest stars; and how he evolved. It is all here: the good, the bad, and plenty of things I never knew before.
Prudhomme isn’t hesitant to admit when he made mistakes, whether it involved stealing a transmission out of a junkyard or failing to follow advice from others.
Friends Made, Friends Lost
He is unafraid to talk about friends he made and friends he lost in the course of chasing championship points. There are some times where sincere regret shines through his words. There are many things he would change if he could.
Which doesn’t mean that Prudhomme isn’t justifiably proud of what he accomplished. He takes the reader on a whirlwind journey through the history of drag racing, from his initial runs in a club dragster; to becoming a hired driver; to eventually controlling his own team. We see him embrace funny cars; half-heartedly at first, then going all in to dominate the class.
Prudhomme explains his return to top fuel and his stint as team owner. I found it fascinating to see how the Snake advanced from humble dyslexic kid to world champion. I still can’t claim I know Don Prudhomme personally, but he is no longer a man of mystery. The man behind the legend has revealed himself.
More than a coffee table book
This looks like a coffee table book, but it doesn’t read like one. If you skip around and simply read little excerpts here and there, you will ultimately become frustrated, because the book is designed to be read as a complete story from end to end. If you start in the middle you will find yourself lost as Prudhomme often refers to points covered earlier in the book.
If you expect a multitude of lavish full-page photos, you will be disappointed. Photos are abundant, but most seem to be small images reproduced from the Snake’s personal scrapbook. Some were shot by professionals, but the most are simple snapshots. That is not a bad thing, however. I had not seen most of these private images, and the amateur photographs add to the intimacy of the stories.
Beyond Drag Racing
Prudhomme is quite humble in the book, and he is quick to point out the many people who encouraged him along the way. While the book is concerned with Prudhomme’s career, he talks about many other racing legends he either teamed up with or faced in competition. The Snake discusses Tommy Ivo, Roland Leong, Keith Black, Ed Pink, Chris Karamesines, Kenny Bernstein, Raymond Beadle and many other drag racing celebrities. There are several short reminisces written by high-profile racers recounting their memories of Prudhomme.
Prudhomme has also found friends in many other forms of motorsports. The Snake had an opportunity to interact with Formula 1 drivers Niki Lauda and Jacky Stewart. He tells of his encounter with Enzo Ferrari and how the elder Ferrari invited Prudhomme to one of Lauda’s test sessions. Prudhomme also had friendly encounters with racing luminaries including A. J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Carol Shelby, Dan Gurney and Cale Yarborough. Former NASCAR champion Rusty Wallace contributed the forward to the book.
Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen
No Prudhomme biography would be complete without relating his friendship with Tom “the Mongoose” McEwen. This might be my only criticism of the book. Prudhomme’s career was so intertwined with McEwen’s that I would have thought there would be more Mongoose anecdotes. Prudhomme does give McEwen full credit for developing the Wildlife Racing program as well as the Hot Wheels sponsorship.
Prudhomme also sheds light on the infamous 25th annual US Nationals where he faced off with McEwen in the final. Still, I would have enjoyed more details of his relationship with McEwen.
Although the bulk of the book examines Prudhomme’s racing activities, it would not be complete without describing his personal life. We see the Snake overcome a troubled childhood and learn how his wife and daughter helped him to stay sane and strong.
Elana Scherr is credited along with Prudhomme as the author. Scherr is a contributing editor for Car and Driver and is a freelance automotive writer. She has raced in NHRA Sportsman classes, so she is well suited to help Prudhomme narrate his story. It is difficult to know which words are Scherr’s and which are Prudhomme’s, but the writing is authentic and trustworthy.
If you want to relive the golden age of drag racing, this book belongs on your shelf. I read it through in a couple of days and I intend to read it over again. It brings to life a sport and a way of life that no longer exists. If you only read one racing book this year, make sure it is this one.