“Snake” and the Rare Photo
In the winter of 1993, I attended the annual NHRA Track Operators’ Meetings which are akin to the Winter Baseball Meetings for that other sport. Several days of agenda presented by the NHRA outlines plans, problems and directions for the upcoming racing season. The annual gathering, usually three days in length, allows all the National event-level track operators to share their successes, ideas and meet any new NHRA personnel.
Those meetings were really pretty much cookie-cutter as the plans and direction were all laid out well before the meetings took place.
To me, the best part of the meetings always seemed to be in the evenings when the operators got together in a suite for open discussion without the NHRA. That was the place to learn what others were doing in their respective markets. There wasn’t any place to go for Race Track 101 so discussing the latest ideas with those in the know was where I always wanted to be. The knowledge I gained from those evening meetings was priceless and certainly helped me as I learned more about what worked and what didn’t work at different race sites around the country. Hours and hours of discussions with John
Bandimere of Denver and the late Vinnie Napp of Englishtown, two of the best, would guide me along the way and direct me into new ideas and certainly, helpful hints. I can’t thank the two of them enough, and several others, for their guidance and their honesty in business. The impacts they had on my career in the sport were huge.
We learned during the official 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 own his own team for the future. There was lots of discussion on what the different race sites would do as 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 a motorcycle that he could wheel around on. I felt I needed to do something special but what in the world would it be?
I had first seen 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. The Snake was making headlines 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 ’70s 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 risk of producing an event like this was huge as the Northwest National Open was always scheduled in early May. Doner told me a story about him lying in bed the night before one of these events with the rain pounding down on the roof of his house. Everything was in a “financial float” – even the start change to open the ticket gates was on his own credit card! Who says promoters don’t take risks? Probably not the best night of sleep Doner has ever had.
As was Doners’ style, he would bring the best in the sport to Seattle. The top fuel and funny car fields were socked full of the big names and, of course, Prudhomme was often included. In those days he had transferred over to world of funny cars instead of his familiar location within the ranks of top fuel.