Author: Burgess, Phil
Date published: July 16, 2010
The nostalgia craze that has been sweeping drag racing for the last dozen years just continues to grow, which is a boon to guys like me who were in our earliest stages of car-fatuation during the late 1960s and early 1970s, the time from which so many memories are being re-created.
With nostalgia racing at an all-time fever pitch, thanks in part to NHRA's Hot Rod Reunions and Hot Rod Heritage Racing Series, the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum presented by Automobile Club of Southern California, and the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing, I'm getting to see restorations or recreations of cars that I had only seen in magazines. The sheer number of big-name cars rolling out of chassis shops and the plethora of tribute nostalgia Funny Cars make the reunions or impressive displays such as at the 50th Anniversary Kragen O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals presented by Valvoline this year a real step back into time. For fans like me who have a history with some of these cars and even for younger fans who know of them only through reputation or yellowed and tattered drag mags, it's a true blessing.
One of the centerpieces of that Winternationals display was Don Prudhomme's immaculately restored '67 Dodge D-700. Prudhomme and partner Tom "the Mongoose" McEwen barnstormed the country in their matching rigs, and fans today recognize ramp trucks as a touchstone of an era gone by, before 18-wheel tractor trailers and even before Gooseneck trailers.
When I interviewed Prudhomme last year about the truck, he said, "There were a lot of ramp trucks around, but we wanted something special. I always liked to have nice equipment, and, at the time, it was the nicest there was. I really liked it back then because it was a good-looking truck. I enjoy going to the reunions, but what tops it off for me is to see a restored car and the truck they used to run it with. That's what turns me on about it. The equipment has a lot of personality of its own, and the trucks were part of the show. When McEwen and I used to pull into the tracks, the fans would see those trucks and just surround us."
Prudhomme found his truck a couple of years ago rusting away in Pacoima, Calif., near his old San Fernando Valley stomping grounds. He bought it, and over the course of about a year, he and Willie Wolter lovingly brought it back to life. It's quite a sight to see, with the previously restored matching yellow Hot Wheels Barracuda strapped to its back, and now a whole new group of fans are flocking to see it. In addition to the Winternationals and the California Hot Rod Reunion, Prudhomme has proudly displayed the truck at the Barrett-Jackson Auction, the SEMA Show, and the recent Dana Point Concours d'Elegance.
Last year in June, I got to ride in the truck, with Prudhomme himself at the wheel, when ND Photo Editor Teresa Long and I visited "the Snake's" SoCal shop to shoot his collection of restored Funny Cars. Prudhomme took us to lunch in the yellow beast, and it's a trip I'll never forget.
With his own truck complete and him not fielding a race car, "the Snake" set his sights on finding McEwen's truck, which had belonged to the Sox & Martin team before McEwen bought it to match Prudhomme's ex-Richard Petty truck. Like Prudhomme's truck, McEwen's had vanished into the ether after he sold it to move up to an enclosed trailer. Prudhomme, who already has a re-creation of McEwen's later Hot Wheels Duster, hoped to find McEwen's truck to have the matching set. Recently, he began to make inquiries regarding the location of "the Mongoose's" truck; I even ran a request for information in my DRAGSTER Insider column on NHRA.com but got no response, so I was thrilled this week to receive an e-mail from Prudhomme team manager Skip Allum and some of the photos on this page.
In a chance meeting at the 2010 L.A. Roadster Show in Pomona, Prudhomme was approached by former Winston West stock car racer Don Lowery, who had bought the truck from McEwen decades ago. Lowery not only had the photos and documents to prove that he had owned the truck, but he also had something much more valuable: the name of the guy in Arizona whom he sold it to. Ironically, like Prudhomme's truck, McEwen's rig ended up back in the Golden State after the owner retired to Riverside 15 years ago.
Prudhomme, with flatbed truck at the ready, went to see if the truck was the real deal and at all worth restoring. Although the truck was pretty beat up, all it took to convince Prudhomme was finding the original vehicle-identification Certicard from Chrysler Corp. issuing the truck to the Sox & Martin team April 17, 1967.
Prudhomme and company loaded up the truck and delivered it to Prudhomme's Vista, Calif., race shop where restoration efforts are already under way. Prudhomme expects the restoration project to take 18 to 24 months, at which point he'll work on the Duster and match the paint on both to their original red-orange scheme.
I'm sure I'm not alone in standing in front of a collection of early iron, squinting to block out the surroundings and imagining myself in the pits at Lions or Indy back in the day, and thanks to Prudhomme and the many, many more like him, we're all getting the chance to relive our sport's history.