It’s with heavy hearts that we have learned from sources that one of the best NHRA drag racers of all time, Tom “Mongoose” McEwen, passed away last night at the age of 81 years old. He has truly inspired the racing community with his competitive spirit and love for the sport. McEwen leaves behind a long history in the NHRA that won’t soon be forgotten.
With a career spanning 45 years, the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) driver was ranked number 16 of the 50 most significant drivers of the first 50 years of the NHRA. The “Mongoose” received his nickname from engine builder Ed Donovan and used it as a way to push for a high-exposure match race between Don “The Snake” Prudhomme.
Over his career, McEwen raced to the winner’s circle to take wins at five NHRA events. It wasn’t just his skill behind the wheel that earned the Mongoose his reputation, it was also his ability to draw a crowd through hyping events and his intelligence and knack for promoting matches that kept people hanging on his every move.
The legend of the Mongoose all began way back in 1953 when he’d race his 1953 Oldsmobile in Irvine, California at the Santa Ana Drags. He went on to race a 1953 Olds in Long Beach, CA at the Lion Drag Strip, and his eventually went onto racing dragsters and funny cars. In 1963, the racing scene really started to take note of McEwen when he landed second place against Art Malone at the Bakersfield March Meet in California.
When he starting driving the Donovan Engineering Special dragster is when he was able to entice Don “The Snake” Prudhomme into the race that would accelerate his career. Mongoose of course beat Prudhomme during the two runs, and the two would meet on the track again years later. The pair of racers would eventually go on to form a national touring team, sponsored by toy maker Mattel, in 1969 called “Wildlife Racing.”
After the pair left Wildlife Racing, McEwen would go on to find a lot of success in major events. A dramatic re-match between Mongoose and The Snake would be one of those wins, going down in 1978. Their rivalry even inspired a movie, Snake and Mongoose, which was released in 2013.
As a racer, promoter, and unforgettable presence, Tom “Mongoose” McEwen has forever left his mark on NHRA history and with fans everywhere.
Elizabeth is hardcore horsepower enthusiast with unmatched intensity for making things faster and louder. She wakes up for power and performance and only sleeps to charge up for the next project that’s heading to the track. From autocross to drag racing, Elizabeth is there with you, so stay tuned for her unique perspective on horsepower news, builds, tech info, and installs — with her, it’ll never be boring!