Tom McEwen – Drag Racer – Promoter – Race Ambassador
Legendary drag racer Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen passed away in in his sleep Monday June 10th at the age of 81. It was ironic that his final act was without drama or fanfare because Tom made sure that everything else he did was worthy of front-page news.
Tom won a handful of NHRA national events and several high-profile races such as the Hot Rod Championships, The Stardust National Open in Vegas and the Bakersfield March Meet over his long and brilliant career. His national event tally was not due to his lack of ability behind the wheel. Many factors played into his stats – the decision not to tour for a number of years; driving for many different teams; and concentrating on sponsorship promotion instead of the car’s performance were all factors. But being one of a handful of drivers to win national events in both Top Fuel and Funny Car attests to his versatility as a driver. In fact he was voted number 16 on NHRA’s Top 50 Drivers lists in 2001. He was also a member of the International Drag racing Hall of Fame, the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America.
Tom blazed a lot of trails in drag racing, but his most significant was his understanding of how to procure sponsorships and more importantly, how to activate them on both a local and national level. His Mattel Hot Wheels Snake Vs. Mongoose promotion was huge and kids playing with Hot Wheels Funny Cars became McEwen and Prudhomme drag race fans for life. For several years match races between the two packed local drag strips and help build the “Flopper” class into the main attraction at every event. Tom’s last NHRA Funny Car win came at the 1978 U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis where he defeated his arch nemesis and good friend Don “The Snake” Prudhomme. I was standing at the guardrail shooting photos that day and I will never forget that emotional win for the “Goose”.
Tom remained immersed in drag racing to the day he died. He was promoting and selling ads for the magazine he worked for, Drag Racer, and promoting the Legends Tour at selected NHRA events. He loved his fans and they loved him. But when it came to business he was like a Pit Bull. Once a month I would get a call from Tom abruptly asking “ Where’s my new ad bub?” Never thought I’d miss that call…