Name of the book: Don the Snake Prudhomme, My Life Beyond 1320.
Binding: Hardcover with dust jacket
Number of pages; 192
Year of first publication: 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 Serpent seemed distant, always focused on his race car and chasing points. He had great respect for the man, but didn’t know much about him other than his win / loss stats.
All that changed after reading this book. This is not your typical broker biography. Instead, it feels like someone turned on a tape recorder and asked Snake to describe everything he can remember from his racing career. The result is an honest exploration of one of the biggest stars in drag racing; and how it evolved. Everything is here: the good, the bad and many things that I never knew before.
Prudhomme doesn’t hesitate to admit when he made mistakes, whether it’s stealing a transmission from a junkyard or failing to follow the advice of others.
Friends made, friends lost
He’s not afraid to talk about the friends he made and the friends he lost in the course of chasing championship points. There are times when sincere regret shines through in his words. There are many things that I would change if I could.
Which is not to say that Prudhomme is not justifiably proud of what he accomplished. It takes the reader on a dizzying journey through drag racing history, from his initial careers as a club dragster; become a hired driver; to eventually control his own equipment. We see him hug funny cars; half at first, then going all in to dominate the class.
Prudhomme explains his return to top fuel and his period as a team owner. I found it fascinating to see how the Serpent went from humble dyslexic child to world champion. I still cannot say that I know Don Prudhomme personally, but he is no longer a mysterious man. The man behind the legend has been revealed.
More than a coffee table book
This looks like a coffee table book, but it doesn’t read like one. If you skip over and just read little excerpts here and there, you will eventually be frustrated, because the book is designed to be read as a complete story from beginning to end. If you start in the middle, you will find yourself at a loss, as Prudhomme often refers to the points discussed earlier in the book.
If you expect a large number of luxurious full-page photos, you will be disappointed. Photos are plentiful, but most appear to be small images reproduced from Snake’s personal scrapbook. Some were taken by professionals, but most are simple snapshots. However, that is not bad. He hadn’t 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 is quick to point out the many people who cheered him on along the way. While the book deals with Prudhomme’s career, it talks about many other racing legends that he was associated with or faced off with in competition. The Snake talks about Tommy Ivo, Roland Leong, Keith Black, Ed Pink, Chris Karamesines, Kenny Bernstein, Raymond Beadle, and many other drag racing celebrities. There are several short memorabilia written by high profile runners recounting their recollections of Prudhomme.
Prudhomme has also found friends in many other forms of motorsports. The Snake had the opportunity to interact with Formula 1 drivers Niki Lauda and Jacky Stewart. He tells of his meeting with Enzo Ferrari and how the eldest of the Ferraris invited Prudhomme to one of Lauda’s test sessions. Prudhomme also had friendly encounters with racing luminaries such as AJ 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 biography of Prudhomme would be complete without recounting her friendship with Tom “the Mongoose” McEwen. This could 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 gives McEwen all the credit for developing the Wildlife racing program, as well as the sponsorship of Hot Wheels.
Prudhomme also sheds light on the infamous 25th annual US Nationals in which he faced McEwen in the final. Still, he would have enjoyed more details of his relationship with McEwen.
Although most of the book examines Prudhomme’s racing activities, it would not be complete without describing her personal life. We watch the Serpent overcome a troubled childhood and learn how his wife and daughter helped him stay healthy 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 competed in NHRA sports classes, so she is well prepared to help Prudhomme tell her story. It is difficult to know which words are from Scherr and which from Prudhomme, but the writing is authentic and reliable.
If you want to relive the golden age of drag racing, this book belongs on your shelf. I read it in a couple of days and I intend to read it again. Bring 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’s this one.