Drag Racing University

Let’s say, you, an aspiring racer, were friends with Jimmy Johnson or Dario Franchitti when they were just starting out and they asked you to be part of their pit crew, except it was just the two of you.

Don and Ivo were friends but when Don was asked to go on tour by Ivo, he didn’t mean going to Lions Drag Strip or Irwindale and then going home. He meant going full-blast drag racing all the way to the East Coast and back.

“The track promoters back East got together and said, let’s contact some guys on the West Coast who are in all the magazines and have them come back here and we’ll give them $500 at each stop to do it. Gas was 28 cents a gallon and Motel 6 was $6. They contacted Jack Chrisman and some other racers but they couldn’t get away because they had jobs. I jumped at the chance. They lined up 10 races. I stuck in some of my own tracks as we went along. It only took me until the second stop when I saw all those crowds to realize … there’s something big happening here because they packed them places.”

When Ivo and Don left on tour it was the first time anyone ever toured the country all season long. “We looked like a scene out of Grapes of Wrath,” Ivo laughs. “We had our shop in the trunk. I had two short-blocks mounted underneath the trailer. We had a spare head, a sizeable toolbox, gaskets, and rods in the truck. We had our suitcases in the back seat. We ran the last week of March in Denver, until the second weekend in August in Biloxi, Mississippi. This included winning the NASCAR (yes NASCAR) Summer Nationals in Montgomery, New York. A lot of time it was once a week that we raced. But we did some doubles and one triple—the weekend we won the NASCAR Nationals. We ran qualifying on Friday and Saturday in Ohio, then back to the NASCAR National to win on Sunday in Montgomery, New York.”

March Meet

“All the Road Kings were at the March Meet in 1962,” Muravez continues. “We were a racing club not a hot rod club. There were 28 actual race cars, not street cars, there, from Fuel Roadsters to dragsters. I won the Top Gas part of the March Meet in the Freight Train and Prudhomme the Top Fuel at the meet in the Fuller/Zeuschel car.

“Our club was rich enough in spare parts so if you didn’t have a car to race there was a car you could take to the races with a couple of other club members and race it. Drag racing was a way of life to us. Prudhomme quit his job when he went on tour with Ivo and we had a big send-off for them. It is really nice to know that we were part of the Golden Age of Drag Racing.

“The only other club I can think of that was as dedicated to drag racing was the Smokers out of Bakersfield because they took it one step further than anyone with the dragstrip at Famoso.”

Don absorbed more in the months he and Ivo were on tour than he would ever experience racing at home; it was a learning experience for both of them. After his return Don’s drag racing career became a blur. I will end it there.

What a Career

Don, an open-wheel racing fan most of his life, once asked Dan Gurney about driving a Championship Car. Gurney’s reply, “You’ll find a way.” It was a blessing he didn’t because Don not only found a way into Top Fuel drag racing, but he dominated the sport for almost a half century. Had Don had the resources to drive a Champ car or a Formula 1 car at the age he started as a Top Fuel drag racer he would certainly be in Gurney’s league today.

Don took himself from behind the wheel in 1994, taking on the heavy responsibility of team ownership, making driving champions of Larry Dixon and Ron Capps along the way. Don retired from drag racing in 2009 and during his nearly half century of competition he cleaned a lot of clocks. Don’s no longer watching the clock or fretting the e.t. clock. He’s retired.

Don was inducted in the SEMA Hall of Fame, the Hot Rod Magazine Hall of Fame, and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. Because of Don’s level of knowledge he’s been named one of the 100 Most Influential people in the high-performance industry. That shows how much a young man can accomplish in life who wasn’t too proud to take on a job riding in the back seat of a LaSalle with lawn mowers strapped to the running boards.

This final chapter brings R&C readers full circle as far the “Valley Guys” who made drag racing history: Ed “The Old Master” Pink, “TV” Tommy Ivo, “Hand Grenade” Harry Hibler, and finally Don “The Snake” Prudhomme. Sadly, Road Kings member Tony Nancy is gone to fill the last part of the jigsaw. It was an honor to write their stories.

Seemingly a century ago, Don Prudhomme joined a gang of teenagers where the drug of choice was racing. Thank God for the ’50s. Need I say more?