There will be much written about Tom McEwen in the coming days and rightfully so. The guy is one of the most awesome and influential people to ever strap into a drag racing car and someone who helped transform the sport in the 1970s.His career will be documented in excruciating detail in other places. It will be dissected car by car, win by win, and moment by moment by people who are more qualified than us to do it. We’ll remember Goose in a singular moment and that was his epic and dramatic victory at the 1978 NHRA US Nationals over the man who he had forged a relationship and a career with in the preceding decade, Don Prudhomme. They were The Snake and The Mongoose. They were men who’s personalities were diametrically opposite, who’s ambitions were largely the same, and who’s act helped to feed the minds and hearts of a generation of drag racers.
Shortly before the US Nationals in 1978, McEwen’s son Jamie died of leukemia. His passing racked Goose with all of the emotions any parent experiences over the loss of a child and perhaps amplified by the fact that his life as a nomadic drag racer had not allowed him the time he would have wanted during his son’s short life. He contemplated even racing at the Nationals in 1978 but to honor his son and the boy’s love of the sport, he and his crew headed for Indianapolis. They could have never known that they’d face down Prudhomme in one of the most emotional final rounds in the history of NHRA drag racing.
It was quite literally the upset of the year in 1978. It was not a swan dive, it was not a thrown race. Prudhomme still stands as the sport’s most consummate and intense professional. He would not have leaned over for anyone. McEwen raced him heads up and won. The video below captures that moment and it captures Dave McClelland’s memorable call of the race.
Tom McEwen quite literally spent his life in the sport of drag racing. Up until his last day he worked as the guy in charge of the advertising department on Drag Racer Magazine. From the time he was in his ‘teens messing around with hot rods to a nitro soaked career that saw him driving killer cars into the 1990s, it was a life well and fully lived.
We last saw Goose a couple of weeks ago at an NHRA race as he was attending as part of the legends tour that the sanction has in 2018. He was happy, he was telling stories, and he was surrounded by fans. It was a scene he had to have been familiar with because it was how he had lived his life for more than 60 years.
Godspeed, Goose. Us BangShifters will miss you.