I had a chance to drive a drag-racing car many years ago, and to be quite honest with you, I was too scared to get behind the wheel. Sometimes I find myself wishing I’d taken the plunge. But as I watched the excellent new film Snake and Mongoo$e, I was reminded of just how terrifying these cars can be. I mean, I like speed as much as the next guy — maybe more — but as early as 1970 or thereabouts, professional drag racers were turning quarter-miles in under 7 seconds at over 200 mph. Even as a daredevil teenager, which is what I was back then, that seemed a little too hot to handle.
It made for a great show, though, and no two men were more instrumental to the sport’s growth than Don “The Snake” Prudhomme and Tom “Mongoose” McEwen. Initially bitter rivals, the pair formed a partnership in the late 1960s that helped elevate drag racing from fringe spectacle to big-ticket entertainment.
Their most important joint venture was probably the sponsorship agreement they signed in 1970 with Mattel’s Hot Wheels franchise, which put the Hot Wheels logo on both men’s cars — and set a precedent for such agreements across professional sports. But the film goes well beyond the boardroom, of course, delving deeply into the complex personal relationship between Prudhomme and McEwen as it evolved through the years.
Drag racing on the big screen
Now, I’m no movie critic, so when I tell you that I thought the dialogue was mostly by-the-numbers, I want you to take that with a grain of salt. But you know I’m a car guy, so you can trust me when I say that this is one car movie that got my blood pumping. I loved the split-screen cockpit closeups of the Snake and Mongoose, side by side in full protective headgear, with the drag-strip “Christmas tree” lights in the middle.
Another neat idea was the inclusion of archival racing footage from the ’60s and ’70s, reminding you that this isn’t just a popcorn movie; it all really happened. And this flick’s got some star power, too, from a barely recognizable Jesse Williams (Grey’s Anatomy) as The Snake to Hollywood veteran Noah Wyle as Mattel executive Arthur Spear.
As car films go, I still gotta give the nod to Bullitt as the best of all time, but I think Snake and Mongoo$e is right up there with Senna and another recent car movie, Rush, as far as true stories are concerned. If you’re awestruck like me at the sight of those drag-racing cars thundering down the track, you’re gonna want to take this Snake for a spin.
Snake & Mongoo$e is available on DVD and Blu-ray courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment.
Check out a clip here: