Don 'The Snake' Prudhomme's class win at the 2021 NORRA Mexican 1000 was his first in a racing event since an NHRA win in 1993.
Prudhomme and co-driver/navigator Rich Minga battled the grueling off-road layout, with only minor delays due to either mechanical issues or penalties.
This was Prudhomme's third try at the race through Baja in Mexico.
Ole’ to The Snake!
Legendary drag racer Don “Snake” Prudhomme earned his first win behind the wheel in 28 years, capturing the Evolution Stock Turbo class Friday in the annual week-long NORRA Mexican 1000 across the Baja peninsula in Mexico.
The win—Prudhomme’s first since his last triumph as a drag racer (the 1993 NHRA fall race at Texas Motor Speedway) before retiring at the end of that season—was quite the achievement, as Prudhomme turned 80 years old on April 6. It was his third attempt at earning a class win in the event, falling short in both 2018 and 2019 (the race was not contested last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic).
The race ended Friday, and Prudhomme returned to his Southern California home on Saturday and went straight to bed, a testament to the grueling nature of the 1,000-mile race.
Prudhomme was shown 31st overall. The overall winner was Rhys Millen from the Evolution Unlimited Buggy Class.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” Prudhomme told Autoweek on Sunday morning. “You stand in the winner's circle with a margarita in your hand, which is pretty cool. That’s way different than I ever did in the NHRA. But it’s a Mexican tradition down there, when you win and they put a big margarita in your hands.”
Prudhomme was in great spirits when he spoke Sunday, still riding the high of taking the checkered flag first. He and co-driver/navigator Rich Minga battled the grueling off-road layout, with only minor delays due to either mechanical issues or penalties. He and Minga crossed the finish line with a winning time of 19:49:18, a margin of victory of over three hours on their closest competitor.
“I am pretty sore but winning this race in the Turbo Class ranks right up there with any of my drag racing wins,” Prudhomme said. “I think I drove 600 of the 1,000 miles and Rich was great throughout the event.”
Prudhomme said one of the biggest keys to the win was to maintain his patience and composure.
“I had to quit thinking I was 80 years old,” Prudhomme said with a laugh. “You had to keep that out of your mind. We had a really good car, an amazing car. The real key was Rich Minga and P.J. Jones’ team (Jones also won his UTV class in the overall event).”
The Prudhomme/Minga effort overcame a broken left front axle with 80 miles left to go. The Jones’ service team changed the axle as quickly “as a NASCAR team,” Prudhomme said, sending him back on his way and never losing the lead as the finish line grew closer and closer with every mile.
“This is my third NORRA race and I got to know pretty well how they did things and the cars, and going down there with Rich because he’s such a good driver and navigator, I felt we might stand a shot at this thing,” Prudhomme said. “It’s such a tough thing to do, where you’re going 90 miles an hour for a while and then you’re going 25 miles an hour for maybe three or four miles through a village of some sort.
“There’s more to it than just flat-footing it. But I guess I wouldn’t have gone down there if I didn’t feel we had a chance to win – and then we won the damn thing.”
Since ending his drag racing career as both a driver and subsequently as a team owner, Prudhomme has really taken to off-road racing, be it in Baja or piloting off-road buggies in the Southern California sand dunes outside San Diego.
But after his win on Friday, Prudhomme said that’s it for him. He’s going out a champion.
“I told myself if we did good at this one and we won the race, I was going to officially retire,” Prudhomme said. “It just takes too much out of me, to be honest with you.”
But Prudhomme did leave the window open a slight bit, particularly if the competition bug bites him again.
“Maybe if you ask me a few months from now, I might think something different, but not right now” said Prudhomme, who was sponsored by MAVTV and Lucas Oil. “It’s more than a thousand miles in the desert but it gets tough.
“But we had a lot of luck. We didn’t have one flat tire, which was quite unusual. We had spares and everything ready to go, but we didn’t have any flats. Things like that put us in the winner’s circle.”
Prudhomme had originally hoped to compete in the race with Jagger Jones, son of P.J. Jones and who raced with the Snake in the 2019 NORRA 1000. But Jagger was unavailable, prompting Prudhomme to move Minga up in the rotation to navigator and co-driver.
“Unfortunately, it just broke my heart because I really wanted him to be a part of it this year,” Prudhomme said of Jagger Jones. “Jagger was just so excellent, we got along so great. It just didn’t work out.
“But Rich, though, he was a blessing. He was really good. I had no regrets that he was my navigator and he could drove like the wind also. But we sure missed Jagger this year. But who knows, maybe next year if he could do it, it might tempt me to come out of retirement.”
Even though the last couple of days have given Prudhomme a feeling he hasn’t experienced behind the wheel in nearly three decades, “it still really hasn’t sunk in yet,” he said. “I get where I go, ‘We won the damn thing, we won it!’ It was amazing because of all the other guys that were trying to win it and all the competition down there. I never met a better bunch of competitors.
“And let’s face it, we weren’t racing for money. It’s strictly for the thrill of winning the thing. It’s not a money sport by any means. But the camaraderie with the other racers and what they gave you, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.
“That 80 years old thing is something, it’s weird when you turn that age and you’re still out there competing. I just put it out of my head that I’m not 80 and I’m as good as the rest of them. You get all these thoughts going through your head, but you just keep chugging along and you just keep that throttle down.”
Follow Autoweek contributor Jerry Bonkowski on Twitter @JerryBonkowski