What does speeding down a drag strip from zero to 300 mph in four and a half seconds feel like? Unlike most people on the planet, Don "The Snake" Prudhomme is utterly familiar with the feeling. "It's not the same thing as going to the moon, but it's close," he says knowingly.
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Prudhomme is a legend in the world of drag racing, currently logging 41 years in the industry. Although he retired from his career as a funny car driver in 1994, he's stayed in the National Hot Rod Association circuit as team owner for Skoal Racing funny cars, driven by Ron Capps and Tommy Johnson Jr., and the Miller Brewing Company top fuel car driven by Larry Dixon. All three will compete this weekend in the Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals at Firebird International Raceway.
He's come a long way, baby. "We were trying to break 150 mph when I started," Prudhomme says. Today, the record is 332 mph, and speeds in excess of 300 mph are the norm. "I'm a hot-rodder at heart. I just haven't grown up yet," he adds. "In the early days, you went to a junkyard and bought a bunch of parts and put an old hot rod together that's what took you to the drag strip."
The Checker Schuck's Kragen Nationals
Firebird International Raceway, 20000 South Maricopa Road in Chandler
These days, multimillion-dollar operations run the high-tech, state-of-the-art cars. Prudhomme has about 40 people, including drivers, crew chiefs and maintenance specialists, working on making his three cars perform at their peak. So far, so good: Dixon won the first race of the year at Pomona, and Johnson and Capps both made the semifinals.
Prudhomme says some of the best runs in the country come out of Phoenix's Firebird Raceway, promising excitement for old and new fans alike. "If you like anything about cars, you'll like drag racing," he says. Just imagine the vicarious adrenaline rush of seeing these streamlined rockets shoot down the quarter-mile strip in seconds, the gasps of the crowd, the incredible roar let out by 7,000-horsepower engines. "And the smell of nitro in the air is pretty wild, too."