By Wade Coggeshall
AVON — It’s a drag racing fan’s paradise this weekend.
Not only is Lucas Oil Raceway hosting the National Hot Rod Association’s annual U.S. Nationals, but a movie about two of the sport’s most iconic names will make its debut here.
“Snake & Mongoo$e” chronicles the racing careers of Don “The Snake” Prudhomme and Tom “The Mongoo$e” McEwen, two Southern California racers who had a fierce rivalry on the drag strip in the ‘60s and ‘70s and a strong friendship off it.
A red carpet premiere (not open to the public) will be conducted Thursday at Regal Shiloh Crossing in Avon. The movie will be screened for the public after that. Tickets and times are available online at SnakeAndMongooseMovie.com.
Both Prudhomme and McEwen will be at the red carpet, as will Richard Blake, who plays McEwen in the film. Ashley Hinshaw, an Indianapolis-born actor who plays Prudhomme’s wife, also will be at the premiere along with Alexis DeJoria, a Kalitta Motorsports and Tequila Patron Toyota Camry Funny Car driver.
DeJoria makes a cameo in “Snake & Mongoo$e.” She plays a driver named Pam, and has a scene where she meets McEwen in the pits.
“It’s a short scene but it was really fun to do,” said DeJoria, who’s racing in the U.S. Nationals this weekend. Ron Capps, a fellow Funny Car driver who was part of Prudhomme’s race team, also makes an appearance in the film and will be at the premiere.
DeJoria got to meet Prudhomme early in her career.
“Really awesome guy, just super cool,” she said.
He and McEwen got their nicknames because a mongoose is one of the few animals that can beat a snake. Aside from their rivalry, “Snake & Mongoo$e” also depicts another pivotal event in motorsports history.
The toy company Mattel had just introduced Hot Wheels in the late ‘60s. Prudhomme and McEwen pitched them the idea of reproducing their yellow Baracuda and red Duster as toy cars. In turn Mattel saw a great advertising opportunity for their brand right on the drivers’ cars.
“The first major non-automotive sponsorship in drag racing was born,” said Robin Broidy, one of the producers of “Snake & Mongoo$e.” “It revolutionized all sports marketing. It also put drag racing on the map. Until then it was sort of a down-and-dirty underground sport. The moment the family-friendly Mattel got involved, it became mainstream enough for everyone else.”
Indeed, after that drag racing became a fixture on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports.” Corporate sponsorships and the added exposure brought enough money to the sport that drivers could now do it for a living and the cars could be made safer. The Mattel deal is one of Broidy’s favorite parts of the movie.
“If you have a dream, the only way for it to be achieved is to go for it,” she said of its underlying message. “If you’re just dreaming about it, it’s never going to happen. But if you have the courage to try it, the worst that could happen is you get rejected.”
But there’s also plenty of racing in “Snake & Mongoo$e.” Principal filming was done in Los Angeles and at Auto Club Famoso Raceway in Bakersfield, Calif. Producers had to use special effects to depict some tracks that no longer exist. There’s also a lot of 8- and 16-mm archival footage of historic drag races that was digitized and color corrected for the film.
“It was quite a process,” Broidy said. “The good news is people have never seen archival footage that looks like this. Everyone I’m hearing loves how it’s integrated into the film so seamlessly.”
She credits editor Richard Halsey for that. He won an Academy Award for his work on “Rocky.”
“If you want an editor for an inspirational film set against a sport, that’s the guy,” Broidy said. “He did a brilliant job.”
Indianapolis is depicted in the movie during three time periods: the 1965, ‘70, and ‘78 U.S. Nationals. If you stay until the end of the closing credits, you’ll see about four minutes of footage of the real Snake and Mongoo$e from their racing days. In fact the thread throughout the film is McEwen’s desire to win at Indy. The ‘78 U.S. Nationals is considered by many to be the greatest race ever in that series.
“Indy plays a pretty prominent role in the film,” said Broidy. She adds that you don’t have to be a drag racing fan to enjoy “Snake & Mongoo$e,” however.
“This story goes beyond drag racing into the lives and hearts and issues of husbands and wives, children and fathers, what happens when you’re on the road,” she said. “People find it very moving.”
“Snake & Mongoo$e” has already opened in Reno and Detroit, in conjunction with major car festivals there. It will open in wider release on Sept. 6.
After that, “We’ll see how it goes,” Broidy said. “If the reception is as we hope and expect, we’ll continue opening in more markets.”
“Snake & Mongoo$e” is rated PG-13 for mild language.