The stage was set for the Last Strike Tour to arrive at the NHRA national event as Don Prudhomme hangs up his driving career in 1994. Kenny Youngblood had arrived in Seattle with the gorgeous painting of that rare photo of Prudhomme in his early Funny Car days.
The painting of his funny car that was on fire, as it exploded at the finish line in the early 70s at Seattle International Raceway, was hidden away in my office … so no one could see it before the time of the presentation. The planned presentation would be on the starting line on Sunday morning.
Once in a while, the NHRA Northwest Nationals and the Seafair Hydro race on Lake Washington would end up on the same weekend…early August. Scheduling is always complicated in this sport, but this year it turned out to be perfect.
The original photograph.
Don Prudhomme returned to SIR in 1973 with the all-new Carefree gum sponsored funny car.
Bill Doner was the Commissioner of the Unlimited Hydros, and good friend Steve Woomer, had a hydro team of his own. Both of these guys have had a long and storied relationship with Prudhomme. They are both in the area … how can we bring them to the race at SIR and not impact their own efforts at the hydroplane races?
What if we could get a helicopter to land at SIR in the shut-off area and whisk the two of them down to the starting line for a photo shoot with Prudhomme? That sounds crazy because two racing events would need to come to a halt at the same time.
Hey, why not? If we could pull it off it would be even more special to Prudhomme that two of his close friends flew to the race track and shut down the event. Wow, how cool is all of this?
In came the helicopter, and the NHRA event was shut down, with both Doner and Woomer receiving a special ride to the starting line. A small stage had been made just for this occasion and had been wheeled into place. A presentation took place right on the starting line with plenty of motorsports media gathered, as they understood the significance of this special moment in this sport.
The whole program went as smooth as could be. Youngblood was there with his gorgeous painting of that incredible moment in time back in the early 70s. No doubt this was a special moment for Prudhomme and his Last Strike Tour.
Upon completion of this fabulous painting, Youngblood had been hiding it for weeks, and then he snuck it up to Seattle so no one could see it. The debut of the painting took place right there on the SIR starting line while these two huge racing events came to a complete halt. That in itself was like a special salute to Prudhomme from the two largest motorsports events in the state of Washington.
When he pulled the cover off the painting there was a lot of ooohs and ahhhhs, including the Snake himself. It was one breathtaking moment by everyone in attendance, and certainly deserved by his many successes within the sport.
Personally, I’ll never forget when Prudhomme looked me up in 1988 with the arrival of the inaugural NHRA Northwest Nationals to Seattle. He showed up at the press conference mid-week, just prior to the event, at a restaurant in downtown Seattle. He congratulated me on getting this new event, and I always appreciated that effort by him.
I felt the least I could do for his Last Strike Tour, some six years later, was something he would remember for a long, long time. He could then close this driving chapter of his life and start racking up the wins as a team owner.
A few years ago I came across Youngblood during the annual NHRA Northwest Nationals. It was great discussing things with him, and he did reiterate the story about the Prudhomme painting and how that did regenerate his career which had floundered for a bit. That one photo taken so innocently by that young boy so many years ago had sparked a new life into Youngblood's career. Wow, isn’t that exciting to hear?
I will never forget how this whole affair came together. It was the last picture on the roll of film for this young boy and his urge to use up his last shot before going home. Some 20 years later I’m agonizing over what I could do that would be classy as Prudhomme was going to retire from his lengthy career in driving. The now-grown-up son walks right into my office, hands me this photo and tells me this story. The whole scenario was so scripted that it chills me to even talk about it.
What an impact one photo can have on a whole group of people. The little photo was so big that it stopped two racing events at the same time – a stunning moment in time!