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THIS SNAKE DOESN'T RATTLE, HE ROLLS
Bruce Newman
December 06, 1976
One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. As you counted, Don (the Snake) Prudhomme, drag racing's top driver, could have won another
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December 06, 1976

This Snake Doesn't Rattle, He Rolls

One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. As you counted, Don (the Snake) Prudhomme, drag racing's top driver, could have won another

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Because the field is enormous, qualifying runs are held before eliminations at Indy. Prudhomme stuns everyone with a 5.97 elapsed time. Officially, it is the first time a Funny Car has ever gone under six seconds, a barrier as significant to drag racers as the four-minute mark once was to milers.

Prudhomme wins his first race, defeating Tom Hoover with a 6.05/234 mph clocking. In the second round he dusts Gordie Bonin. Ron O'Donnell goes down in the third. Gary Burgin, driving a Mustang II, has advanced through the other bracket to the finals, but Prudhomme has lane choice because of his exceptional elapsed times.

Prudhomme frets about the way his wheels were shaking in the semis as his motor is groomed for the last race. He wonders aloud if the left lane—his lane all day—has caused the vibration. The track by now is heavy with burned rubber and oil and traction is hard to come by. Should Prudhomme switch from what has been good for him so far to another lane he knows nothing about? He consults Brandt, probing for an answer. When the signal is given to move the car into the staging lanes, Prudhomme is still undecided.

Months of preparation and thousands of dollars worth of parts have gone into preparing for this race, and now it has come down to a choice of lanes. Just before he fires up his engine, Prudhomme at last makes up his mind. He points to the right-hand lane.

Later Prudhomme was not sure if it had been a patch of oil residue or simply the grain of the track. Burgin's winning time of 6.25 was hundredths of a second slower than the worst time Prudhomme had recorded all week, but Burgin won. That is all that matters.

Sitting at the end of a different kind of asphalt strip the next day, strapped into the seat of a commercial jet, Prudhomme tries to justify the choice that ended his winning streak. Nothing helps. "I blew the lane choice," he says. "I just flat screwed up." Then the engines begin to throb and he is pressed hard against the back of his seat. As the plane's wheels leave the ground, he is free again. So fast.

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