Inside Story: The Mongoose’s First Funny Car

June 15th, 2010

by Tom McEwen

Can barracudas fly? The Mongoose takes a dive.

February 1965: The NHRA Winternationals turned into a much bigger show than I bargained when I debuted the Hemi-Cuda Funny Car, my first Funny Car ride.

Lou Baney, owner of the Yeakel Plymouth Top Fuel team I was driving for, was the consummate wheeler-dealer. He convinced the Southern California Plymouth Dealers Association to pony up for the construction and sponsorship of the famous (or maybe infamous), Hemi-Cuda I rear-engine Funny Car. The mission was to build a racer, not another Barracuda wheelstander like Hurst’s “Hemi Under Glass.”

Next: Mongoose remembers what the Hemi-Cuda’s engine …

The car was built at B&M Racing Transmissions, which was owned by Bob and Don Spar. They had developed the first automatic transmission designed specifically for drag racing applications: The four-speed automatic “Hydro Stick.” B&M’s customer list read like the “Who’s Who” of killer supercharged Gassers competing in the hotly contested Gasser wars of the period, including Big John Mazmanian’s Candy Apple Red Willys, and the popular Stone, Woods & Cook machine.

‘Seat of the Pants’ Design

The ‘Cuda featured one of B&M’s new Torkmaster transmissions and a 426 Chrysler Hemi on nitro, built by Dave Zeuschel. Creating this unconventional vehicle was a daunting task. Race car construction in this era was still more “seat of the pants” than science. It was hard enough to build a front-motored dragster that went straight and performed with any consistency. They just stuck the motor in the rear of the chassis and put a (basically) stock, mostly acid-dipped, steel Plymouth Barracuda body on it, and well, you get the idea.

One of the major players in the construction of the Hemi-Cuda was Pat Foster. In addition to being a first-class fabricator, he was a successful Funny Car driver. Several years ago, my ‘78 Indy-winning English Leather Corvette Funny Car surfaced and Pat was commissioned by its new owners to return it to its former glory, which was no easy task. Foster did a masterful job.

The NHRA hadn’t yet come to embrace Funny Cars; actually this was their first appearance at an NHRA national event. So my fellow supercharged, nitro-burning competitors, including Jack Chrisman’s potent Mercury Comet, the Pontiac GTOs of Arnie Beswick and Don Gay, and Larry Reyes’ more conventional front-engine Barracuda, were thrown in with the B and C Fuel Dragsters. My performance consisted of making several very smoky “exhibition” runs. The numbers might not have been there, but the runs sure got everyone’s attention. I was doing double duty for the race, also piloting the Yeakel Top Fueler. Unfortunately the dragster didn’t perform much better than the Funny Car, but once again the fans knew in no uncertain terms that The Mongoose was in the house!

Air Mongoose’ Takes Off

Shortly after the Hemi-Cuda’s debut, while on a full-bore pass at Lions, I got my first lesson in vehicle aerodynamics. We had quite unintentionally constructed an aircraft wing, not a race car. At speed, the air rushing over the profile of the car and under its uplifted nose created lift instead of down force. Just short of the finish line at 155 mph, “Air Mongoose” made its first, and thankfully last, flight. The flying fish just took off, getting enough airtime to make an almost complete 360-degree rotation before it came crashing back to earth, landing on its roof. Continuing at speed, tossing parts, including all four wheels in its wake, it slid down the track, grinding off the roof right down to the roll cage and setting the headliner on fire. Yes, it had a fabric headliner, just like in a stock Barracuda. It eventually righted itself, coming to rest on its belly. Once again, luck held and the only thing I bruised was my pride.

Mongoose reveals more of his storied racing career here (http://store NULL.beckett NULL.com/Mongoose-The-Life-and-Times-of-Tom-McEwen NULL.html).

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