Drag racing legend Tom 'The Mongoose' McEwen dead at 81

Drag racing legend Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen died at his home on Sunday at age 81.

The NHRA announced the news with the following statement:

"We are all saddened to learn the news of Mongoose's passing. He was truly one of the most brilliant pioneers of NHRA Championship Drag Racing and continued to support the sport through a number of initiatives including our current NHRA Legends Tour in which he played an instrumental role. Everyone at NHRA will miss him deeply. Our thoughts, prayers and deepest condolences are with the McEwen family at this difficult time."

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McEwen battled colon cancer in recent years, according to NBC sports, but the cause of his death has not been revealed. He ranks 16th on the NHRA's Top 50 Drivers list.

McEwen won just five national events over a racing career that began in 1953 and spanned five decades, but rose to fame thanks to his longtime association with Don “The Snake” Prudhomme.

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Outside of their official NHRA competition, the two toured the country for several years through 1973 holding match races sponsored by Mattel to promote its line of “Mongoose and Snake” Hot Wheels toys. It was one of the first marketing partnerships of its kind.

McEwen raced in both the Top Fuel and Funny Car categories, with his most important win coming in 1978 when he beat Prudomme at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis. His last major victory was at the Summernationals in Englishtown, N.J. in 1991. He retired from competition the following year.

The 2013 film “Snake and Mongoose” dramatized McEwen’s rivalry and friendship with Prudhomme.

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Prudhomme has not yet commented on McEwen’s passing, but recently competed in the Baja 1000 off-road race at age 77.