Behind the Scenes of Snake and Mongoose, the Movie

Winner’s circle of the ’78 U.S. Nationals

Winner’s circle of the ’78 U.S. Nationals. Top row (L to R) Dennis Tracy, Crew Chief Pat Galvin, unknown, Tom McEwen, unknown, Wally Parks. Bottom row (L to R) Billy Bones, Arthur Kuzins, Larry Board and Bob Lueckenhoff.

One of the key components to the movie is “The Race” between Mongoo$e and Snake. Few know it came just a few heartbeats from never happening.

Here’s the true story of that fateful race, but first, some background. McEwen’s crew chief on the English Leather Corvette was Pat Galvin. Even though he was only in his early 20s, he was a seasoned drag racing veteran. He’d been recruited by neighbor Bob Pickett in ’68 to work on his Mr. Pickett nitro Funny Car. The relationship lasted through several of his rides, including the Mickey Thompson U.S. Marines entry. Galvin’s tenure with Picket led to positions with Don Prudhomme in ’75 and ’76 and legendary race car builder Jamie Sarte.

In ’77 mutual friend Billy “Bones” hooked him up with McEwen to work on the Goo$e’s first Corvette-bodied F/C, and he became crew chief soon after.

The following year, 1978, brought growing sorrow as Tom’s son Jamie struggled in his battle with leukemia. In spite of this, Tom and his team soldiered on, maintaining their grueling “three match race per week” schedule, additionally notching several AHRA and IHRA national event victories.

The ’78 U.S. Nationals was a truly a grim time. Jamie had recently passed away, but prior to his death, he’d urged his dad to “Go beat Snake and win Indy.” That was a tall order, because Snake had been dominant all season. As expected, Prudhomme was the class of the field, qualifying with a 5.99 to Goo$e’s 6.09.

On race day McEwen beat Tom Anderson, then upset Raymond Beadle, before getting a major break. Ron Colson had a bye in round two when Kenny Bernstein couldn’t make the call, but crossed the centerline, disqualifying him and giving McEwen a bye in the semifinals.

It was then Goo$e’s team made a gutsy call. Friend and financial backer Billy Bones had been lobbying all season long to try a 4:30 gear, but it’d been considered too radical. Desperate times require desperate measures, though, so Billy’s new 4:30 was installed. The car left hard with no wheel spin, Goo$e clicked off early.

The stage was set for the final round with the Snake, or so everyone thought…

Galvin and crew had performed the usual between-round maintenance. With 15 minutes to go the motor was wrenched over one more time, and it locked up!

What had happened? Now in full panic mode, Galvin and crew, Bob Lueckenhoff, Dennis Tracy, Arthur Cuzins and Larry Board, attacked the problem. Soon Tom Prock, Rick Johnson and “Waterbed” Fred Miller jumped into the fray. The blower and one head were yanked off—all good there.

In the midst of the mad thrash, Snake and Goo$e were summoned to the starting line.

Board dove underneath the engine and dropped the oil-filled pan. He discovered the bottom notch in one of the cylinder sleeves had been incorrectly machined, allowing it to rotate in the block and hit a connecting rod.

With less than 10 minutes remaining, as Snake towed passed them to the line, the sleeve was hurriedly replaced and engine buttoned back up. The ’Vette was hooked to the GMC pickup, and Galvin, driving 60 mph, raced through the pits to the starting line. His greatest fear was that by the time they arrived Snake would be making a single for the race win. Galvin made it with just moments to spare.

In that most famous race, Goo$e recorded the best run of his career to beat the Snake and win Indy. It was a true storybook ending.

Text by Pete Ward

Photo Courtesy of Mongoose Photo Archives


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *