Shelby Super Snake – Prudhomme Turns Back the Clock
The year was 1967. The Chrysler hemi was king of the drag strip and “slingshot” Top Fuel dragsters, which put the driver behind a nitro-burning time bomb, were all the rage. But there was a three-year period when drag racing’s poster boy Don “The Snake” Prudhomme went the opposite direction of the venerable Chrysler Hemi. The Shelby Super Snake was born.
Teamed with slickster car salesman/team owner Lou Baney, and engine builder Ed “The Old Master” Pink, their Ford Cammer powered dragster was a killer piece. With Pink’s flame belching blue-oval ‘Cammer and Prudhomme’s driving prowess, it proved to be a potent combination. In competition, Prudhomme won immediately, defeating “Sneaky” Pete Robinson at the 1967 NHRA Springnationals held at Bristol International Raceway. The car was also notable as the first Top Fuel dragster to crack the sub-seven second zone with a 6.99/220mph blast during the Bristol weekend.
At the 1968 NHRA Winternationals, the Shelby Super Snake rolled out of the trailer with incredible red, white and blue livery hand painted by Bill Carter. It was named “Shelby’s Super Snake” reflecting the car’s primary sponsor – the legendary Carroll Shelby who also brought along Ford backing. Campaigned throughout the 1968 and ’69 seasons, the team found moderate success on the NHRA national event circuit but hit the sweet spot at the “Big Go”, winning Top Fuel Eliminator at the 1969 U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.
Ford pulled the plug on team support at the end of the 1969 season, resulting in Baney, Pink, and Prudhomme going in different directions. But thanks to Prudhomme’s diligent restoration efforts, the Shelby Super Snake was reborn in all its glory last year. Prudhomme was relentless in his pursuit of putting the car back to its exact 1968 specifications.
Don Long freshened the chassis, Pink rebuilt the monster ‘Cammer and “Wild” Bill Carter brushed on the same patriotic stripes he did decades ago. He also replicated the contingency logos to a T. With NHRA’s cacklfest craze still raging, Prudhomme brought the historic dragster to Bakersfield’s Famoso Raceway for an exclusive photo shoot with our friends at the Rodder’s Journal a few months in advance of its “official” cackle debut at the 2016 NHRA California Hot Rod Reunion.
The idea of Rodder’s Journal publisher Steve Coonan was to recreate Bob Swaim’s Car Craft Magazine centerspread from June 1968 issue. Just like the original shoot at Orange County International Raceway, a special rig was welded up (by Prudhomme himself) to stabilize the cameras. Coonan’s main fear was the 427 Cammer’s blown nitro engine magneto “messing” with the shutter. For years now, a drag strip wives tale is that hi-amperage magnetos interrupt proper camera function. To eliminate that threat, Coonan and associate Geoff Miles tested both digital and film SLR cameras. The result? No interference. The coast was clear to fire up the recreated monster and do a burnout, cameras mounted looking down on Prudhomme in the cockpit.
To hear Miles tell the story of the day, it was fun for all. “Snake was in his element man,” Miles said. “Even Bill Carter showed up out there. Seeing ‘Snake suit up in that jacket and legendary open face helmet was like going back nearly 50 years. We spent all day and well into the night getting these photos. Don couldn’t have been more accommodating. He loved it!”
We love it too. In our estimation, this is one of the prettiest cars in drag racing history and certainly, one of the rarest top fuel machines ever built considering the power plant. Guys like Connie Kalitta, Pete Robinson, and others ran blown 427 nitro ‘Cambers too but nothing compared to the sound and power of this Ed Pink-prepped engine. It still makes just as much noise and fire as it did in 1968 as you can see here.
This photo feature, as well as an in-depth article on the Shelby Super Snake history and restoration, ran in issue #72 of The Rodder’s Journal. You can order one here.
Since the photo shoot and the 2016 NHRA California Hot Rod Reunion, Prudhomme and longtime friend and collector Bruce Canepa reached a deal on a sale price. The car is now a prized possession of the Canepa Motorsports Museum in Scotts Valley, California.
Thanks for the trip down memory lane guys!