Legendary drag racer Tom "The Mongoose" McEwen died Sunday at age 81, the NHRA announced Monday.
NHRA President Glen Cromwell released a statement on McEwen's death:
"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."
McEwen ranked 16th in Motorsport.com's list of the top 50 NHRA drivers ever in 2001, and he earned enshrinement in both the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame and Motorsports Hall of Fame of America.
McEwen achieved iconic status in large part because of his rivalry with Don Prudhomme. Prudhomme was nicknamed The Snake, so McEwen's car owner, Ed Donovan, had the foresight to give him the Mongoose moniker.
McEwen and Prudhomme's head-to-head battle on the track also helped the pair achieve success off the track, most notably a sponsorship deal with Mattel that spawned Hot Wheels toys based on their cars.
Even though he won just five races on the NHRA national circuit, McEwen was one of the names synonymous with drag racing for a generation of fans.