Don “The Snake” Prudhomme has been called the coolest guy around by more people than I can count.
He’s not only been a legendary championship drag racer and team owner, he just exudes a cool factor (especially when he’s wearing his shades) that makes women swoon and other men envious as hell.
Now Prudhomme can add Mr. Hero to his Mr. Cool title. For it was the NHRA great, along with NASCAR legends Jeff Gordon and Ray Evernham, along with noted car collector Ron Platte, that found and rescued injured NASCAR driver Tony Stewart from the California desert sand dunes last Sunday.
Most of you probably have already heard the story of Stewart getting hurt. But few knew the back story until I reached Prudhomme for a story I did for NBCSports.com.
As he always has been during the long time I’ve known him, Prudhomme was his usual, gracious self and exclusively told me the whole story of how he, Stewart, NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace, Gordon, Evernham, Greg Biffle and Platte were enjoying some sun and fun last Sunday – and basically a boys afternoon out, spinning and jumping sand rails.
When I interviewed him, Prudhomme discussed in great detail how Stewart was found two miles away from where he was last seen, how he went missing for 90 minutes, how he was found laying in the warm sand and how Prudhomme and his fellow rescuers tended to Stewart in an extremely careful manner to get him to the hospital.
Prudhomme has long been a guy who has always cared about his fellow man, be it the guy in the other lane on a drag strip or, in this case, a good buddy who may have been a bit out of his element in the sand dunes.
Stewart got lost from the rest of the group, wandered away, took a dune too fast, soared through the air too high and too long, and came down in a jarring thud. The impact was so severe that it caused him to injure his L1 vertebra, came far too close for comfort to the spinal cord, and suffered other injuries that not only subsequently required surgery, but will cause him to miss at least several of the first races in the 2016 Sprint Cup Series season.
What’s worse is this will be Stewart’s last season as a Sprint Cup driver before he retires. Now, his hopes of finally winning the Daytona 500 in his last shot at it are gone – and who knows how long he’ll remain out while recovering from the injury and resulting surgery.
As much as I feel for Stewart, how Prudhomme, Evernham, Gordon and Platte all took it upon themselves to search for the stricken driver, their good friend and buddy, and didn’t stop until they found him and got him headed to a hospital, is extremely commendable.
It’s not surprising Prudhomme got involved. As a competitor, he had a long history of hopping out of his race car – be it a dragster or Funny Car – several times during his racing career when a fellow driver wrecked, just to make sure his competitor was okay.
And if not, Prudhomme was one of the first on the scene to help out until the NHRA Safety Safari arrived to take over.
That’s the kind of guy Prudhomme is. It’s in his DNA. He’s the guy that gets involved, that offers assistance immediately and doesn’t leave until the injured person is safely on their way to medical treatment.
Unquestionably, since he retired first as a driver and then eventually as a team owner, the NHRA just hasn’t been the same without the man they call “The Snake.”
Certainly, he’s earned the right to enjoy retirement in San Diego – and go playing in the sand dunes, if he so chooses. He logged a lot of years and miles up and down both the quartermile and highways from one end of the country to the other.
He could very easily have let someone else go look for Stewart.
But that’s not Prudhomme. He’s the guy that not only isn’t afraid to get involved, he’s oftentimes the guy that leads the charge.
Had it not been for Prudhomme and Evernham, especially, as well as Gordon and Platt, Stewart could have been out there in that desert for a lot longer, with no water, no cell phone signals, no one to help him, and the inability to help himself.
I don’t use the word “hero” very often, because I feel it at times can be an over-used word.
But in this instance, Prudhomme, Evernham, Platt and Gordon certainly earned that title for the way they went out and rescued their buddy.
And leading the charge was Mr. Cool, The Snake. I mean, really, how cool is that?
Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski