You don’t have to know much about drag racing to enjoy My Life Beyond the 1320, Don “the Snake” Prudhomme’s autobiography that the legendary champion worked on alongside journalist Elana Scherr. You just need to enjoy a well-told story.
Prudhomme’s book is told in a relatively straightforward style, as if the Snake were sitting down and telling you his story as he thought of it, which makes for a really enjoyable read. There’s not a ton of super hard-hitting analysis, but the large coffee-table style loaded with photos doesn’t hint at that kind of conversation. And you don’t need it.
It’s a feature I really love about CarTech’s publications — you can almost read them twice. Once for the text, and once for the photos and captions. I’ve taken to reading the text of a chapter, then going through and really enjoying the photos.
I think the most interesting parts of this book had less to do with the racing — or, the stuff you already know — and more to do with Prudhomme’s personal life. He grew up in a pretty shitty household, which encouraged him to get his life together and leave as soon as he could. Both of his parents were alcoholics, and they stayed together until long after their children had grown.
So, there’s a lot of concern on the Snake’s part that he not become his parents as he gets married and starts a family. And that was part of what inspired him to retire from racing: he was stressed, he was drinking more, and he was a miserable husband and father. Drag racing had evolved past the point where he felt he was the most effective competitor he could be; Prudhomme rose to prominence in an era where he not only raced but also designed and worked on his own cars, determined his own strategies, and planned his own route through the racing world. In the 1980s and ‘90s, drivers were just supposed to drive, and he was having a hard time adjusting. So, he switched to team owner mode and hoped for the best.
But beyond that, Prudhomme also had no idea he was mixed race, which is something that seems surprising in retrospect. When his family moved to California, they vehemently denied that there was any Black blood in the family. So, Prudhomme grew up firmly believing he was white; after all, plenty of folks in the 1970s had deeply tanned skin and fuzzy hair. He says he rarely encountered any blatant racism, but he also acknowledges that he spent time around people who made monkey gestures at him; he just didn’t understand it at the time.
The book ends with Prudhomme learning about his Creole heritage and meeting members of his family that his parents had shunned for being too dark. He looks back on his career through this newfound light, almost wishing he’d had the opportunity to be the first Black driver to set these records. But at the same time, he muses that it probably made him more marketable. Which is unfortunate but likely true.
Overall, My Life Beyond the 1320 is a great read for anyone, be they drag racing fans or not. You’ll definitely want to check it out.