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Prudhomme takes last runs of a brilliant drag-racing career

The Snake will bite no more after today.

Don "The Snake" Prudhomme, one of the greatest drag racers of all time, retires after today's final eliminations in the season-ending Winston Select Finals at Pomona (Calif.) Raceway.

Prudhomme, though, hardly looks like a man at the end of his rope. He came into Pomona second in the NHRA Top Fuel point standings and has three wins this year, pushing his career total to 49.

But Prudhomme announced last year that this would be his final season. And after talking to recently retired greats Mario Andretti (IndyCar) and Richard Petty (NASCAR), he seems at ease with his decision.

"I can honestly say I don't have any regrets about it," said Prudhomme, who'll become a Top Fuel team owner next year. "The fans have been great toward me. That makes me think that I've done something in my career, I think. In my mind, I think I'm doing the right thing, and that's what's important."

Thanks but no thanks: Veteran Winston Cup driver Harry Gant, set to retire at season's end, turned down an offer to replace Ernie Irvan in Robert Yates' No. 28 Ford Thunderbird next season, according to Winston Cup car owner James Finch.

The Tampa Bay 500?: The American Diabetes Foundation is bringing its mini-NASCAR cars to town for the Tampa Bay 500 race through downtown Tampa Jan. 15.

The cars are go-karts with bodies resembling NASCAR Winston Cup cars. (Top speed is 30 mph). Corporations or groups are being sought to purchase entries in the charity race (an entry fee of $3,000 includes the purchase of the car).

The deadline for ordering cars is Nov. 24. For more information, call (813) 885-5007 or (800) 741-3730.

More work ahead: Rusty Wallace doesn't have time to pout about losing the NASCAR Winston Cup championship to Dale Earnhardt last weekend for the second straight year. He needs to worry about Mark Martin.

Martin trails Wallace by 138 points in the chase for second in series points _ a position worth $350,000. There is just one race after today's Slick 50 500 at Phoenix and a maximum of 185 points to be won at each event. Wallace has had engine problems the past two races, which could leave Martin room to sneak by.

"Obviously, we have to make sure the kind of problems we've been having the last couple of races don't happen," Wallace said. "We took a good look at our engine operation this week, and everything is looking real good."

Famous last words: Seven-time Winston Cup champion Earnhardt is the winningest driver in NASCAR, but not everyone thought he'd be a success. Earnhardt was a certified welder before his racing days, and when he quit his job at a wheel alignment shop in suburban Charlotte in 1974, he got a few parting words.

"The supervisor in that plant told me I was probably going to starve," Earnhardt said.

Gee, you think that guy feels like a bonehead right now or what?

Laying down some rubber: Michael Andretti and Robby Gordon, testing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Goodyear tires recently, turned in some startling lap times. Andretti lapped the track in an average speed of 230.4 mph and Gordon got up to 229 mph.

Al Unser Jr. won the pole at this past Indy 500 with a speed of 228.011 mph.

Good times ahead: Chevy is junking its Lumina _ the car that Earnhardt won the championship in this year _ to bring back the Monte Carlo in 1995. Chevy fans are probably a tad nervous about the switch, but Earnhardt said to chill.

"We're testing the new Monte Carlo and it's a real good car," Earnhardt said. "I don't think we're going to miss a beat. That car is going to be competitive right out of the box."

Happy campers: The folks at Ford aren't too disappointed Wallace didn't win the driver's championship. Had Wallace, who has won eight races in 1994, not switched from Pontiacs to Fords this season, Chevy would be leading the manufacturers race. As it is, Wallace's strong season helped Ford wrap up the championship, topping Chevy for only the second time in the past dozen years.

Mo' money: Unser Jr. got paid a lot more than compliments for winning the IndyCar title this season. Little Al reportedly pocketed more than $3.5-million _ the largest single-season take in IndyCar history. (The record was $2.6-million). Unser's total pushes him to the top of IndyCar's all-time money winners list with $15.4-million. His teammate, Emerson Fittipaldi, is second with $13.2-million, followed by Bobby Rahal at $13-million.

Ernie's stir: As the No. 28 Ford Thunderbird was being pushed by crewmen toward the Phoenix International Raceway pits before a practice session, several hundred people recognized the man with the patch over his left eye and began to cheer. Irvan heard the commotion, looked up and waved to the stands. That brought an even louder cheer.

_ Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

Today's race

Race: NASCAR Winston Cup Slick 50 500.

Track: 1-mile Phoenix (Ariz.) International Raceway.

Green flag: 2 p.m.

Distance: 312 laps.

Pole-sitter: Sterling Marlin.

Defending champion: Mark Martin.

TV: TNN.

Radio: WFNS-910.

Fry's pick: Terry Labonte.

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