Marion Lee “Mickey” Thompson (December 7, 1928 – March 16, 1988) An innovative race car driver, designer and promoter, Mickey Thompson held 485 national and international speed and endurance records at the time of his passing. Mickey raced in over 10,000 events and covered over one million race miles. He won championships in diverse categories of auto racing such as; midgets, sprint cars, off-road vehicles, stock cars, drag racing and sports cars. Mickey’s contribution to motorsports earned him an induction into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1990.
Mickey Thompson Racing
Mickey Thompson was born Dec. 7, 1928 in Alhambra, California. He bought his first car at age 14, and rebuilt several cars before he was old enough to drive. In his early twenties, he worked as a pressman for the Los Angeles Times newspaper while pursuing a lifelong love of hot rodding.
He is credited with designing and building the first slingshot dragster (1954), moving the seat behind the rear axle to improve traction when existing racing tires proved unable to handle the output of increasingly powerful custom engines. He also narrowed the rear track as much as possible to improve directional stability. A change so momentous would not happen again until Don Garlits introduced the rear-engined digger in 1971. Mickey also was noted for being the first manager of Lions Drag Strip near Long Beach, California, in 1955. Mickey devoted himself to building and racing funny cars. Mickey redesigned the funny car and went on to win the 1969 NHRA Spring Nationals and NHRA Nationals with driver Danny Ongais. Thompson’s racing experience began on the streets, but he quickly took his love of racing to the dry lakebeds nearby, and later to the Bonneville Salt Flats. Over the course of his career Thompson set more speed and endurance records than any other man in automotive history.
In the 1960s, Mickey focused his racing and vehicle design on open-wheel racing. He designed a rear engine stock V8 Buick that was the first ever of its kind to qualify for the 1962 Indianapolis 500. Rookie Dan Gurney qualified eighth in a field of more than 60 cars.
Mickey’s team won the “Mechanical Achievement Award” for original design, construction and accomplishment that year. He continued to bring innovative designs to Indy each year until the late 1960’s.
Additional history on Mickey Thompson’s involvement with Chevrolet and the Corvette: MickeyThompson63Tanker.com/history
Land Speed Record
Mickey also built the Challenger I Streamliner and was the first American to go over 400 miles per hour earning him a new nickname – The Speed King. In 1968, Thompson and a team of fabricators built the Challenger II with the goal of exceeding the existing land speed record.
Mickey expanded into off road racing and founded SCORE International in 1973 as a sanctioning body to oversee off-road racing across North America. SCORE International is famous for the Baja 500, San Felipe 250 and the flagship event, the Baja 1000. Mickey and his wife Trudy formed the Mickey Thompson Entertainment Group (MTEG) which ran an indoor motocross and off-road racing show and competition. MTEG brought the sport from back-country to major metropolitan stadiums and arenas. He began building his own versions of off-road sprint cars for his indoor stadium off-road racing series.
Tragically, in 1988, Mickey Thompson and his wife Trudy were killed by two hooded gunmen outside their home in Bradbury, California. An intense police investigation failed to uncover either the identity of the mystery gunmen, or a motive for the crime. The case remained a dead-end until 2001, when former Thompson business partner Michael Frank Goodwin was charged with the murders. Eventually, in 2007, a jury found the accused guilty of two counts of murder and he was sentenced to two consecutive life-without-parole terms. An innovative race car driver, designer and promoter, Mickey Thompson held 485 national and international speed and endurance records at the time of his passing. Mickey raced in over 10,000 events and covered over one million race miles. He won championships in diverse categories of auto racing such as; midgets, sprint cars, off-road vehicles, stock cars, drag racing and sports cars. Mickey’s contribution to motorsports earned him an induction into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1990. Today, Mickey’s son, Danny Thompson, is rebuilding the Challenger 2 to create the Challenger 2.5 in hopes of exceeding his father’s existing land speed record. His family and the company he founded remain dedicated to his legacy.