About a month ago, a young racer named Paige interviewed me about my dad for her sixth grade book report. I liked it very much, so I'm reposting it here with her permission. - D/T
Promoter, Innovator, Legend
By: Paige X.
Imagine living in 1960. On the morning of September 9, you will be the first American to pass 400 mph. You squeeze into the Challenger cockpit, ready to go. You are determined. You have no ounce of fear. Trying to break a speed record is just part of your everyday life. The crystal white salt glitters on the seven mile course. The Bonneville Salt Flats, a place where many others have attempted to pass the land speed record before you. Today, you would do it, because you are Mickey Thompson. You are “always looking forward to your next adventure.” You gaze upon the flat terrain the stretches far beyond your view. As the course officials give you the okay signal, you take a deep breath. The engine roars to life! The car takes off gaining speed rapidly. The faster you go the more determined you feel. As you pass the final timing light, you know you did it. You just changed automotive history forever! This was regular life for Mickey Thompson. He was an amazing person in automotive history.
Mickey was born on December 7, 1928 in Alhambra, California. He was known as Mickey, but his real name was Marion Lee Thompson. From an early age Mickey had the desire to learn about or build anything that involved racing or cars. He was intrigued by: midget cars, sprint cars, motorcycles and anything else that went fast. Mickey always had a plan to build something. When Mickey was twelve years old, he and his dad made a soapbox derby for a town race. Mickey was not satisfied with just going down a hill. With his dad’s help Mickey rigged the soapbox derby car to go back up the hill under power. From that point on nothing was safe from Mickey’s creative mind. He even took apart the family washing machine so he could use the gasoline powered motor for an invention.
Mickey didn’t have to go buy everything he needed. He scavenged old parts and made them into something he could use. For example, a typical Friday night date, for Mickey and his girlfriend Judy, was at a local Ford dealership after hours rummaging through the dumpster. The two would search for old parts that could be reconditioned and used in Mickey’s race cars.
Mickey had very little time to relax. Early in his career, he worked a late night job as a pressman for the Los Angeles Times Newspaper. He also worked at a muffler shop, sold used cars and later was the first manager at Lion’s Drag Strip. When he did have spare time he enjoyed downhill skiing and water skiing. Mickey also loved animals and together with his wife Judy, and their two children, the family shared their home with many exotic pets. His family and friends thought he was crazy when he bought a six month old lion, named Charlie. The young lion loved to play and would wrestle with Mickey when he was home.
Mickey was mentally and physically strong. Throughout his life he had multiple injuries, but didn’t let that stop him from pursuing his dreams. When he was only eight years old his arm became pinned between two cars and crushed. His arm was broken in 32 places and was going to be amputated. His father refused to let the doctors amputate and helped Mickey exercise it. Eventually the arm healed and Mickey was almost as strong as before the accident. Later in life, Mickey ended up in a full body cast after testing a drag boat. Even though doctors discussed the possibility of him never walking again; he made a recovery.
When I interviewed Danny, Mickey’s son, he said “my dad was always looking forward to the next big adventure.” Mickey was the founder of SCORE International and M/T Entertainment Group and M/T Performance Tires. He always had ideas for inventions. Sketches of ideas were often on napkins or written in notepads near his bed.
Mickey had many achievements that helped form racing into the sport it is today. I think Mickey was amazing. In my opinion, he showed that you do not need the very best parts to succeed. He was very successful while making many of his own parts and scavenging others out of junkyards or dumpsters. Mickey designed the first slingshot dragster in drag racing. He was an innovator, which is a person who introduces new methods, ideas or products. He came up with many other ideas too. He competed in many different motorsports. I think he left his mark in almost every form of racing he competed in. In drag racing, Mickey was the second person to pass 150 mph in the quarter mile and is ranked number 11 in NHRA’s top 50 drivers. He also redesigned the funny car in 1969 by using a Ford Mustang Body. He held nearly 200 FIA International speed records and USAC national speed records. Mickey set more endurance and speed records than any other man in automotive history. Many people started calling Mickey the “Speed King” when he passed the 400 mph mark at Bonneville.
When most people think about a race car driver they think about someone who only cares about winning and going fast. While Mickey had that desire, he also wished to improve all types of racing. He wanted to and did change the history of motorsports.
On March 16, 1988 Mickey and his wife Trudy were tragically murdered at their home in Bradbury, California. When Lindy, Mickey’s daughter heard the news she was in shock. She couldn’t believe that he and Trudy were gone. Many television programs such as: 48 hours Mysteries, NBC Unsolved Mysteries, and CSI all did episodes following the murders. Thirteen years later Michael Goodwin, a former business partner to Mickey was found guilty. He was sentenced to two consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole. Michael had threatened Mickey and his family numerous times.
When I spoke to Danny Thompson in a phone interview, he said “I would describe my dad’s personality as dynamic.” He stated that his dad an extraordinary mind. “He took a hold of an idea and wrestled and beat it into something new and better,” Danny explained. Danny wants everyone to remember his father as he does “standing on the gas”. Even though Mickey’s life was cut short he made a huge impact on the racing world.
Mickey Thompson was an amazing person. He helped form racing into the sport it is today. His legacy lives on through his son, Danny. Danny has “the need for speed” just like his dad always did. Mickey’s son is now working towards breaking the 450 mph barrier at Bonneville. Danny is restoring the car that his dad broke the 400 mph barrier with in 1960. When Danny Thompson sets the record it will be in memory of his dad. Mickey Thompson will always be remembered for being a go-getter who was always “standing on the gas”.
Thompson, Danny. Telephone interview. 2 Nov. 2013.
Arneson, Erik. Mickey Thompson: The Fast Life and Tragic Death of a Racing Legend. Minneapolis: MBI pub., 2008. Print.
“NHRA 50th Anniversary Top 50 Racers Complete List.” NHRA 50th Anniversary Top 50 Racers Complete List. N.p.,n.d. Web. 04 Nov. 2013.