Class of 1990
If one were to give reasons why Marian Lee (Mickey) Thompson has a niche in American racing history, where would one start?
He was an innovative car builder and designer. He was a master promoter. He was a successful race car driver and held several acceleration records. He won numerous Off Road races.
It is fair to say that his talents in so many areas made him unique. Rest assured, he began early. Born December 7,1928 in Alhambra, Calif., Thompson was restoring life to old Fords and Chevrolets before he could legally drive.
He began weekend jaunts to drag races and then entered his first Mexican road race in a Ford in 1953. He ran over a cliff trying to avoid the natives strolling along the course. He rolled the car, which struck some spectators anyway, and afterward was never quite able to explain the mishap to officials. He was whisked away by a friend from Ford.
However, the tenacious Thompson, who already showed great promise as a salesman, came back to Mexico with another Ford and the same sponsor. This time, he ran into a cliff. But he led the first lap of the five-day meet before that happened.
Thompson, by this time, had already established a garage and parts business and was setting records. In 1955, he was the first to exceed 120 miles per hour in the quarter-mile. Later that year, he was the first to exceed 150 miles per hour. He laid claim to Fastest American On Wheels in 1958 with a record speed of 194 miles per hour. He set his eyes on the world record of 394.2 miles per hour set in 1947. Equipped with four 410 cubic-inch engines, he pushed the American mark to 330.51 miles per hour, but beat the world mark only in one direction (at 407 miles per hour) before crashing his famed Challenger I on the way back.
In 1959, Thompson set four international speed records, for the five-kilometer, the five-mile, the 10-kilometer and the 10-mile. The next year, in the “slingshot dragster” called Assault he created himself, he set the standing kilometer and mile marks of 132.94 miles per hour and 149.93 miles per hour, respectively. Through 1962, Thompson, in either Assault or Challenger, went on to set more than 100 international or national speed marks.
During this time, Thompson had impressively built up his businesses, which included rod and custom shows, high-performance components for American passenger cars and drag car construction.
Thompson made several assaults on the Indianapolis 500 in cars of his own creation. Among them were the Harvey Aluminum Special and the Sears Thompson Allstate Special. The best effort was turned in by rookie Al Miller with a ninth-place in 1963.
Thompson’s skill in competition and in business served him and the racing world well. After his speed runs and other ventures into active competition, he established one of the most glamorous and prestigious Off-Road racing circuits, which brought the sport to several heavily-populated metropolitan areas and thus created new audiences.