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On Danny Thompson’s record-breaking run

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Tue, Aug 23, 2016

By: The LACar Editorial Staff


Danny Thompson and Challenger II (Holly Martin)

Danny Thompson, son of the legendary Mickey Thompson, set a new land speed record for a piston-powered vehicle in the Challenger 2 streamliner during Speed Week at the Bonneville Salt Flats. Thompson set a new AA/FS record with a speed of 411.191 mph. Thompson backed up Saturday’s run with a 402.348 mph run on Sunday, Aug. 14, and completed the weekend with a record-setting 406.769 mph official average, a significant margin over the previous record of 392.503 mph. By Doug Stokes I remember Mickey talking about Challenger II, but I never saw it in person. When I worked as the PR guy for his Mickey Thompson Entertainment Group, the car was in storage somewhere down the hill from our offices that were located in the lower level of the Bradbury home (often referred to as estate in the media) that he shared with his wife Trudy. I had seen many pictures of the car, at that time powered by two SOHC (single overhead cam) Ford engines. It was a 30-foot long, slender, squared-off bullet with the driver looking out from a tiny blister located fully 25 feet back from the rounded nosecone. A single tailfin, a giant rudder, and the only empennage on the machine, grows from the minuscule canopy to complete the purposefully tapered tail section.


Danny Thompson and the Challenger II crew (Holly Martin)

For a number of reasons, the machine never got to get anywhere near the 5 Bills (500 miles per hour) that Mickey, the first American to 400 miles per hour, told me he expected his second Challenger to flash over the Bonneville salt. For my viewpoint, two things had intervened: Trudy had forbade M/T doing ANY sort race driving (period), and MTEG’s national Off-Road Championship Gran Prix off-road series had become a full-time business operation (soon to move into offices Angel Stadium in Anaheim). And so, this magnificent missile sat for decades before Mickey’s only son, Danny reanimated his dad’s dream and set a new speed record with the car. Bravo! Mickey loved The Salt. I’m very sure that he would have been very proud of his son for keeping the Thompson name fresh in the Bonneville record books. -DS


From a 2010 Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum catalog on Mickey Thompson and his machines

A word or two about Land Speed Records: Danny Thompson’s record run was (very importantly) WHEEL DRIVEN. That means that the engine turns the wheels and the wheels propel the car. Sure, your car, truck, or motorcycle uses its wheels to move it along but doing that on hard-packed salt with a thousand or more horsepower angrily twisting each of those wheels is a whole different exercise in physics (and traction). Jet and rocket-powered machines have gone fast at Bonneville enough to challenge the speed of sound (700 miles per hour) but they use the thrust of jet or rocket engines to push the car along, effectively a jet plane “flying” a couple of inches above the ground. Faster yes, but nowhere near the incredible difficulty posed by wheel-driven LSR runs. Got something to say? Add your Facebook comment regarding this article here.


The historic Challenger I is on display at Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum (R Nakano)

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