“The Fastest Man on Wheels”
Mickey Thompson’s story is as inspiring as it is tragic. Born in 1928 in Alhambra, California, Thompson inherited his resilient attitude from his father, a stern Irish policeman, who raised him to believe nothing was impossible if enough time and effort was put forth. At the age of 14, Thompson bought his first car, a 1927 Chevy, for $7.50. He began racing his home-built cars on the dry lakes of California before he was even old enough to legally drive.
He quickly earned a reputation for going fast and in 1955, designed and introduced the slingshot” dragster, which placed the driver behind the rear axle. That same year he talked his way into managing the brand new Lions Club Associated Drag Strip in Long Beach, California. Thompson was a hands-on manager, selling tickets, running concessions, directing crowds, and officiating races. He gave hot-rodders what they wanted by holding night races, grudge matches, and was the first to institute the “Christmas tree” starting system instead of using a flag-person. Thompson managed the drag strip until 1964 while also running his muffler shop and working as a pressman at night for the L.A. Times. He was also still working on his racing projects and later founded the Mickey Thompson Equipment Co. to manufacture high performance equipment for racers like valve covers, exhaust headers, mufflers, and aluminum intake manifolds.
Thompson’s mind was always working to go faster. In 1960, he took his land-speed record car, Challenger 1, to the Bonneville Salt Flats and was clocked at 406.60 mph, becoming the first American to exceed 400 mph. Two years later, he built America’s first mid-engined Indy car. Thompson began off-road racing in 1969 and would later establish the Mickey Thompson Entertainment Group to sanction indoor stadium-truck racing. Despite all his racing and business successes, Thompson considered himself a hot-rodder at heart. Sadly, that spirit was extinguished on March 16, 1988, when he and his wife, Trudy, were gunned down outside their home in Bradbury, California. The loss was felt throughout the world of motorsports. However, despite the tragedy of his death, his motto, “stand on the gas,” lives on.