MICKEY THOMPSON: RACING LEGEND
Marion Lee "Mickey" Thompson (December 7, 1928 - March 16, 1988) was an American off-road racing legend. He won many championships as a racer, and later formed sanctioning bodies SCORE International and Mickey Thompson Entertainment Group (MTEG). He also raced in dragsters and land speed record automobiles.
Thompson was born in Alhambra, California. He was known universally as "Mickey." In his early twenties, he worked for the Los Angeles Times newspaper while becoming involved in the new sport of drag racing. He developed a brilliant career as both a driver and an innovative automotive technician; later as a designer, manufacturer and seller of racing and performance equipment. In addition to being a drag racing champion, Mickey Thompson set more speed and endurance records than any other man in automotive history. He is credited with designing and building the first slingshot dragster in 1954, moving the seat behind the rear axle to improve traction when the existing racing tires proved unsuitable. A change so momentous would not happened again until Don Garlits introduced the rear-engined digger in 1971. Thompson also was noted for being the first manager of Lions Drag Strip near Long Beach, California in 1955.
In 1960, at the Bonneville Salt Flats, Thompson achieved international fame when driving Challenger 1 he became the first American to break the 400 mph barrier, hitting 406.60 mph and surpassing John Cobb's one-way Land speed record of 402 mph.
Indianapolis 500 1962
In 1962 Mickey Thompson entered three John Crosthwaite designed cars in the Indianapolis 500 Unusually they used a stock V8 Buick engine and it was in the rear unlike the front engined, race tuned, Offenhauser powered cars used by most competitors. It was the first stock engine to be raced at Indy since 1946 and was the beginning of the rear engine transformation at the Indianapolis 500. Thompson's crew led by Fritz Voigt were young, smart and hard working. Working 12-14 hour days, the car was designed and built in 120 days. For the race, the engine (enlarged to 4.2 litre capacity, the maximum allowed by the regulations for “stock block” engines) had to be detuned because they were concerned it would not last the distance. Despite being more than 70 bhp down on the other cars Dan Gurney qualified eighth and was in ninth place until a leaking oil seal seized the gearbox and ended his race on lap 94. He was placed 20th out of 33. The team won the Mechanical Achievement Award for original design, construction and accomplishment
Indianapolis 500 1963
Mickey was a good promoter and the sponsors were very pleased with the publicity generated that year. For the 1963 Indianapolis 500 Crosthwaite designed the innovative Harvey Aluminium Special ‘roller skate car’ with the then pioneering smaller profile (12 inch diameter) and wide racing tyres (front 7 inches and rear 9 inches wide) and wheels. Mickey Thompson took five cars to Indianapolis. Two of the previous year's design with Chevrolet V8 engines and three 'roller skate' cars. One of the new cars, the Harvey Titanium Special, featured a lightweight titanium chassis. Al Miller II raced one of the modified 1962 cars to 9th place despite only qualifying in 31st position. Duane Carter qualified one of the roller skate cars 15th but was only placed 23rd after an engine failure on the 100th lap. The small tyre sizes and low car weights caused complaints amongst the old hands and owners, so for future races cars were restricted to minimum tyre sizes and minimum car weight.
In 1963 Thompson traveled to England where, along with Dante Duce, he demonstrated his Top Fuel Harvey Aluminum Special dragster at the Brighton Speed Trials. His Ford-powered dragster was then displayed at the Racing Car Show in London in January 1964.
In 1965 he published "Challenger: Mickey Thompson's own story of his life of speed." In 1968, he redesigned the Funny Car, and his vehicle went on to win the 1969 NHRA Spring Nationals and NHRA Nationals for driver Danny Ongais. In his long career, Thompson raced everything from stock cars to off-road vehicles and engineered numerous competition engines. He went into the performance aftermarket business in the early 1960s and then, in 1963 he created "Mickey Thompson Performance Tires" that developed special tires for racing including for Indianapolis 500 competitors.
Thompson founded SCORE International in 1973, a sanctioning body to oversee off-road racing across North America. He and his wife Trudy formed the "Mickey Thompson Entertainment Group" (MTEG) which ran an indoor motocross and off-road vehicle racing show and competition that brought the sport from the back-country terrain to stadiums in the heavily populated metropolitan areas.