Mickey Thompson

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Thompson's Challenger I car from 1960

Marion Lee "Mickey" Thompson (December 7, 1928 - March 16, 1988) was an American off-road racing celebrity. 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.

Early History[edit]

Thompson was born in Alhambra, California. He was known 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 successful 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, 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.[1] A change so momentous would not happen again until Don Garlits introduced the rear-engined digger in 1971.[2] 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[3] 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.

Indy years 1962-1968[edit]


The 1962 Harvey Aluminium Special Indianapolis 500 car. Thompson in car. Standing, Harvey representative on left, John Crosthwaite on right

In 1962 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. 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.[4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14]


Thompson's promotion skills pleased the sponsors 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 tires (front 7 inches and rear 9 inches wide) and wheels. 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 ninth 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 tire sizes and low car weights caused complaints amongst the old hands and owners, so for future races, cars were restricted to minimum tire sizes and minimum car weights. [15][16][17][18][19][20][21][22]

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.[23]


Mickey brought three modified 12-inch cars to the 1964 Indianapolis 500, but because of the new rules they had to use 15-inch tires. The Allstate sponsored team used Allstate tires and Ford engines. The chassis had to be altered to accommodate the larger ford engines. Two of them qualified for the race. The car No.84 began the month with Masten Gregory as the driver but Eddie Johnson in car No.84 qualified 24th and finished 26th. Dave McDonald in car No.83 qualified 14th and died in a fiery crash on the first lap.


Mickey did go back to Indy in 1965 but failed to qualify in an attempt with a front engine roadster. He did not go back in 1966 but tried again in 1967 and 1968. Both years he failed to qualify.[24] The 1967 attempt used a unique FWD rear engine design that steered both front and rear wheels, but Gary Congdon was unable to qualify any of the three cars.[25][26]

Post Indy[edit]

Thompson raced a funny car[clarification needed] in 1971

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 heavily populated metropolitan areas.

Murder, investigation and associated trials[edit]

MT Catalog page

On March 16, 1988, Thompson and his wife Trudy were killed by two gunmen at their home in Bradbury, California in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains.[27]

On the morning of the murder two gunmen waited outside of the Thompson home for the two to leave for the day - Mickey opened the garage door for Trudy to pull out in her vehicle, and as he headed for his own vehicle to pull out of the garage the gunmen attacked, shooting and wounding Mickey and then dragging him out into the driveway, then one of the gunmen went after Trudy as she was driving down the driveway in her vehicle and shot and killed her. The gunman then came back up the driveway where the other gunman was watching over Mickey and shot Mickey in the head, killing him. The gunmen then made their escape on the bicycles that they had ridden to the Thompson residence.

Thompson, his wife and his pets are interred in the Rose Hills Memorial Park, in Whittier, California.

An intense police investigation led nowhere until thirteen years after their deaths, when former business partner Michael Frank Goodwin was charged in Orange County, California with the murders.[27] However, that case was overturned on jurisdictional grounds by the California District Court of Appeal. On June 8, 2004, Goodwin was formally charged in Pasadena in Los Angeles County. In October 2006, a Pasadena Superior Court judge ordered Goodwin to stand trial for the murders.

On January 4, 2007, a jury found Michael Goodwin guilty of two counts of murder in the death of Thompson and his wife. Goodwin was sentenced to two consecutive life-without-parole terms for the murders of Thompson and his wife. The judge also denied Goodwin's motion for a new trial.

The murder investigation was the subject of the April 28, 2007 episode of the CBS television program 48 Hours Mystery.

The murder investigation was also the subject of an episode of NBC's Unsolved Mysteries and TruTV's Murder by the Book. The TruTV episode was rerun on HLN in 2012.

A local band in Rhode Island, That'll Learn Ya, wrote a song about the incident, titled "Murder of the Speed King".

The CSI episode "Early Rollout" was based on this murder case.[citation needed]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hot Rod, 12/86, p.29 sidebar.
  2. ^ Hot Rod, 12/86, p.28.
  3. ^ "The Hottest Hot Rodder in the World." Popular Science, December 1959, pp. 95-98/218.
  4. ^ Car and Driver magazine August 1962
  5. ^ Motor Trend magazine June 1962
  6. ^ MotorSport magazine June 1962
  7. ^ Motor magazine August 1962
  8. ^ Mickey Thompson
  9. ^ Indianapolis 500 Mile Race USAC Yearbook 1962. Floyd Clymer
  10. ^ San Diego Union newspaper May 27th 1962
  11. ^ San Diego Union newspaper June 1st 1962
  12. ^ Los Angeles Times newspaper May 17th 1962
  13. ^ Los Angeles Times newspaper June 1st 1962
  14. ^ Road & Track magazine June 1962
  15. ^ Hot Rod magazine May 1963
  16. ^ Road & Track magazine June 1963
  17. ^ Motor Trend magazine June 1963
  18. ^ Car & Driver magazine June 1963
  19. ^ Car and Driver magazine August 1963
  20. ^ Bang Shift : Gallery : Mickey Thompson exhibit at the NHRA museum
  21. ^ Mickey Thompson - Indy 500 1963
  22. ^ Indianapolis 500 Mile Race USAC Yearbook 1963. Floyd Clymer
  23. ^ See: The Observer, January 26, 1964, Page 19.
  24. ^ Garner, Art, "Black Noon: The Year They Stopped the INDY 500", Page 316, Thomas Dunne Books, 2014.
  25. ^ [1]
  26. ^ [2]
  27. ^ a b [3]