More than 20 years after legendary drag racer Mickey Thompson was gunned down, his son is driven to capture the world land speed record in his dad’s old car.
Danny Thompson inherited the “Challenger II” in 1988 after his father was gunned down in a contract hit ordered by a former business associate.
He tells his family story in an upcoming episode of “Strange Inheritance with Jamie Colby.” It airs Monday March 26 at 9 p.m. ET.
Mickey Thompson was one of the world’s top racers in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1960, he became the first American to hit 400 mph. Driving his hand-built “Challenger” dragster, he clocked 406.6 mph at Utah’s Bonneville Salt Flats.
Thompson, however, barred his son Danny from racing after a dreadful scare: Mickey was told his 9-year-old had been seriously injured in an racing accident at the midget track. That turned out to be untrue, but the moment of panic was too much for Mickey.
“He said, ‘That’s it, you’re done, you’re never racing again ever in your life,’” Danny tells Colby. “My dad took my car away -- sold it that night.’”
Mickey himself stopped racing in the 1970s to launch a high-performance tire company and promote racing shows. To his dismay, his son began racing motorcycles and Indy cars.
“I didn’t get to compete until I left home, and I didn’t tell him,” Danny says. “I wanted to beat him. At everything.”
In 1988, Mickey gave Danny a chance to do just that. Mickey was getting a new, improved “Challenger II” ready for Bonneville. He hoped to complete the quest he started back in 1960 – to set the world land speed record for a piston-powered car.
“He said, ‘I want you to drive Challenger II,” a choked-up Danny recalls. “After all of these years, the no. 1 thing he wanted is for me to drive it.”
But the dream of a Team Thompson world record ended on March 16, 1988 – the day Mickey Thompson was shot dead in his driveway. It took 18 years to convict his business associate, Michael Goodwin, who was sentenced to life in prison.
Meantime, Danny Thompson mothballed Challenger II.
“When my dad died, the dream went away,” he says. “So the car went back on the trailer. I didn’t want to do it without him.”
By 2010, however, Bonneville was calling again. Danny, now pushing 70 years old, pulled the Challenger II out of storage, with hopes of capturing the record. His race team includes his 31-year-old son, Travis.
In 2016, Danny clocked an average speed of 406.7 mph, just a hair faster than his father’s time back in 1960, and making him one of only a dozen racers to break 400 mph in a piston-powered car.
That’s short of the official record of 437 mph, but Danny insists he – and his strange inheritance – remain up for the challenge.