TOOELE COUNTY, Utah — A pair of long-standing land-speed records fell this summer at the Bonneville Salt Flats, and Mickey Thompson tires figured prominently in both.
On Aug. 20, 69-year-old Danny Thompson — son of famed racer and Mickey Thompson Performance Tires & Wheels founder and namesake Mickey Thompson — drove the dual-engined Challenger 2 to a two-way average run of 448.8 mph, more than 40 mph above the mark for a piston-engine-powered, wheel-vehicle he set two years ago.
A month later, Dave Spangler drove a four-wheel-drive, turbine-powered streamliner, Team Vesco's Turbinator II, to a two-way time of 482.6 mph for the record as the fastest wheel-driven vehicle.
Both vehicles ran on Mickey Thompson Bonneville LSR tires that the company rates for speeds up to 590 mph. The business — a subsidiary of Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. — maintains a portfolio of LSR tires rated for speeds up to 350 mph, 375 mph, 450 mph and 590 mph.
Mickey Thompson Tires & Wheels has supported Danny Thompson's journey to the record books since 2010 when he decided to resurrect the Challenger 2 after it sat idle for more than 40 years in his Colorado garage.
"Danny called me up and told me about his plan to restore the Challenger 2 and get it ready to try for a new record at the Bonneville Salt Flats," Ken Warner, vice president of Mickey Thompson Tires & Wheels, said. "He wanted to bring it back to life and finish what his dad, Mickey, started five decades ago."
In 2016 — after years of trying — Danny Thompson drove the Challenger 2 to a two-way average speed of 402.8 mph, eclipsing the previous record for a piston-powered vehicle by more than 10 mph. He returned in 2017 and raised the record to 406.8 mph — one-tenth of a second faster than his father's historic run in 1968 — before crashing the car.
That put an end to Danny Thompson's speed-record pursuit — until this year, when reports of "excellent conditions" at the Bonneville Salt Flats enticed him to make one more attempt.
Mickey Thompson is credited with being the first person to drive faster than 400 mph, something he did in 1958 with the Challenger I. He was unable, however, to complete a second run in the opposite direction, so his record was never acknowledged officially.
Mickey Thompson, who founded the tire company that bears his name in 1963, built the Challenger 2 — a 32-foot-long, 5,200-pound, four-wheel-drive streamliner powered by dual hemi V8 engines — in 1968 to break the record, but heavy rain that year scuttled the attempt.
He moved on to other racing endeavors thereafter. He was murdered in 1988 along with his wife Trudi.
Both of the new records set this year eclipsed the previous wheel-driven record of 436.1 mph set in 2011 by George Poteet and Ron Main's Speed Demon.