Much as I agree with Joe Scalzo’s views about Marion Lee ‘Mickey’ Thompson’s abilities for self-promotion (September issue), his failures at Indy need to be balanced against his successes with drag racing and record breaking.
He may not have been the first to put the driver behind the rear axle of a dragster (that was probably Joaquin Arnett and Carlos Ramirez in 1951), but he is usually credited with creating the first dragster with all the recognisable elements of the design that came to be known as the slingshot and which reigned supreme until the early ’70s. Probably of more importance was his promotion of the sport via the famous Lions drag strip in the early days.
His LSR exploits in a variety of classes were legion, but first over 400mph was an honour that fell to John Cobb back in 1947, not Mickey Thompson, although he did indeed make one run at 406.60 mph. The story of how a driveshaft failed on his return run, thus robbing him of the record, has passed into LSR legend and is quoted in just about every article you care to read on the subject.
This was a typical piece of Mickey Thompson spin, the real cause of failure being damage from a blown Pontiac engine, a fact confirmed by Jim Travis, who rebuilt Challenger for Mickey’s son Danny in 1996. Why the story? Because Pontiac were financing a whole series of race cars that he toured with and he didn’t want to risk losing their support by embarrassing them.
The brazenness of the alternative story and the ease with which it was accepted is astounding when you consider that Challenger used wheel hubs bolted directly to modified quick-change-final drivers in order to make the car as narrow as possible, so there never were any driveshafts to break.
A teller of tall stories he may have been, and who knows what business or personal dealings might have led to his murder, but in an age when hot-rodding demanded exactly the sort of ‘on the edge’ approach that Mickey so loved, he is still rightly recognised by his peers as one of the true pioneers.
I am,Yours etc,
Robin Richardson, Gt Dunmow, Essex