Danny Thompson, Living a Legacy of Speed and Performance
In August 1968 on the Bonneville Salt Flats, Mickey Thompson set out to break the piston-powered world land speed record in the famed Challenger 2, but it rained and he never got the chance. Last year his son, Danny Thompson, finished what his late father started nearly 50 years ago and broke the 400mph barrier in the same legendary streamliner (albeit updated), becoming just the 15th member of Bonneville’s revered 400mph club.
Prior to this year’s annual pilgrimage to Bonneville for SCTA Speed Week, Fuel Curve stopped by Mike Chrisman’s shop to watch Thompson and crew fire up the Challenger 2 before their 650-mile journey to the salt. Everything seemed to go as planned. “We’re going to increase the nitro load to 85% this year and we’ve made some aero changes,” explained Thompson. He had planned to retire the Challenger 2 at the end of 2016 but knew the car had more in it, so he decided to bring it back one last time. The goal for 2017 was simple: go faster than last year. We followed him to the salt to capture him in action.
At Bonneville for the 69th annual SpeedWeek, Thompson attempted to break the 406.769mph AA/FS record he set in 2016. “I’ve been waiting for a year to get back in this car. You wait 365 days to go again, and tomorrow is the day,” Thompson said Friday afternoon.
Thompson and his team of volunteers arrived at the track early Saturday morning, ready to roll. They warmed up the engines and then loaded the streamliner on the trailer and towed it up to the starting line.
The Challenger 2 was the third car down the long course. Listening to the incremental speeds on the radio you could tell he was on a strong run. Eight miles later the ’chutes were out and the streamliner rolled to a stop. You should have seen the smile on Danny’s face when his crew rolled up and yelled,”435mph!” After a brief conversation with his crew, a hug from his mom and a long embrace with wife Valerie, it was time to get back to work.
As he walked back to the truck we asked Danny, “Can you tell the difference between a 406mph run and a 435mph run?”
“To be honest, I’m just effing holding on,” Thompson laughed.
To set an SCTA speed record you must make two consecutive runs faster than the existing record within 24 hours, and the average speed of those two runs would be the new record. After the first valid run, the car must be taken to the impound area, where the crew is given four hours to work on it before leaving it overnight, where it will sit until 6:00 am the next morning. Such was the case with Danny Thompson and the Challenger 2.
Sunday morning the team arrived at the salt in the dark. It was 6:00 am, and they had just 45 minutes to fire the car and make any last-minutes changes before heading to the starting line for a 7:00 am run. The temperature was significantly cooler early in the morning and you could feel the excitement in the air. Everyone knew it was going to be fast.
Until it wasn’t.
“The car left really, really hard,” recounted Thompson. “The first part of the run the speed was up from Saturday, but then we lost a connecting rod in the first engine. I caught it pretty quick, shut the fuel off and coasted about a mile until it came to a stop. It’s disappointing for sure. You work all year-long just to try and get this record.”
“They always say the second run is harder than the first. We’ll rebuild both engines and see if we can finish the job. We’ll go through everything and regroup before heading back out to Bonneville for the SCTA World Finals in October,” Thompson said. The World Finals will be run here October 3rd-6th.
We’ll be waiting.