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Car and Driver: Danny Thompson Breaks His Dad’s 48-Year-Old Family Bonneville Record

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Danny-Thompson-PLACEMENT

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It’s not easy living in the long shadow of a famous dad. Your two choices are to run from your inherited legacy or run with it. This week at the Bonneville Salt Flats in western Utah, Danny Thompson, the son of the drag racing and Indy 500 impresario Mickey Thompson, took a 48-year-old handoff from his late father and ran 406.7-mph with it, tying up a loose end dating to 1968 and writing the Thompson name into the compendious book of Bonneville records, where it’s likely to stay for some time.

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Even with the fragile surface of the ancient Bonneville salt playa fraying out in the latter stages of the eight-mile course, Thompson, 68, pedaled his Challenger 2 streamliner with its twin 500-cubic-inch Hemi V-8s to a class record of 406.7 mph, topping his father’s best recorded speed by 0.1 mph and absolutely crushing the previous record for a non-blown, non-gas fuel streamliner, which since 2009 has stood at 392.5 mph.

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Danny Thompson Breaks His Dad's 48-Year-Old Family Bonneville Record

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It wasn’t the overall fastest speed for this year’s Bonneville meet. At this writing that stands at 429 mph, set by George Poteet’s blown-Chevy-powered Speed Demon streamliner and not likely to be beat in the remaining three days of the event.

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Danny Thompson’s achievement also permanently places him and the Thompson name into the rarified air of Bonneville’s 400-mph club, which before this year only had 15 members. It’s an accomplishment that Thompson’s father, Mickey, was never able to achieve despite coming to Bonneville several times in the 1960s, first with the quad-Pontiac-engine Challenger 1 and later with its successor, the Challenger 2. Mickey was timed at 406.6 mph in Challenger 1 on September 9, 1960, but a broken propshaft prevented him from making a second timed run, a requirement for the record to be official.

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The slimmer, sleeker Challenger 2 was designed and developed in 1968 to finally get Thompson officially over 400 mph, but bad weather foiled the attempt and the project was set aside for two decades. The elder Thompson raised the subject of running Challenger 2 with his son Danny in later years but was murdered in his California driveway along with his wife Trudy in March 1988, before he was able to return to the salt flats. The crime went unsolved for 19 years until Thompson’s business partner, Michael Frank Goodwin, was convicted in 2007 for arranging the murder.

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Danny Thompson Breaks His Dad's 48-Year-Old Family Bonneville Record

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Meanwhile, Challenger 2 had been sitting in storage for another 22 years until the younger Thompson decided to revive the project. He poured $2 million of his own money into restoring and updating the cobalt-blue ship, just a trickle of private donations helping to offset the bills for a nitro-powered streamliner with twin top-fuel dragster engines that costs as much as $10,000 per 80-second timed run.

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However, for the younger Thompson and the passionate devotees of Bonneville’s 68-year history of salt-flat racing, tying up this loose end in racing history is priceless. Mickey Thompson would have been 88 this year.

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Danny-Thompson-REEL

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