Danny Thompson has talked for years about breaking the wheel-driven land speed record, a mark his late father Mickey Thompson worked toward more than 50 years ago.
"My dad always had a burning desire to accomplish that task, but he had so much going on," Thompson said in an interview with Daniel Strohl at Hemmings Blog, "he never got back to it. I've been wanting to complete this project Dad started all these years, to tie it up and finally put the Thompson name on that record."
While former ultimate land-speed record-holder Craig Breedlove is talking - again - about breaking the absolute record held by Andy Green, it is the piston-engine wheel-driven land-speed record that Thompson aims to hold.
While we all know ingenuity plays a large role in such efforts, it's money that makes those wheels go round and $300,000 in sponsorship for Thompson's goal comes from an appropriate source: Mickey Thompson Performance Tires and Wheels, who are also constructing special tires for the attempt.
In 1960, Mickey Thompson piloted his four-wheel-drive, quadruple-engine Challenger 1 streamliner to a speed of 406.60 mph on the famed Bonneville Salt Flats. His speed gave him the title "fastest American on wheels" but he lost out on his bid to break the world land speed record - that would bring the record back to the USA - when one of his four supercharged Pontiac engines failed on the return run.
Land-speed records are officially recorded on a double pass only.
Thompson made a few more runs with Challenger in 1962, but couldn't get the speed he needed until 1968, when he came out with the Challenger 2 streamliner, also known as the Autolite Special. That vehicle claimed its power from two Ford 427 SOHC engines in tandem, one of them supercharged, the second normally aspirated.
Breedlove came along in 1963 and introduced land-speed competition to the jet age. The Summers brothers followed in 1965 and set the wheel-driven record at 409.277 mph, galling Mickey Thompson into building the Challenger 2.
The Challenger 2 Autolite Special was narrower than its predecessor by two feet but still had four-wheel-drive, testing at 411-mph. The elder Thompson said the machine was capable of 500-mph, but poor weather prevented Mickey Thompson from running in 1968. He sold it once, bought it back, but the Challenger 2, Autolite Special hasn't been back to the salt in 43 years.
Into the 1980s, Mickey Thompson formulated plans to place son Danny in the cockpit of the Autolite Special for another record attempt - just a month before his 1988 murder. Still, Danny held onto the Challenger 2 and, ten years ago began racing other cars at Bonneville. To date, his best run has been in a streamliner at 263 mph.
Challenger 2.5 will be nearly 30 feet in length and stand just under 28 inches at the canopy, with width just shy of 35 inches and weight of 5600 pounds. Power comes from a pair of 500-cid V8, fuel-injected engines that will be centrally mounted in the streamliner - with just enough space for Danny Thompson to recline between them.
Total power is expected to be in the 3000-horsepower range for the two engines, which will run on a nitromethane/methanol blend.
The chassis is a spaceframe structure made of 4130 chrome moly tubing; its skin consists of 42 panels of aluminum alloy.
The date for Thompson's attempt is not yet known.
© 2011 Anne Proffit