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HCOTY Nominee: Danny and Mickey Thompson’s 400 MPH ‘Challenger 2’

Eric Rood December 15, 2016 Featured, Hooniversal Car of the Year 3 Comments

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This was a great year for drama in motorsports: . Toyota lost Le Mans with a last-minute mechanical failure. Formula 1’s season featured ample teammate drama punctuated by a retiring champion. Even Hot Rod’s Drag Week included a . But perhaps the most dramatic event happened far from the roaring crowds and instead took place in the salted wastelands that have become, over the last 80 years, a grand temple to speed. I’m talking about Danny Thompson eclipsing 400 mph at Bonneville in the Challenger 2—a streamliner originally built by his pops Mickey Thompson—that is my Hooniversal Car of the Year nominee.

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Mickey Thompson, the progenitor of his namesake tire and a speed demon, originally built Challenger 2 in 1968 with a pair of Ford 427s to chase the land-speed record for a wheel-drive car (as opposed to the era’s jet-powered cars). In his original four-engined Challenger I (above), Thompson had become the first earth-bound400 mph American, but he had been able to back up the record with a second run. On the second streamliner, each of the two V8s drove one set of wheels and Mickey, the baddest of the badass hot-rodders in American automotive history, claimed to have blown past 400 mph during testing after an incredibly brief five-month build. Before Mickey could set the wheel-driven record, however, storms at Bonneville dampened his plans to run and backing from his sponsors evaporated before he could try again.

The Challenger 2 sat dormant for nearly 20 years until Mickey again got the itch to chase the record, this time with his son Danny, by that time an experienced racer in his own right, at the controls. Preparations were undertaken and then tragically halted again in 1989 when gunmen, hired by a former business partner, killed Mickey and his wife Trudy as they were leaving their home. Danny packed up his father’s possessions, including the streamliner, and didn’t look at them for more than a decade.

After numerous visits to Bonneville and entry into the 200 MPH Club, Danny got the itch to chase his father’s record in his the brutally fast streamliner so preparations began in the late 2000s to modernize the Challenger 2. The revisions were extensive and the specs incredible: The engines would be a pair of dry-block, nitro-powered Hemis that bumped horsepower from the original 1,800 to 2,500. The renovations turned out a brilliant blue dart ready to knock out runs north of 400 miles per hour.

When Speed Week rolled around this year after a two-year absence, the Challenger 2 was ready to go and Danny put the twin Hemis through their paces. On August 22, he ripped off a 411.191 mph run. After being put in impound, he had to back that up the next day with the two runs’ averages comprising the actual speed. His August 23 run came through at 402.348 mph, giving a 406.7 mph average. Forty-eight years after his father had undertaken the chase for 400 mph—and 30 years since they had tried to resurrect it the first time—Danny had finally done it with the Challenger 2.

I’ve never been to Bonneville, but I’ve heard it’s a place to chase your demons, be they speed, mechanical, or personal. And I can’t think of a better example of demon-chasing than ripping across the white-floored, open-aired speed church in a 400 mph streamliner built by your legendary father. Don’t take my word for it, though. . You won’t regret doing it.

 

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  • Well, this is awkward. I kinda like this one.

  • Gunmen, hired by a former business “partner”?! That’s bad, looks like racing isn’t the family friendly activity any longer. ..

  • Victor

    Great story.

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