Danny Thompson aims for Land Speed Record

After breaking his late father Mickey’s unofficial 1960 land speed record for a piston-driven streamliner by a scant 0.1mph last August, Danny Thompson is now pursuing the LSR piston-engined wheel-driven record.

Danny Thompson aims for Land Speed Record
Danny Thompson
Driver names on the speed record attempt car
Danny Thompson, son of the late Mickey Thompson
Danny Thompson in the Challenger II
Danny Thompson in the Challenger II
Mickey Thompson and Danny Thompson with the Challenger II
Danny Thompson with the Challenger II
Danny Thompson
The Challenger II
Mickey Thompson with the Challenger II
The Challenger II

Five months ago, Danny Thompson joined the 400mph club with an AA/FS new average, two-way official record SCTA run of 406.7mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats during Speed Weeks. His blue Challenger 2, a svelte vehicle father Mickey built and used back in the 1960s, had lain dormant for 50 years before his son took the dual-engine streamliner out of mothballs and resurrected it to current racing specs.

It took several years of every-single-day work to get the car race-ready, using Danny Thompson’s skills, his cadre of volunteers’ assistance, but very little sponsorship, aside from some given by Mickey Thompson Tires. That long effort took a lot out of then 66-year-old Danny Thompson, but he had his goal. He’d gotten the car prepared for racing the salt in 2015 but was met with a racetrack under water. He and his loyal crew had to wait a full year to get the opportunity to bring the record home, which they did in the Saturday/Sunday runs last August.

That wasn’t enough for Danny Thompson, though. He wanted the ultimate wheel-driven, piston-powered record. The opportunity to take a swing at Speed Demon’s wheel-driven land speed record – just over 444mph – during the Cook’s FIA shootout never materialized, as a fire engulfed Challenger 2. Thompson, at that time said he was done and would retire Challenger 2, as he’d originally planned.

But racers like Danny Thompson just don’t walk away from fire, from having nearly every bone in their body broken over the years. Thompson, now armed with more commercial backing set about rebuilding the damaged parts of his car and doing maintenance on the two engines – mounted front and rear of the driver. On his record runs in August, the rear engine lost a fuel distribution screw in a barrel valve during his backup record run, which was 9mph slower than the first attempt. “Consequently,” Thompson said at the time, “we were way down on horsepower.”

Taking the wheel-driven record stood ahead of Thompson. It was a challenge the builder and driver of Challenger 2 couldn’t resist. And now, Danny Thompson has announced he’ll try to break George Poteet’s Speed Demon record. (Poteet has a new car after crashing the original Speed Demon). He intends to run Speed Weeks in mid-August and Cook’s FIA Shootout, which gives world records under FIA strictures, towards the end of September.

“As many of you know,” Thompson explained, “I had planned to retire the car after the 2016 season, regardless of the result. That was probably the right decision, but after capturing the SCTA AA/FS record at 406.7mph, the team and I thought ending things now would mean leaving too much of the car’s potential on the table. So we’re going to give it one more try in 2017 before packing things up for good.”

While he doesn’t know how much more speed the car might have, he did make it to 415mph at the 4.25-mile mark when the fire occurred last September. “Official timing starts at the 5 (mile-mark), so we were certainly well on our way to the record with 1.75 miles of course left to go.”

It’s definitely tough to find out what went wrong with a racing vehicle when fire gets in the way, but Danny Thompson believes the culprit started as the rear u-joint in the driveshaft of Challenger 2 broke when he was shifting between second and third gears. That u-joint took out the rear track bars, “which caused the nose of the rear end to drop. Meanwhile,” he said, “the driveshaft broke the safety hoops and drove the transmission yoke into the case,” taking out the left rear tire and causing an extended slide on the salt.

As Thompson explains, the driveshaft actually exited Challenger 2 briefly, reentering through the side, damaging the breather tank and several panels of the streamliner. “It then broke free again, this time making it more than 200 yards before bouncing to a stop. I was fine, obviously, but it was one hell of a ride.”

To address that failure, Thompson and his crew are upgrading both front and rear driveline assemblies, using thicker and heavier machine tooling for these components. “The driveshaft hoops will be redesigned to more effectively retain the shaft should we run into another problem,” he said. “We also lost eight body panels, the overflow tank and the left rear air jack. Those are currently being reconstructed.”

There’s a lot of work to be done before mid-August’s Speed Weeks and September’s FIA runs. Thompson knows this but isn’t about to give up. “The team and I feel like we’re half-finished with what we wanted to achieve. It’s a big goal and a big dream so we’re taking one more shot at it.”

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