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Son Chases Land Speed Record for Dad

How bad luck, personal tragedy and innovative engineering led a 50-year-old hot rod to a speed record.

This past Sunday I enjoyed some great, albeit increasingly rare, father-daughter time at a comic book convention. About the same time Danny Thompson was taking his family bonding to a world record level.

Back in 1968 Mickey Thompson and his team began working on what they believed could become the world’s fastest hot rod. For those who are unfamiliar, Mickey Thompson is a member of the National Hot Rod Association Hall of Fame and recognized by many as the founder of off-road racing in America. He was also the first American to top 400 mph with a piston-driven vehicle when his Challenger 1 hit 406 mph in 1960. 

The speed was a first, but a mechanical failure on the return pass meant he didn’t qualify for the world record.

Racing commitments kept Thompson from an immediate return to Utah’s Salt Lake Flats for a run at the record. Then, in 1968, the original cigar-shaped Challenger 2 was kept off the track by massive rain storms that turned the normally flat and hard Flats into a huge puddle. 

In 1988 Thompson began turning his attention back to the Challenger 2 and the record. He recruited his son Danny to help, but was tragically murdered before any progress had been made. The car was put into storage until 2010.

It was then that Danny began a journey to fulfill his father’s quest and see the Challenger 2 set that record. When originally designed, Sports Illustrated described the streamliner vehicle as “a rolling textbook in sophisticated automotive design.” But after decades of collecting dust, some upgrades were needed. 

The Ford 427s were changed to twin, nitrous-fueled 2,500-horsepower Hemi engines linked via a pair of three-speed gear boxes – with each engine controlling one pair of wheels. The streamliner also features 68 hand-formed aluminum panels and two 30-gallon aluminum fuel tanks. The vehicle weighs in at 5,200 pounds. 

Years of hard work and engineering upgrades led Danny Thompson to the Salt Lake Flats exactly 50 years to the day of his father’s long-postponed run for the record. 

The end result was a new record of 448.757 mph. But more importantly, Danny Thompson set that record in his dad’s 50-year-old car.

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