I have some great Mickey Thompson stories, but most don't pertain to drag
racing. Mickey and I partnered up for a few off road races in the 80's
before he got shot. We spent many hours driving to and from off road races
in Mexico and Nevada. He had some colorful tales! And we made a few colorful
Like the time we got stuck in a fast moving stream while pre-running a
race down in Mexico. We come upon a group of the best off road racers in the
world gathered at the bank of a mountain river. They were waiting for the
water level to drop, so they could cross. MT, without hesitation, drives
into the water and gets us stuck half way across. Sitting in the car, we
were up to our chests in water. The VW engine had the distributor and carb
sticking out of the water, but the motor died. The stream was dragging us
down river. A group of racers who had decided not to cross the raging stream
was lining the bank laughing at us.
I climbed out of my seat, using the frame and roll cage to work my way
back to the motor and the toolbox to get some WD40. I popped off the
distributor cap and sprayed some WD into the distributor and on the coil.
Mickey was still seated in the car. He got it fired up, shifted into gear,
and tried to go ahead. The car moved a couple of feet, but was pushing up
against a huge underwater rock and quit going forward. Mickey was shifting
from first to reverse and back trying to move that huge rock, which wasn't
budging a bit. I was yelling at him to quit before he broke the whole damn
car. He kept trying to move that rock.
The banks were covered with people laughing at us. Some of off-road
racing’s elite were in our audience: Ivan Stewart, Malcolm Smith, Joe
MacPherson, and dozen or so more. Mickey broke the shifter off. Ivan and the
others were yelling instructions between bursts of laughter. It was a very
funny scene from their point of view. I found some vise grips in the toolbox and while hanging upside down from the roll cage, monkey bar style with
my legs hooked over the cage, I took a big deep breath and went head
first into the water to secure the vise grips to the broken linkage so he
could shift the trans back into gear. Mind you, this water was from the
melting snow further up the mountain. We were freezing our butts off!
Finally, Mickey gives up. About that time, two caballaros (cowboys in
Mexico) come riding up to the banks on their horses. Mickey wades across the
river and talks to them for a minute; I see money exchange hands and the
next thing I see is these two Mexican Cowboys lassoing the front shock
towers. Now the riverbank sounded like the comedy club! Believe it or not,
these cowboys get us unstuck and we are able to get out of the stream. As we
stood shivering on the opposite bank, Mickey yells back at the
"suckers" that didn't cross, because, as he put it, "We would
be in a warm bed while they would be out there all night waiting for the
water to subside."
And away we went, traveling at almost dark, about 35 degrees out with
nothing dry to wear, at speeds that only the best could sustain. About 50
miles down the road from the stream we came into a little town called Valle
De Trinidad. Mickey finds the only storeowner in town and buys us some dry
clothing. I was so cold that I was shaking too bad to talk. I'm sure I was
blue. We changed clothes right there in the store in front of this Mexican
woman and her children. It was a windfall for the storeowner. Mickey buys
enough clothing for four people. We put it all on! Hats, gloves, underwear,
pants, shirts, jackets, and even sweatshirts. That Mexican lady was all
Next, we find some gas. Mexican gas. PEMEX. Stuff musta been about 80 octane
and water. So, MT buys some octane booster. Leaving the Pemex station, he
tells me to drive. It's a 140-KM drive to San Felipe. I take the highway
instead of the dirt. MT falls asleep within 10 miles of leaving town. I am
almost asleep myself, as traveling with MT meant going forever without
sleep. Mind you we are in an open wheeled buggy here and the wind is coming
through as there is no windshield, only my goggles. I'm freezing my butt off,
and the motor is pinging.
At about 50 miles out, I see the oil light flashing. The Pemex was doing
its job, wiping out the rings from the detonation. I stop and pour in the
last of our spare oil. It is still a quart low. I nurse it for the next
30-40 miles and I can see the lights of the town of San Felipe off in the distance.
The oil light has quit flickering. It is now bright as can be, staying on
full time. At the last minute, MT wakes up just as the motor locks up. I
flip it to neutral and coast to a stop on the side of the highway, 10 miles
short of our destination and a warm bed. MT is pissed at me for running the
motor until it locks up. He hitches a ride to the truck and comes back with
the trailer and we load up and head for California. California!
It's about midnight when we start. I'm thinking, great, no sleep tonight
(entering day 3 without sleep). I'm tired of getting chewed out for wrecking
the motor, so I climb into the sleeper box behind the back seat of the
dually. I can't sleep, as MT is driving at about warp speed. The next thing
I hear is the loudest bang I ever heard in my life. It sounded as though I
was in an oil drum and some threw in a cherry bomb. I came flying out of the
sleeper into the back seat of the dually. I asked Mickey, "What the
hell was that?" He says, "Don't worry about it, I hit something in
As we travel another five miles, I noticed he was nodding out, so I get him
to stop and I climb in the driver’s seat. There is no left-hand mirror. I
ask, where's the mirror. He acts like he has no idea! Seven hours later, I
climb into my own bed, saying, Never again! But then there was the Mint 400 and
The Nevada 500 coming up...
The only one even close to drag stories, was this: One day there was a great
big fire that burned his neighborhood down in Bradbury, California. Mickey
fought that fire with a two-inch water hose that he had the foresight to have
installed when he built his multi-car garage/shop/offices down the hill from
the house. He, his wife Trudy, and longtime mechanic John House stayed and
saved that garage from the flames. The fire took everything up to the doors,
and they were scorched and the eaves were burnt. Inside the garage were all of the original drag cars Mickey owned.
These included the Mustang funny cars, dragsters, and a few more. Parked on the garage
apron in an enclosed trailer was the four engine Challenger car in which he
attempted to set the LSR. The tires were afire on the trailer as Mickey
drug it to safety on the neighbor’s property. He drove the truck through
the flames to save that car. The firemen were pissed that he wouldn't leave.
I came up later to check out the destruction from the fire. His house was
the only one left standing in the neighborhood. I asked him why he stayed,
what was so important? He said, "My film collection."
Most people don't know that his films were the most important things he
owned. He had a cement vault with films of most of his career. It was shot during
his racing, and some of it was staged for editing into movies. He wanted to
make a movie of his life. It was his dream. I played some bit parts in some
of the footage. He even premiered a movie in Hollywood at the Actors Guild
Theater. Several big shots from racing were there to see it. It was titled
"Man in an Iron Cage," starring MT, his wife Trudy, and a
character actor named Denver Pyle. Must have been around 1982
when we went to that Premiere. I can't remember exactly when.