On the first day he started up his race car, Danny Thompson drank poison. He joked that he did it to impress a girl, but it was really an accident. A crew member had filled a Pellegrino water bottle with methanol, the sweet toxic fuel Thompson uses to warm up the engines.
It was hot, and the afternoon sun was beating down on the parking lot behind Thompson’s garage.Cheap Jerseys china He wiped beads of sweat from his brow, took a long swig, and the next thing anybody knew, he was gagging and heaving in the bushes.
Man, did it burn going down. Burned coming back up, too.
He spent the evening in the emergency room, where a doctor hooked him up to an IV saline solution and flushed him out in more ways than one. The damage: $1,300.
“They freaked out at poison control when I called,” Thompson said, his voice a hoarse growl. “That stuff can make you go blind.”
But Thompson was unfazed. He was back at work promptly at 7 the next morning. He snapped on his helmet, climbed into the cramped cockpit and gunned 4,000 horses of methanol fueled engines, this time mixing in a little nitro.
“Hoo ya,” he hooted, pumping his fist in the air. His baby, Challenger 2, was ready to roll.
Now, all he had to do was put on the wheels.
Later this summer, when the temperature dances around the century mark and the horizon shimmers over the Utah desert, Danny Thompson will squeeze into the “cigar on four wheels” that he has rebuilt by hand and rage across the desert floor faster than a 747 at takeoff.
He has more than one chance to break the record. The first was to have come this weekend, but rains forced the cancellation of the 100th annual Speed Week at the Bonneville Salt Flats. The next will be in mid September at Mike Cook’s Bonneville Shootout, followed by the Southern California Timing Association’s World Finals at Bonneville a few weeks later.
When his time comes, he will lie almost flat, his body mere inches from the earth, in a space the size of a coffin. He will see blinding white light ahead, noxious fumes will tease his nostrils, and he will hold onto the steering wheel for dear life; a wobble would signal that he’s losing his grip on the salt.
If he’s lucky, he’ll see the mile markers zip by 2, 3, 4, 5 and then he’ll pop the parachute.
Seventy seconds, that’s all it will take. Spectators who cluster at the three mile mark they can’t get any closer to the finish line for safety reasons will spot a tiny dot and a rooster tail of salt in the distance. Then, because light travels faster than sound, a few seconds later they’ll hear what sounds like a hive of angry bees.
In his mind, there can be just one outcome: Danny Thompson will hold the land speed record driving faster than 439 mph, maybe 450, maybe even 500 to hold onto the record for good. He’ll be the master of a tiny universe, one of just a dozen men to top 400 mph in a piston engine car.
He is not even thinking about the third possibility: Failure.
His father, Mickey, was one of racing’s early giants, an innovator who tasted both success and failure. He became the first American to top 400 mph, back in 1960, but a technicality kept him out of the record books.
Mickey was 32 then. Danny will be twice that age, and he doubts more than a few people will notice his feat, no matter how fast he goes.
Danny first seriously thought about restoring his father’s race car, Challenger 2, four years ago, on the 50th anniversary of Mickey’s record breaking run. It had been on his mind for a while, and he wasn’t getting any younger.
That was about $2 million ago. His retirement savings are gone, the 401(k) shot all to hell. He’s flat broke, not sure where his next dime will come from. He doesn’t have enough change to put gas in his pickup and jokes ruefully that he’ll go home one night and find his wife of 26 years has finally given up on him and changed the locks. He prays for a sponsor to magically appear.
But the truth is he’s never been happier.http://www.cheapjerseysgty4.top He can’t wait to get up in the morning and go to work. He’s fit, his cholesterol is low, and there’s a twinkle in his eye. No 64 year old should feel this frisky.
Danny knows he’s risking his life. Mickey didn’t want him to race because losing his son in a crash was his worst fear. In the end, it was Mickey who died too young and it wasn’t behind the wheel of a race car.
When he lost Mickey, for awhile Danny lost a version of himself. Now the youthful race car driver in him is back, and he craves speed.
“He’s hungry in a way that a very small percentage of people are,” says Danny’s 26 year old son, Travis. “He’s hungry in a way that is not vicious, that doesn’t want to hurt other people. He’s hungry for his own success.”
It’s not easy to measure that success. There’s no pot of gold at the end of this rainbow, and likely no fame, either. So why is he doing it?
Racing is in Danny Thompson’s blood. He idolized his hot rodder father, an icon of Southern California’s car culture whose motto was “stand on the gas.”
Danny’s parents met in high school, during spring break in Newport Beach; Judy, a cool blonde, beat Mickey at street racing and he asked her to a dance. She didn’t like the red haired Irishman at first; he was short and a bit of a loudmouth. But he took her to a drag race at El Mirage, and love bloomed.
Judy was in the middle of a valve job, covered with grease, when she went into labor with Danny. Mickey wasn’t home. He was off racing, and setting the first of many records.
As he grew up, all Danny wanted to do was race cars. By the time he was 9, he was entering events in the quarter midget class at Lions, a drag strip his father managed outside Long Beach. Kids drove race cars a quarter the size of adult cars around a track Mickey built behind the grandstand.