The Challenger II Returns To Bonneville: The Mission
On Saturday, Bonneville Speedweek, the world’s preeminent festival of speed will kick off at the legendary Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, where generations of racers and hot rodders, dating back to 1912, have been pursuing their place in automotive history. Always a major attraction in the late summer months, this year’s Speedweek has taken on considerable buzz, due in large part to the number of well-equipped challengers to George Poteet’s all-time record for a wheel-driven vehicle of 462 MPH — not the least of whom is Danny Thompson, the son of high performance icon Mickey Thompson.
The younger Thompson and a whole squad of volunteers and supporters have been working tirelessly for more than four years to return the streamliner originally campaigned by his father in 1968, then known as the Autolite Special, to the very place where it belongs.
After a failed attempt in 1960 with the Challenger I when the famous car broke down on the return run after topping the existing record, the elder Thompson returned eight years later with the Challenger II, but was foiled by a rainstorm that rendered the Bonneville course unfit for competition. After retiring from racing in 1988, Mickey and his son set out to restore the Challenger II and go after the record, but as history sadly recalls, the elder Thompson and his wife were tragically murdered before he and his son ever made it to Bonneville. But on the 50th anniversary of his father’s famous 406 mile per hour clocking on the salt flats, Danny Thompson brought the Challenger II out of storage and set the wheels in motion to put the car in the history books.
Competing alongside modern machines straight out of the 21st century, Thompson will challenge the wheel-driven record in a machine that first made an attempt more than 40 years ago, with an exterior design virtually unchanged from that which his father took to the salt with all those years ago. In the final test leading up to Speed Week, Thompson topped 317 miles per hour, proving that this piece, albeit fit for a quieter life in a museum, still has plenty of youth and exuberance left in it. Something left to prove, if you will.
All the work and the untold dollars invested, all the tireless nights, the sacrifices, the ups and downs — it all culminates next week for Danny Thompson and his team at Bonneville.
The Power Automedia crew has been documenting the Challenger II project since the beginning, and with the help of the Thompson LSR team and Mickey Thompson Performance Tires & Wheels, four teaser videos have been cut to help lead up to the culmination of their efforts at Speed Week. The video you see here is the first of these, with a new teaser being presented each day this week. Enjoy, and keep it tuned here for the latest on this historic outing.
Photos by Holly Martin