LSR: CHALLENGER 2
to Thompson, salt
tastes better than
bricks, although the
sting on his parched
lips stayed with him
for hours after.
“Bonneville is a really
mythical place. Man, just
talking about it, I get
goosebumps every time”
Hemi V8s. A few modern sensors have
been added. And, thanks to the patterns
made by the swirling salt dust that coats
the car after a run, a few aero tweaks
have been incorporated. Everything else
has been restored from the original.
“I was in high school when my dad built
this car,” Thompson reflects. “I swept the
shop floors, but I was never allowed to
touch the car. I have no experience to build
on, so I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure
things out. I’ve built parts that have had
to be rebuilt. It can take days to solve a
problem, and then I’ll wake up in the middle
of the night with an idea that I have to
write down right away, otherwise I’ll forget.
“Most cars you race for a year or two
and then you move on to the next one,”
he adds. “But I’ve got a real relationship
with this car. I’ve spent most of my waking
time over the past seven years with it.
Before that, it sat in my shop for 18
years. I can’t wait to get in the shop in the
morning. No matter what else is going on,
no matter what the problems may be on
any given day, when I open the door and
see her...it makes me smile. So, I guess
it’s going to be hard to let go, but after
this, she’s done. Hopefully, she’ll go to
a museum somewhere.”
On Sept. 9, 2014, Thompson
completed a run across the salt flats at
419mph. To make it official, he had to
complete a second run within 24 hours.
The following day, Challenger 2 took off
perfectly, but as the car was building
speed, a clutch failure shut it down. No
record. And then...it rained. History was
starting to repeat itself.
It’s taken two years for the salt at
Bonneville to be record-worthy again.
It’s two years longer than Thompson had
anticipated it would take to finish what his
father started. On Aug. 13, 2016, he
returned to Bonneville, and drove
Challenger 2 all the way to 411.191mph.
The following day he went 402.348mph,
and the average of the two earned him
an AA/FS record of 406.7 mph from the
Southern California Timing Association
(SCTA). It’s only a precursor to the
FIA-sanctioned run scheduled to take
place on Sept. 15, 2016, when he’s aiming
to set an accredited international land
speed record. He knows there’s more
speed in the car, because he took it “easy”
in order to save the engines. For the FIA
record attempt, they’ll make a few aero
tweaks and run more nitro/methanol.
Destiny is finally within reach, and
Thompson can hardly wait to get back.
“Bonneville is a really mythical place.
Early in the morning, when it’s so still and
quiet out there, it feels like someplace
not of this world,” he says, with a far off
gaze. “Man, just talking about it, I get
goosebumps every time.”
Along with the anticipation, there’s
the sense of a weight on his shoulders.
But it’s the weight of culmination, rather
than a burden. It’s all those years, days
and hours that have piled up for this
one moment waiting to be unleashed.
Standing on the cusp of a lifetime
achievement, what does Thompson think
his dad would make of all this, assuming
he indeed breaks the record? He smiles,
and if you look quickly, you’ll catch his
eyes momentarily well up.
“He’d probably say, ‘You didn’t go
If he doesn’t, it won’t be for lack of trying.