• Here’s Everything You Need to Know About Mickey Thompson - the First American to Hit 400 MPH

One of the greatest American-born race car drivers

Mickey Thompson was a lot of things to a lot of people. He was a racer, a businessman, and a promoter, all rolled into one. He was also the man behind several off-road sanctioning bodies, including SCORE International, which sanctions the famous Baja 1000 race. Thompson, though, is mostly known for one thing: he was the first American to ever to hit 400 mph.

Such an achievement has been lost to history, particularly the younger generation. But those who know about Thompson’s legacy will attest that, on top of his achievements, he remains one of the greatest American race car drivers in history whose impact on the sport remains to this day. Motor Trend saw fit to produce a short documentary of Thompson’s life and career, and if you didn’t know who Mickey Thompson was before this, go watch the documentary. You’ll know everything you need to know about one of the best racers to ever put on a racing helmet.

Who is Mickey Thompson?


There are segments of the car-loving population who aren’t familiar with Mickey Thompson. That’s fair. After all, Thompson became a household name in the American motor racing in the 60s.

He didn’t win as many races as some other racers that followed him, but he was regarded by a lot of people — and some till do, to this day — as the greatest hod-rod racer of all time. In his time, Thompson raced an assortment of race cars, ranging from stock cars to off-road racers to drag racers.

Here's Everything You Need to Know About Mickey Thompson - the First American to Hit 400 MPH
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He also went into the aftermarket business for performance cars, and it was down this road where he created the Mickey Thompson tires, the same brand of off-road tires that are routinely used by various off-road competitions to this day.

He’s also often credited as the man behind the design and build of the first-ever slingshot dragster, which became the go-to setup among drag racers until the introduction of the rear-engined digger in 1971.

All of these accomplishments, though, pale in comparison to what Thompson is best remembered for today.

What is Mickey Thompson most famous for?

Here's Everything You Need to Know About Mickey Thompson - the First American to Hit 400 MPH
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Ask anyone who knows who is the first American to hit 400 mph and you’ll get the same answer: Mickey Thompson.

To be clear, Thompson set a lot of speed and endurance records throughout his career. But none of those achievements are as important to his legacy as the day he took his purpose-built Challenger I racer to the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1960, determined to set a new land speed record.

Here's Everything You Need to Know About Mickey Thompson - the First American to Hit 400 MPH
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After countless hours spent developing the Challenger 1, Thompson, with the help of his team, achieved what was thought of as impossible at that time, hitting a top speed of 406.6 mph in a one-way speed record attempt at the Salt Flats.

The high mark topped the previous 402-mph, one-way speed record set by Englishman John Cobb.

Thompson’s record time has since been broken numerous times, but there is long-lasting appeal to the distinction of being the first to ever to do it. That’s where Thompson’s name belongs. He was the first American to hit speeds of over 400 mph. No one’s toppling him from that pedestal.

Is this documentary worth watching?

Here's Everything You Need to Know About Mickey Thompson - the First American to Hit 400 MPH
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If you’ve made it this far, and you still haven’t watched the documentary, I suggest you go and give it a proper look. It’s not your typical documentary in the way it dives deep into Thompson’s life and career, but it does offer the kind of perspective about the man that a lot of us who didn’t get to see his racing exploits will appreciate.

Kirby Garlitos
Automotive Aftermarket Expert - kirby@topspeed.com
Kirby’s first exposure into the world of automobiles happened when he caught Knight Rider on television as a five-year old boy. David Hasselhoff didn’t leave much of an impression on him (that happened later on in Baywatch), but KITT certainly did. To this day, Kirby remains convinced that he will one day own a car with the same ‘spirit’ as the original KITT (not the 2008 monstrosity). He doesn't know when that will be, but until then, he’s committed to expressing his love for KITT, and all cars for that matter, here at TopSpeed.  Read More
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