Challenger 2.5: Danny Thompson Races Toward the Bonneville Salt Flats

The onetime Ford driver sets out to finish what his racing-legend father Mickey Thompson started before being murdered in 1988

The outward appearance will be similar to the Challenger II, although as Danny shows me a small model of the 2.5 in the shop, he explains the tail will stick out farther and swoop upward. Otherwise, the chassis, aerodynamics and hand-formed aluminum skin will be the same. Huntington Beach custom painter Chip Foose, whom you may recognize from Overhaulin' on the Velocity channel, will transform that skin, which on this day is piled up in a corner of ThompsonLSR and resembles the dull side of aluminum foil.

Instead of twin Ford 427s, 2.5 is powered on either side of the cockpit by a pair of dry-block, nitro-fueled Hemi V8 engines in an all-wheel-drive configuration. The engines are dry blocks or waterless, so all cooling is provided by the fuel. (I'm told that since my visit, vents have been added to the front to cool the engine even more.) Overall horsepower will approximately double, from 600 front engine and 1,200 rear engine to an even 2,000 per. In other words, Challenger II was 1,800 horsepower; 2.5 is 4,000 horsepower It's estimated that to go 10 mph faster requires 110 more horsepower, Danny explains.

"We're trying to pierce a hole in the wind."

The front of the streamliner will house two 30-gallon, aluminum fuel tanks holding just enough nitromethane for one full-speed pass. The car ends its runs nearly 500 pounds lighter due to fuel consumption.

Thompson showed off the twin three-speed gear boxes that will link the engines together and counterbalance output, a marked improvement over what he calls the original "split gas pedal and Mickey's intuition" mechanism. Danny then holds up the original pedals and shows how, with his feet, Mickey would use "feel" to propel his machine forward.

"There's no way I would get in there with that," Danny says with a laugh.

The tires—custom-made by Mickey Thompson Performance Tires, of course—are a prototype nylon weave backed with banded steel. There is only one-32th of an inch of rubber, as any more would spin off due to heat and expansion. They will expand three-quarters of an inch during a super-speed run, Thompson explains.

Primary stopping power is provided by dual parachutes that deploy 4-foot blossoms. Four carbon-fiber disc brakes are in place "just in case."

The team will be aiming for speeds around 350 mph in this October's planned test run. But adding horsepower and speed is not nearly as difficult as raising money for a project estimated to cost $4 million by the time all is said and run.

Nothing on the streamliner has come off the shelf; everything is a one-off built specifically for that car. Danny points around his shop to a $6,000 part here or a $17,000 part he's lacking over there.

"We're really struggling financially," he confides. "That's why I went to Kickstarter. I'm hoping to raise $200,000. I can spend $50,000 a week really easily."

Yes, Mickey did not have the luxury of crowdfunding back in the day. Danny's Kickstarter campaign (at kck.st/18xEkT4), with 29 days to go as of Aug. 11, had 107 backers pledging $20,502 toward the $200,000 goal. The page breaks down what donors at different levels receive for their contributions, from custom stickers and hard-to-find Mickey Thompson decals for those who give $25 or more to one's company logo on Challenger 2.5 and honorary crew-member status for those in the $10,000 club. Rewards are scheduled to be distributed by December.

Thompson is also kicking up public interest by allowing voting through his often-updated thompsonlsr.com site on naming the streamliner and the paint scheme Foose is to apply after testing and in time for the record runs.

The major engineering and construction hurdles have been cleared, and fabrication, plumbing and electrical work remain. Besides paying for needed parts, having more money would increase the number of people who would be working in the shop, which would make it easier to achieve the deadlines Thompson has set.

If he doesn't jump out of his skin before then.

"It's a bitchen project," he says with a broad smile. "It's a project of my dad's that I get to finish. . . . It's a labor of love."

Cue the twinkle in his eyes.

"And I'm going to get to go real fast!"

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