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RETRO REVISITED: Two-Way Thompson

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It is February 1958 and the new dragstrip of Lions Associated Drag Strip isn’t so new anymore and has become known for a combination of super racing; their share of world record runs with innovative and entertaining show programs. Perhaps the craziest idea ever has just become introduced to all who decide what to show at Lions.

The present track manager and the only track manager since its opening in October of 1955, Mickey Thompson, had carved out a reputation over the years as bold, brash, gregarious, engaging and innovative. This latest plan of his to launch on the drag racing world might tag him with a label he may never get rid of.

Two-way Thompson.

No, not that. Thompson had a brainstorm one day and liked it so much he not only took it to the Lions decision makers, of which he was the head honcho, but pitched them on a new way to determine who is to be the champion for a weekend of racing.

“What we do is have every race car make their normal run down the track and record their elapsed time and their speed just as we normally do. Then that same race car will cruise way down to the far end of the strip, turn around and from the special designated starting line there, make a run back down the track a quarter of a mile to the new designated finish line and their times back that way will also be recorded.  The car with the best average for the two runs, first south then back north, will be determined the winner!”

We can only guess at the number of dropped jaws at the table.

Probably after a moment of silence, someone asked to see if they could make sure they were clear on the concept. “OK, so it’s that second run I’m especially interested in. What we will have is an A/Dragster probably sporting a huge blown Chrysler engine running at least 140 mph headed straight for the normal starting line which would, of course, be loaded with people standing there all across it, not to mention the timing tower on the left, ah, make that their right, and then a grandstand full of spectators just past that. Do I pretty much have it right?”

“Absolutely,” Mickey shouts as he jumps up sporting a huge grin. “Ain’t it great?” We assume Mickey also doubled as the safety director.

Whatever else transpired at the meeting we don’t know, but what we do know is it was decided to have this event with the neat little twist of racing back down the strip. It would be held on the weekend of February 23-23, 1958. Now it’s time to go sell this to the racers. Someone suggested, “Mickey, I believe that falls in the definition of the track manager’s responsibilities.”

Well, don’t ever underestimate this Mickey Thompson guy. Whether it was with a grin or a strong-arm, the racers and team owners seemed to love the concept. In fact, there was a big write-up in the February 8th edition of Drag News that read:

“Entries Mount for L.A.D.S. Two Way Record Meet Feb, 22 & 23.”

And then the week before the event another plug. This time they even went on to explain how the winners and so on would be determined. They should not have done that. The concept, according to Drag News and, of course, directly from the Lions management, proclaims, “The entire awards roster is designed to offer the slower as well as the faster cars equal awards.” Huh?

Not to worry, that’s just for the cash awards. The car that has the fastest average for the two runs is the winner. The staff at Lions felt they had made the effort to insure all participants the times they were running were accurate. They enlisted the Chrondek Company, the frontrunners in the field of electronic timing, to set up the complicated timing system required for racing two different directions. Crondek’s head man, O.V. Riley, would personally oversee the surveying and the measurements of the two directional quarter-mile strips and each 132-foot trap section. Not an easy proposition, but testing showed he had installed a perfect timing system.

A full four-and-one-half hours was dedicated to this new two-way format on Saturday and then two more hours in the Sunday program from 10 a.m. until noon. At that point then the normal eliminations-type program would commence and class winners would be determined like any other normal drag race. One trip down the track, loser go home. Almost lost in the neck-bending nonsense was the fact that a brand-new world record was established in the Top Gas Dragster category! It was the potent team of Harryman, Brown & Frank in their blown Olds car who came agonizing close to the magic 150-mph mark when they stormed through the traps at 149.50 mph. Ironically this would become the only world record ever set where you had to ask, “Which direction did he set it in?” Another first happens at Lions.

However, the top average speed and top eliminator honors would go to the machine of Cyr & Hopper and their carbureted Chrysler entry with Ted Cyr at the wheel. Cyr would put down a best two-way average of 9.99 ET and would end up beating all others to be the top dog of the meet.

In the overall picture, the big experimental weekend of racing was a big success. There were huge crowds for both days, the top stars in all classes competing and cars going down the track in both directions. Mickey Thompson had pulled off yet another event that included something new and something old. Lions Drag Strip had etched one more notch as a boutique race facility where fans could not wait to see what was next in the creative mind of Mickey Thompson.

What didn’t happen was perhaps a bigger story. What if someone’s throttle stuck on the way back down the track on the second leg of the two-way run? Or careened out of control and plowed into the timing stand? These things did not happen, but for some reason, promoter extraordinaire Mickey Thompson never ran a two-way style race again. Perhaps, sitting there after the Sunday program was complete, sipping on a cold one, he realized just how lucky they were. Thompson was always known to push the envelope in his pursuit of the best and fastest when it came to all things racing, however, he may have realized his two-way racing concept had a couple of lug nuts missing.

Or he might have thought, “What if we do it again and this time run both directions at the same time!”

Read more stories from this acclaimed team of writers from the books of Mickey Bryant and Todd Hutcheson. 

 

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