Who Killed Mickey Thompson?
They called him "Mr. Speed," "The Speed King," or simply "The Man." For a time he held the title "Fastest Man in the World" after becoming the first to break the 400 miles-per-hour speed barrier, and he participated in over 10,000 races and drove over one million race miles. While most racers specialize in just one type of motorsport, he won one championships in an incredible variety of racing categories. Midgets, sprint cars, off-road, stock cars, drag racing, and sports cars - it was all the same to Mickey Thompson. Blessed with an uncommon mechanical sense and a fierce desire to succeed, he won in them all. And then somebody shot him dead.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a more cold-blooded murder than the one that occurred on the sunny morning of March 16, 1988. Thompson, then 59, and his wife Trudy, 41, walked out the front door of their Bradbury, California, home ready to go to work together as they had done for more than a decade. But as the birds sang and the neighbors watched in horror, the pair was gunned down execution-style by two hooded black men who then escaped on bicycles.
By that time in his life Thompson had left driving behind to become a racing promoter, and, as good as he was behind the wheel, many feel that promotion was his true calling. The guy knew how to sell a series and put together a deal. Take, for instance, off-road racing. A less viewer-friendly type of racing would be hard to imagine since the races were run in deserts miles from the nearest Godforsaken town. But Thompson saw something in the sport and transferred it, part and parcel, to baseball and football stadiums. The result: a big moneymaker.
Another result (at least allegedly): Thompson's untimely death. You see, Thompson's involvement in off-road stadium racing led to a business deal with a guy named Michael Goodwin, who did for off-road motorcycle racing pretty much what Thompson did for the car, truck, and dune buggy versions of the sport. Called by some "The Father of Supercross," Goodwin teamed with Thompson to put their complementary racing shows together, but the deal between two bull-headed guys went sour quicker than a quart of milk on a south-facing porch. The two sued each other; Thompson, ever the winner, emerged with a half-a-million-dollar settlement in his favor, and Goodwin emerged vowing revenge.
So when Thompson and his wife took bullets in the head in particularly brutal fashion that late-March day, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department had a ready-made suspect in one Michael Goodwin. But Goodwin had a tight-as-a-snare alibi for the morning in question, and the shooters vanished into the ether never to be seen again, even after composites ran on Unsolved Mysteries America's Most Wanted, and damn near every news show from sea to shining sea.
Now, grind forward 14 years. Still no sign of the shooters. Goodwin, still free but with significantly diminished income (being accused of murder severely limits one's marketability), is now approaching the age Thompson was when his face hit the driveway asphalt. And the police and prosecutors are still looking for a way to put Goodwin on trial.
Finally, they find it when new witnesses allegedly come forward to put the taint of incrimination on Goodwin, enough new evidence to justify an arrest and win an indictment. The most damaging is Goodwin's ex-girlfriend, who is expected to say that the motorcycle promoter admitted responsibility for having Thompson gunned down after viewing an Unsolved Mysteries episode on the case on TV. Another witness has testified to an Orange County, California, grand jury that Goodwin once told him Thompson was ruining him financially so he was going "to take him out." Presumably not dancing, either. Finally, other witnesses now claim they saw Goodwin scoping out the Thompson household just days before the murder.
Now the case is set to go to trial, but the big question is: does the prosecution have enough evidence to tie The Father of Supercross to the death of The Speed King without identifying the shooters? For the answer to that, we'll just have to stay tuned.
Driving Today Managing Editor Jack R. Nerad wrote Fatal Photographs, a book detailing the notorious bathing suit model murder case. He has been following the Mickey Thompson investigation from the beginning.