Mark Thompson Enjoys Senior Moment

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, February 18 2018

Mark Thompson earned a starting point and then competed at Sunday’s Daytona 500. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

By Jeff Hood | Senior Writer

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Soldier on, Mark Thompson.

Amidst NASCAR’s publicity push over its fresh flock of young drivers, there was virtually no fanfare over the 66-year-old Thompson establishing a remarkable record when the green flag waved to signify the start of today’s 60th-annual Daytona 500.

Before Sunday, the oldest driver to turn a lap in the Great American Race was the seemingly ageless wing-tip shoe-wearing Dave Marcis, who accomplished the feat at the age of 61.

Thompson easily shattered that record by climbing aboard his No. 66 Phoenix Air Ford and starting shotgun on the 40-car field.

Sunday’s 60th version of the 500 will mark Thompson’s final time behind the wheel of a race car.

“It’s time,” said Thompson, who graduated from high school before any of the 39 other drivers in the starting field were born.

“I’m still in pretty good shape. But I think this sport is probably geared more now for younger drivers, even though I think 43 (referencing Dale Earnhardt Jr.) is probably early to retire.”

The Cartersville, Ga. native, best known in racing circles as a part-time competitor in ARCA, was the first driver introduced to the sell-out crowd and, thus, the first to make it to his car on pit road.

He was greeted by a half dozen or so well-wishers as the 39 other drivers streamed past during pre-race ceremonies. With a grin on his face, the veteran driver looked out and reminisced about his lengthy part-time stock car racing career.

Thirty yards up the starting grid, hundreds of fans flocked to Danica Patrick’s No. 7 car hoping to snap a picture of her and new boyfriend, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

That mattered little to Thompson, who has grown accustomed to watching such photo-op moments at a distance.

Knowing he was getting ready to establish a record that might never be broken during the final start of his racing career, Thompson humbly-offered “I really haven’t given any of that much thought” when asked about making history at Daytona International Speedway.

As other drivers poured their hearts and souls and a wad of money into racing over the past three decades, Thompson focused on building his Cartersville-based business, Phoenix Air, which does a lot of work for the military and performs difficult airlifts.

Thompson, who cut his teeth as a pilot by learning to fly while serving in the Army during his late teens and early twenties, continues to remain active in his company.

“I still fly quite a bit,” he said.

At the one-fourth mark during Sunday’s 200-lap event, Thompson showed his cat-like reflexes in the cockpit are as strong as ever. That’s when 2015 Cup Series champion Kyle Busch’s No. 18 Toyota blew a tire and spun in front of Thompson.

The veteran of 100 ARCA, four Xfinity and two previous Cup races, calmly slowed his Ford Fusion and steered past Busch’s crumpled Camry.

Driving a car he purchased from Richard Petty Motorsports after the King’s team switched from Ford to Chevrolet during the offseason, Thompson said prior to the race his goals for the 500 were minimal.

“If we can finish this race and bring home a complete car, it would be a good day,’ he said. “I’m a realist. There are a lot of multi-million dollar teams here.”

Thirteen laps later, he duplicated the feat by dodging a multi-car crash in Turn 2 that knocked out several pre-race favorites. Suddenly, the driver only racing diehards are aware of found himself knocking on the door of the running order’s top 30 in the biggest race on one of auto racing’s grandest stages.

Thompson wound up missing the carnage of the multiple multi-car crashes during the final 11 laps of Sunday’srace to bring his No. 66 home to a solid payday with a 22nd-place finish.

“That was interesting,” Thompson said afterwards, while surveying a slight scrape to the passenger side of his Ford. “There were a few moments. But we made it.”

Don’t expect to see Thompson give Daytona another whirl next February to just to further etch his name in the Daytona 500 record book one more time.

“Probably not,” he said with a smile. “I think this is it.”

“It’s time.”

Soldier on, Mark Thompson.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, February 18 2018
One Comment

One Comment »

  • Jeff D. says:

    Congratulations Mark! We met years ago, out in Adak Alaska, when I was the airport manager for the caretaker service contractor at the old Navy base. I’ve been to speed-weeks in Daytona many times since then, and have always kept an eye out for you in the ARCA races you ran as well as anytime I have seen the series on TV.

    I still remember the last flight I talked to you, when you and Ronnie Lee (with one of his flight suit pant-cuffs always caught up on the top of his cowboy boots)came through with a G-1 and a Lear. I always loved listening to your racing stories. Wishes of continued luck to you and yours in the years to come.