THOMPSON / CHALLENGER: JUDY
Mickey Thompson’s first wife. She was there on the salt flats for all
speed attempts. They divorced in 1969. I interviewed her over the phone
at her home in Huntington Beach, California on July 17, 2009.
name do you use now?
Creach. I went by Thompson-Creach for a long time, but when my second
passed away it was crazy, so I just started going by Judy Creach.
understand that Mickey didn’t sleep much.
right. Sometimes he slept, but he really didn’t sleep. Because I’d wake
the morning and there’d be a [garbled] a mile long.
he was at Bonneville running for the
record, were there any particular tasks that you did?
didn’t have fire suits or anything then, so he wore leather motorcycle
and jacket and everything and they were loose at the bottom and the
end. So I
had to tape them all up. About the only thing I ever heard him say he
afraid of, and that was fire. Because he was so contained inside the
the Challenger that if it caught on
fire he couldn’t get out. Because Fritz [Voigt] used to have to bang
him on the
head to get him in.
you would tape the pants legs of those
the pants legs at the bottom. And his gloves would go over. If we had
have now, you know, we wouldn’t have lost a driver at Indianapolis.
it was such a tight squeeze, could
Mickey get out of the car by himself?
think he could have gotten out. It was the helmet. The roll bar was
made to fit
him with his helmet on. That’s how they bent the material that went
roll bar. I think he probably could have [gotten out], but it would
awful hard. If he was on fire he probably would have been burned badly
time he got out.
Mickey turn his head at all when his
head was pushed back into that pocket?
He said all he had to see was that little square [of window] right in
him. As long as he could see the black line he was okay. That’s about
Mickey’s book it says that that
windshield was only four inches square. Was it really that small?
it was. It was very small.
you went to the salt flats did you
usually take your kids along?
We’d leave them with either Mickey’s folks or my folks. Usually
because my folks passed away early. In fact, one time we were there so
that when I came back my youngest, a little girl, didn’t even know me.
riding a tricycle at her grandparents house and I was so lonesome and I
to her and she looked at me like, “Huh?”
when Mickey fell unconscious in 1959
because of the fumes. Do you have any memories of that?
yeah. What had happened was his oxygen line had either come lose or was
Anyway, he wasn’t getting any oxygen. And all of a sudden he veered off
Fritz and I were always behind him, but needless to say he was a long
ahead of us. I hate cell phones, but I think if we had cell phones in
days everything would have been so much easier. So once we pushed him
he took off, of course he grew smaller and smaller to where we couldn’t
see him because of the curvature of the earth. So when we got to where
see him, he had veered off course. No wreck. No violence. No anything,
recall. And as I said, I did turn 80 last year and boy, my thinker
clear. Fritz, he’s 86 now, he’s still real clear on a lot of this
when Fritz got out and opened the canopy, he [Mickey] was unconscious.
immediately checked the line and it was gone. But right then and there
couldn’t tell you what happened. Fritz pulled him out of the car, and
maybe I helped.
you were right there. You were in the
vehicle with Fritz.
think. You know, sometimes you hear a
story so long and then Fritz will say, “You weren’t there on that,” or
to him, “You weren’t there. It was just Mickey and I.” And we’ll go,
So when I’m questioned about it, because I knew the whole incident so
well—sometimes I wonder if I was
there. But if Fritz said I was or wasn’t, I would believe him.
ask about the sponsorship Mickey
received. I mention the four engines from Pontiac,
and the $10,000 from Goodyear.]
think we got, besides the engines from Pontiac,
it seems that was when we got a $10,000 check from them too. That was
the extent of it. We didn’t have hardly any money at all.
the sponsorship amounted to some
equipment and ten-odd thousand dollars.
Right. I mean, we were never given—if you think about what the guys are
now, it’s just astronomical. My son Danny wants to do it [go after the
speed record] so bad. He set the record at Bonneville last year for
Mustang. He’s working with Ford right now and they’re trying for 300
in the Mustang...Mickey was building this second streamliner when he
Danny has that. And Danny’s big desire in life is to run that car at
Bonneville. So he’s trying right now for sponsors. He was telling me
day some figures. Just to bring the FIA over from Europe,
it’s like $10,000 a day or something. It’s just ridiculous.
we did what we did—I’m sure you’ve read about Donald Campbell. He just
at us and he said, “You’ve got to be kidding me. You don’t have
designs?” And I looked at Donald and said, “Yeah we do. They’re all on
floor of the garage in El
And he said, “No, that’s impossible.” Because he came in with an
I don’t know, he must have had 25 or 30 people with him. So we didn’t
ask Judy about the story Mickey tells in
his autobiography of running on the salt in 1960, when it is so rough,
was getting shaken so badly that he emerges from the cockpit vomiting
pain. I have found no corroboration of this in any other source. Does
any recollection of it?]
don’t remember that.
wonder if that was an embellishment.
don’t know. Griff Borgeson wrote that [book]. I really don’t remember
you have been there, though?
yeah, I didn’t miss anything. But I don’t remember that at all.
Mickey did his 406.6 mph in Sept.
1960, someone painted on the Bonneville sign, the one with Cobb’s
record on it,
“M. Thompson, 406.60 MPH.” Would someone in Mickey’s crew have done
that by any
I don’t know. Fritz would probably know that too.
have a number for Fritz’s shop on Slausen Avenue.
Would he still visit that shop?
goes every day, but he just goes to go....
real name is Frederick, right?
I never knew him as Frederick.
He’s a wonderful guy....He remembers all that stuff. One time at
Bonneville—they worked all night when we were at Bonneville—he [Fritz]
out of his sleep and went over to the garage because he thought of
other. Anyway, they’d put some gears in backwards. And he just
wanted to check those gears, and they were in the wrong way. It hit him
middle of the night. He did that a lot, where somebody would be in
charge of a
certain part of the car and he would always check it.
Fritz and Mickey sound like real
characters, real forceful guys. How did they get along? Were they
cussing at each other?
yeah. They called each other an SOB just as a matter of fact. [Laughs]
Fritz has got a mouth like a truck driver.
are some good quotes from Fritz in
Arneson’s book. They’re quite earthy.
that’s him. Fritz was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in Osceola, Florida.
And his wife now—and he said it when they gave him this honor—he said,
said I should keep a bar of soap in the pocket of my suit so I could
mouth clean.” I don’t know if you know people like this, but there are
who swear and it sounds awful, and then there’s people that just talk
When Mickey and I first started going with Fritz and his first wife, or
wife or third wife or something, we would go to Las Vegas. And the first time we did
were in the hotel room that night and I said, “Mickey, I can’t stand
the way he
talks. He’s awful.” And Mickey says, “No, that’s just how he talks.
even swearing.” I thought he was just terrible. Of course I ended up
him for ten years and realized that that wasn’t what he was like.
about Mickey? Was he pretty colorful in
He was when he was with the guys, but he
was very careful around me and the kids.
ask Judy why Mickey decided to announce
his retirement from land speed competition in Sept. 1962.]
not real sure on that. I think he was discouraged. Money was another
kind of changed after Dave McDonald was killed. That was later, though
Because he was really hard on Danny, our boy. He didn’t want him to
of the danger?
He did not want him to race.
after the McDonald crash?
he was always that way with Danny. When we ran the drag strip Danny had
quarter midget and he raced over there. And one day there was an
could see that because I worked in the tower. But I saw Mickey running
the pits and down there. Somebody had told him that somebody got hurt
quarter midget, had broken their back, and he thought it was Danny. And
down there and he took Danny’s car away from him and wouldn’t let him
again. And it wasn’t Danny [who had crashed]. Danny always did what his
said, but then he came to the point where he wanted to race. And Mickey
“I don’t want you to race. I won’t support you or anything.” And Danny
“That’s okay. I’m going to race anyway.”
did Mickey think about Breedlove and
the arrival of the jet cars at Bonneville, which really changed the
thought that was just fine. But he didn’t think, as all of us did, that
cars should be in the same category as internal combustion [i.e.
cars. They’re like riding a bicycle and flying an airplane, they’re so
different. He didn’t think they should be bunched in the same category.
Breedlove were friends and of course he knew all those guys, the Green
guy, I’m trying to think of his name...
yeah. Those guys were all friends of ours and everything. That was
They wanted to use those big jet engines and so forth. But that’s not
Mickey called racing. Because he was racing as a hot rodder. Not as any
engineer or anything like that. He was a plain old hot rodder, and he
want that reputation changed.
newspapers in Sept. 1960 Mickey is quoted
as saying that plans were afoot to make a Hollywood
movie about his life. I guess it never came off.
it never did come off. Several people called him and approached him,
think they were just talking through their hats. They did make one
“The Man in the Iron Cage.” But it was phony.
it a feature film or a documentary?
have a copy of it. It was like a documentary. It did play here in Orange County.
I never went to see it, but I did get a copy of it, and I couldn’t even
the end of it, it was so bad.
it loosely based on Mickey’s life?
and it was all mixed up. The timelines were all wrong in it. I know
wasn’t happy with it. Anyway, it didn’t go. It was just dumped. So that
thing. But there were a lot of those things. I remember some guy was
book on Challenger and he [Mickey]
said, “You’ve got to send the first chapter to my wife and let her
it.” And they [this writer] had us running away in a milk truck
together to get
married. You know, that’s stupid. I called him back and said, “That’s
happened.” And he said, “Yeah, but it’s much more exciting.” I said, “I
care about exciting.” [Later, at 26:35, Judy mentions that a movie is
in the works on Mickey’s life. “My son’s working on it. I don’t ask
that film “The Man in the Iron Cage” made
back in the 1960s, or later?
was later, because it had his [Mickey’s] new wife, Trudy, in it. It had
with me, I was there, only they had Trudy there, her face. And they
married in...I forget, ’72, I think, or ’71. So it had to be after that.
after announcing in 1962 that he was
retiring from land speed competition, Mickey announced that he was
the game with a rocket car he was then building. There was never any
on this, so I guess it didn’t pan out. Do you know anything about that?
I didn’t know anything about that. Fritz can probably fill you in on
For all of us,
those years are unforgettable.
biggest regret is, if he had to die, that he died the way he did and
racing. He’d have loved to die racing. Because it was that important to
When people lose loved ones doing something they loved, I say, “At
were doing something they loved.”...Why would you live your life
saying, “Oh, I
might get hurt.” And I raised my kids that way too. I mean, what’s
happen, happens. You might as well enjoy your life. It’s too short.