But his career came to an end in 1988, when he and his wife, Trudy, were shot and killed outside their home in California's San Gabriel Mountains.
Their murders remained an unsolved mystery for more than a decade. But Thompson's sister, Colleen Campbell, never stopped hunting for the killers. She says she knows who did it - her brother's business partner, Michael Goodwin.
But can she help police prove it? Correspondent Bill Lagatutta reports on a case he's been covering for years. This story was first broadcast in May 2002.
On April 10, 1960, in the Utah desert called Bonneville Salt Flats, the world watched in awe as Mickey Thompson drove his car 406 miles an hour - setting a world record for land speed.
Thompson made headlines and was forever known as the speed king. But nearly 30 years later, in California, his name would be on the front page again.
It was March 16, 1988, when Mickey and his wife, Trudy, set out for work, as they always did together, at 6 a.m.
"About 15 seconds went by with silence and all of a sudden I heard Mickey Thompson, who was our next door neighbor, and he was screaming," says neighbor Lance Johnson, who recalls being startled out of bed.
Allison Triarsi, who was 12 at the time of the murder, was looking out her bedroom window. She remembered seeing Mickey being held by a gunman, pleading with them not to hurt his wife: "My mom was right here, screaming at the top of her lungs. These guys didn't flinch. They didn't stop for a second."
"The killers picked up his wife's head, held a gun to it so he could see that," says Johnson. "And then shot her right in the head, and killed her in front of his eyes. And then killed him."
Everyone in the racing community expressed shock and outrage at the deaths - no one more so than Michael Goodwin, Mickey Thompson’s business partner.
“It was a tragedy and it was apparently an assassination," says Goodwin. "Somebody shot them, so it wasn’t an accidental death."
Police put out sketches of two hooded gunman, but the shooters disappeared.
For 14 years, there were no arrests. The brutal murders, coupled with Mickey Thompson’s stature, led to a major investigation. But there were no fingerprints, and no weapon was ever found.
Thompson’s family and friends, however, say they knew who was behind the murders from the beginning. “My first thought was Mickey was right, Mike Goodwin did kill him,” says Colleen Campbell, Mickey's sister.
Goodwin says he can’t get away from the murders, even though he denies any involvement with his former partner's murder: “Nothing I do now doesn’t have a cloud over it, wondering if it’s going to be the last day I have freedom."
Thompson's former partner used to have a beautiful wife, and with the money from a career as a rock promoter, he pursued a life of luxury. Now, he lives in a trailer with his aging father.
When they first met, Thompson was a hero, and Goodwin was a fan.
In 1978, Thompson had an idea that would transform the racing world and bring outdoor racing indoors. By then, Goodwin was already staging the same kind of stadium road show – only with motorcycles. He called it “Supercross.” It was only a matter of time before Thompson and Goodwin went into business together.
But the partnership did not go smoothly. “It was truly hell from the first day,” says Goodwin.
Thompson felt the same way, according to his sister: “Mickey called me on the phone and he said, ‘Goodwin has stolen $50,000 from me’ and I said, ‘What!’ And he said, ‘Colleen, I think the guy’s a crook.’”
Goodwin denies stealing any of the partnership’s money and insists the problem was that Mickey Thompson just wouldn’t live up to the deal.
Thompson went to court, claiming Goodwin had stolen thousands of dollars from their business. He won a $514,000 judgment against his partner. Goodwin declared bankruptcy and appealed the ruling. But it dragged through the legal system for two years before Goodwin’s appeal was shot down.
Thompson’s family and friends say that’s when Goodwin got ugly. Colleen says that her brother told her he was worried that Goodwin would hurt Trudy. Goodwin denies ever making any death threats against Thompson or his wife.
But retired cop Bill Wilson remembers differently: “I said, ‘How was it going, Mike?’ He said, ‘Thompson is killing me, taking everything I got.’ He says, ‘I am going to take him out.’”
“So I thought, let’s try some logic, so I said ‘C’mon Mike nobody wins that way.’ I said, ‘He’s dead and you’re in prison.’ And he said, ‘No, they won’t catch me. I’m too smart for that.’”
Goodwin says, "I did not tell Bill Wilson or anyone else I was going to take out Mickey Thompson. And I didn't."
From the very beginning, Goodwin was the lead suspect. No one suggested he pulled the trigger. Instead, authorities suspected that he had hired the hit men, who got away, leaving almost no evidence. Under suspicion for 13 years, but never arrested, Goodwin says he’s been a convenient target, and it’s ruined his life.
“I cannot imagine a more quantum change from what our life was back then to what it’s been now. I’ve lost my wife over this. I’ve become a pariah in many circles,” he says.