Talladega, Ala, 10-11-00 - Mark Thompson, one of the most interesting drivers to ever don an ARCA uniform, will once again return to competition this week when the ARCA Winn-Dixie 300 rolls off at Talladega Superspeedway Saturday afternoon, October 14.
Thompson, who fields superspeedway equipment for veteran Bob Strait, has entered two teams for the superspeedway classic - a #21 Midway Island Ford Thunderbird with himself as driver, and a #66 Dauphin Tech-sponsored Taurus for Strait.
Two-time ARCA winner Thompson (Michigan & Charlotte), who finished 3rd in driver points in 1997 to Tim Steele and Frank Kimmel, was all set to assault the ARCA championship tour fulltime in '98 when his efforts were cut short by a horrendous crash at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March. The accident left the Cartersville, Georgia driver with seemingly career-ending head injuries. But Thompson, like he's done all his life, defied all odds and vowed to return to competition that year at Talladega where he qualified outside pole and finished 4th in the race.
But since that last run at Talladega, Thompson has refrained from climbing in a 3,400 lb stock car, temporarily content in his role as car owner for Strait. But with Talladega fast-approaching, that perceived contentment has all but run out, and the internationally-known entrepreneur will again return to driver's seat.
To understand Thompson's drive, one really needs to look at his entire life, because Mark Thompson, in one way or another, has always been in the driver's seat.
Thompson is the President/Owner of Phoenix Air Group, one of the largest independent operators of LearJets. In addition to the fleet of more than 20 LearJets, Phoenix Air is the largest operator of Gulfstream G-1 Turbo Props in the world. The company holds US Defense Department contracts to provide tactical warfare training services to the United States Air Force and the United States Navy. Phoenix Air also provides aerial target towing services for live-fire training for the US Navy, as well as in-flight launch of live target missiles for use in training. In addition to working with NATO forces in Europe and providing Medi-vac flight ambulance services worldwide, Phoenix Air has expanded its operation to include subcontracting delivery service with UPS and Fed Ex. The company is based out of Cartersville, Georgia at the Bartow Cartersville Airport and staffs as many as 40 pilots, Thompson being one of them.
And if that wasn't enough, Thompson has entered into a cooperative 20-year agreement with the US Department of Interior to maintain and operate Midway Island in the Pacific Ocean. Midway Island, a US Naval base for more than 50 years, was the site of the June 4th, 1942 'Battle of Midway'. The Battle of Midway, one of the turning points of World War II, was where the American Naval force clashed with the Japanese Imperial Navy. The battle was pivotal because the Japanese Navy never fully recovered from America's sting at Midway. Now, years later, rather than allow the sacred ground to be bull-dozed over, Thompson stepped in, funded the site with 20 million of his own dollars, and kept it open for the public to enjoy. It's, without a doubt, a labor of love for the fiercely proud Thompson whose goal is to recuperate a portion of his personal monetary contribution as well as, and more importantly, help keep the memory of the hallowed ground alive. As a result of Thompson's efforts, Midway Island has just been declared a national memorial by congress.
While veteran crew chiefs Bob Bissinger and Don Strait will keep their focus on Strait's effort at Talladega, they'll be doing double duty in an effort to keep Thompson sharp. As the level of competition in ARCA continues to rise, that will be a tall order. To help with that order, Thompson has hired veteran crew chief Terry Allen to turn wrenches while Bissinger and Strait focus on the Dauphin Tech car and Bob Strait. In addition, Thompson has hired the Juney Donlavey Winston Cup crew to service the car on raceday. And although he'll be in an older car (97 T-Bird) it's the same car that Strait won in at Talladega last year.
It's been 2 complete years since Thompson has buckled into a race car, but based on his last performance (Talladega '98) it will probably take him about 2 minutes to get back up to speed. Few people in this world achieve success comparable to Thompson. But then again, few people have the guts, determination, smarts and savvy that Mark Thompson so cleverly employs.