Finding Challenger IV – By Rory Ward
4 years earlier I had seen this image of Challenger IV, sitting in a loft, looked to be untouched for YEARS. I couldn’t believe the car was still in existence, figuring it had either been bought and morphed into something else or destroyed in a race, I really didn’t know because I had never heard anything. At that time it was just a point of interest, I was just curious about the race car I remembered as a kid when our family was out at the races watching my dad race.
In 2010, Jeff Furrier and I decided to check out the inaugural NORRA Mexican 1000 vintage off road race. Mike Pearlman was resurrecting NORRA and a bunch of vintage off road cars were set to race the soon-to-be Epic event. Long story short, Jeff and I were hooked right away. On the way home we were making plans for the following year. Jeff had a line on the old Mark Stahl Chenowth 1000 wasting away in Tucson Arizona and we planned to restore that.
While waiting for the Chenowth to be delivered, I stumbled across the photo of Challenger IV again. Since the picture I had didn’t have a tag or some sort of ID attached to it, I decided to do a little research to see if I could come up with any leads. I Google searched “Mickey Thompson race photos” and after about 1000 photo’s, I found the original picture….this time it was tagged www.thompson-motorsports.com. A couple minutes later I was dialing the number on the computer screen:
Pat- Hello, Thompson Motorsports, this is Pat.
Me- Hi Pat, I’ve got an off the wall question for you. Do you have one of Mickey Thompson’s old off road cars there, a yellow single seat buggy?
Pat- Yep, I’m looking at it right now.
Me- You’re kidding, REALLY? Would you be interested in selling it?
Pat- You’d have to talk to Lyndy about that, she’s the one that owns it. Give me your number and I’ll have her call you back.
I couldn’t believe it, I had just found Challenger IV! I left my phone number with Pat and waited for a call back. After a couple weeks went by and nothing, I figured the answer was no and moved on to the Mark Stahl Chenowth restoration.
It was January 2011 when my phone rang and it was Lyndy. She apologized for getting back to me so late and it seems Pat had put my number on a post-it note on her desk, but when she arrived back at her office she had stacked some paperwork on top of it and missed it. We talked for a while and she wanted to know what my intentions were with Challenger IV. In a nut shell, I pretty much told her I planned to restore it as close to original as possible and then race it at the NORRA Mexican 1000, then have it placed in a museum for everyone to see. I think she liked that answer and a deal was made for Challenger IV.
Jeff and I were in the middle of the Chenowth restoration project, Lyndy said she would work with me and hold Challenger IV until I was ready to make the long haul to Oregon to come get it, but it would have to be sometime in June (2011) because Jeff and I were set to race the Chenowth in May and it would have to be after that. She told me “The car is yours, it’s not going anywhere. Don’t worry”.
June was here and I had just robbed my retirement pension so I could purchase Challenger IV. Oregon was about 1100 miles away so my 10 year old daughter Hanna and I decided to make it a father/daughter trip. We took the long way and most scenic route and it was well worth the gas money, lots of beautiful country.
We arrived in Eugene Oregon and pulled into the Thompson Motorsports parking lot. The store front sign was a miniature sprint car frame made of steel tubing, I knew I was at the right place. I can’t tell you the excitement I felt walking through the door, I couldn’t wait to see the car that I remembered from my childhood and from pictures in magazines. Lyndy and Pat met us at the door and invited us in. Lyndy pointed behind us and low and behold there it was, Challenger IV, exactly the way I saw it in the picture 4 years earlier…..frozen in time.
For the next couple hours I was crawling all over the car, looking at the parts that came with it and sharing stories. Since Hanna and I were kind of using this trip as a vacation and I had family within 100 miles, Lyndy said we could leave the trailer at the shop and on our way home we could come get the car and trailer instead of towing it around while on vacation. Sounded like a great plan so we unhooked the trailer and set off to see family I hadn’t seen in over 20 years.
After having a great time with family, we headed back to Eugene to pick up Challenger IV and get home. Pat had already had a friend come over with a forklift to remove the car from the loft and onto a cherry picker so it would be easier to load on the trailer. Once it was loaded, I could tell Lyndy was getting emotional because it was her dads but she also said that she knew we would do him right by the restoration. I told her we would make her proud and hope that it would also bring a smile to Mickey’s face too.
The ride home went pretty quick, every stop we made there would be a small crowd of people standing around the car, all with the same question: “Was this *THE* Mickey Thompson’s car”? It was nice to see people still remember the man who set multiple land speed records, numerous drag racing records and inventions, created SCORE international (home of the Baja 1000) and the creator of Off Road Stadium racing. You couldn’t knock the smile off my face with a jack hammer that day.
Once we got home, I was ready for the next chapter of tearing into Challenger IV to start the restoration. I guess the biggest question I had that day was how to get it off the trailer…..