Mickey Thompson: The Tire Maker Who Revolutionized Performance Wheels

When it comes to performance tires and wheels, few names are as iconic as Mickey Thompson. The man behind the brand was not just an entrepreneur but a pioneer, racer, and an innovator who left an indelible mark on the automotive industry. This article aims to delve deep into the story of Mickey Thompson, the brand he created, and how he revolutionized the world of performance wheels.

Early Life and Racing Career

Marion Lee 'Mickey' Thompson was born in 1928 in Alhambra, California. Fascinated by cars and speed from a young age, Thompson began his journey in the world of motorsports as a drag racer. His contributions to racing are not just legendary but also numerous. He was the first American to break the 400 mph barrier in 1960, driving his Challenger 1 to a one-way top speed of 406.60 mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats. While his racing exploits are the stuff of legend, his ingenuity and business acumen are equally commendable.

Pioneering Innovations

Thompson was not just a speed merchant; he was an innovator who sought to improve every aspect of wheel and tire design. One of his first forays into entrepreneurship was his invention of the 'slingshot' dragster design, which placed the driver at the back of the vehicle for better weight distribution and traction. However, it was his tire designs that really set him apart. Understanding that performance is deeply entwined with the contact patch of the tire, he went on to develop wider tires that provided better grip and hence, improved performance. These 'Mickey Thompson Tires' were instrumental in setting numerous speed records and became synonymous with high-performance wheels.

Mickey Thompson Tires: The Brand

Mickey Thompson founded his tire company in 1963, and the brand quickly became a household name in the performance and off-road segments. Thompson was not just content with creating performance tires for cars; he was involved in designing specialty tires for a variety of applications, from dune buggies to off-road trucks.


Some of the significant innovations that came from the Mickey Thompson brand include:
  • ET Street Tires: These were street-legal tires that offered racetrack-level performance. This meant that racers could drive to the track, compete, and then drive back home—all on the same set of tires.
  • Baja Tires: Specifically designed for off-road conditions, these tires offered incredible durability and performance in the toughest terrains, making them a popular choice for off-road enthusiasts.
  • SideBiter Treads: This was another breakthrough in off-road tire technology, offering better grip and control.


Mickey Thompson was tragically murdered in 1988, along with his wife, in an unsolved crime that shocked the automotive community. However, his legacy has lived on through his brand and the innovations that continue to come from it. The company was eventually acquired by Cooper Tire & Rubber Company in 2003, but it still operates under the Mickey Thompson name, continuing to be a leader in high-performance and specialty tires.


Mickey Thompson was much more than a tire maker; he was a visionary who understood the nuanced relationship between tires, speed, and performance. His ideas were far ahead of his time, and they continue to influence the automotive world even today. Thompson was a racer, an inventor, and a businessman who brought about real change in the world of motorsports and tire technology. His legacy is not just etched in rubber but in the annals of automotive history.