Thompson might well have granted Evans his wish had he heard the suggestion. "I'm not like most of these other guys," Thompson said. "Their problem is how to go faster, my problem is how to get myself to slow down." He has a point. In the two classes he entered, Thompson drove the wheels and tails off his vehicles. He started his truck in the 38th grid position in his heat and passed 25 vehicles on the first lap. On the second lap the rear end blew. So in the main event Thompson had to start dead last, but again, it didn't matter. He made his usual full-bore rush for four laps—and the rear end blew again.
In the "workingman's class," which is for stone-stock Volkswagen sedans, Thompson started 14th, spun out on the first lap, somehow still managed to pass everyone by the end of the second lap—and won the heat going away. The main event was run after dark on Saturday, and the maladroit VWs added some comic relief to the evening. One bug lost all its lights but one spot on the roof, which made it look like a giant runaway miner's helmet with a racing stipe. Thompson's drive was just as Keystone Koppish. His left front wheel fell off twice and both times he jumped out, picked it up, threw it into the car and crunched back to the pits on three wheels. Those two pit stops cost him a lap, but he unlapped himself and sped back into second place. On the last lap the left rear wheel rolled away in front of the Turn Six grandstands, and although he retrieved the wheel, with the crowd cheering him loudly, he was not in time to finish the race. Former Baja 1,000 winner John Johnson won in a 1967 model, but, like Thompson, he had to listen to grumbles from other drivers that he was a "ringer," because the class was designed for novices.
The fastest event for four-wheeled vehicles was the race for single-seat desert buggies with unlimited engine displacement. Among the hot machines, a favorite was a slick silver Sandmaster with a 2,180 cc. VW racing engine, driven by Bobby Ferro, a 28-year-old with natural Harpo Marx hair. Ferro is a former motorcycle desert champion, a movie stuntman, a war hero, a sometime Formula 5,000 driver, a regular sprint-car driver and an Indy hopeful. He also is the best off-road racer in the world, having won 31 races, a whole lot more than anyone else.
Ferro drew the pole position for his heat, which helped him to an easy 22-second victory. Last year's winner in the class, Roger Mears, started 45th and had to claw through the mud and dust for a fourth in the heat. That put him in row two for the start of the main event, and right away he made life miserable for Ferro. A high-line on Thompson Ridge paid off, plus a facile line through traffic, and when it was all over Mears had won by 27 seconds, averaging 52.03 mph.
But the fastest man of the day, at an average of 55.67 mph, was motorcyclist Mitch Mayes, who led all the two-wheelers home. They were a rough breed. As fierce a competitor as Mayes was Rocket Rex Staten, who noted that "I had a few small problems earlier this year. I kept breaking my ankles because the footpegs didn't fit me, or something."
His ankles were healed, but he rode in a cast that held a freshly broken left wrist together. And it was his first big off-road race.
"I like this off-road racing," he said. "I think I might do more of it. I just hope the rest of these courses aren't this easy."
Fortunately, Mickey Thompson was not around to hear that statement. If he had been, he would have rolled over. In his pickup truck, of course.