In 1992, Mark Thompson made his NASCAR Winston Cup Series debut. 25 years later, he will make his return to the now-Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at Talladega, where he will drive the #15 for Premium Motorsports.
Thompson currently competes part-time in the Xfinity and ARCA Racing Series, the latter in which he is a restrictor plate ringer, competing at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway on an annual basis since 2010. He has raced in ARCA since 1991, and finished 3rd in the 1997 ARCA standings with two wins. In 2015, he became the oldest polesitter in Daytona history at the age of 63.
During the 2017 ARCA season, he drove the #66 at the two superspeedways for MBM Motorsports, finishing 31st in both events. He also drives the #13 for MBM in the Xfinity plate races; he has a best finish of 27th at the 2015 Talladega race.
A United States Air Force warrant officer in Vietnam, he flew helicopters in combat. Upon returning to the United States in the late 1970s, Thompson founded Phoenix Air as a parachuting school; the company has since evolved into an air transport company with ties to the armed forces and various government agencies. The company also provides provides tactical electronic warfare training services for the Air Force and Air National Guard, along with the Navy. Besides military, Phoenix Air has also assisted in carrying government workers infected with illnesses, such as a mission to transport Ebola-stricken Americans from Liberia. Phoenix Air occasionally sponsors MBM’s cars.
In 1992, Thompson failed to qualify for the Cup race at Darlington Raceway for Gray Racing. Later in the year, he ran his first Cup race at Pocono, finishing 39th. He later missed the 1993 Pepsi 400 after not making a qualifying attempt, and withdrew from the 1994 Daytona 500. 23 years after the 500 and 25 years after his first and only Cup race, he makes his return to the series.
Between the 1993 Pocono race and the upcoming Alabama 500, 814 Cup races have been run. To place this into further perspective, four-time series champion Jeff Gordon’s entire Cup career ran between Thompson’s two starts. However, it would not be the longest margin between starts; Jimmy Ingram ran the 1952 Southern 500 as a 24-year old, though he would not participate in another Cup race for 28 years, returning at the 1980 Dover spring race as a 52-year old.
The Alabama 500 from Talladega will take place on Sunday, October 15.
Featured image by ARCA Racing Series