Former Soldier and racer visits LRMC

Thomas Warner
LRMC Public Affairs

While serving with his Army buddies in Vietnam, Harlan Thomspon spent some time in a military hospital. He visited injured servicemembers at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center recently and shared some of his war stories.

The veteran funny car driver also brought his Budweiser-sponsored vehicle to the KMC and gave people a first-hand view of what it’s like to be behind the wheel of the unique machine.

“People like looking at the car and climbing up on it, plus we always have some free food and drinks for them,” said Mr. Thompson, who pursued a career in racing once his Army duty ended in 1972. “I know what it’s like to be in a hospital and far from home. It can get boring just laying there, alone.”
His race car was parked in front of the Pulaski/Vogelweh Shoppette, along with a barbecue grill and a box of T-shirts and other paraphernalia bearing images of the Thompson racing team. He went to Ramstein, Landstuhl and a few other bases during the week.

Mr. Thompson is a resident of Washington and operates a museum on the grounds of his Pacific Northwest home, showcasing dozens of old cars from different eras. The museum is designed with a 1950s-style drive-in restaurant theme and he uses the place to stage occasional musical events or other large gatherings.

“We do not have a Web site,” Mr. Thompson said. “It’s a cool place and it’s something that people just happen upon. Everyone who finds us loves the museum.”

People milled around his car, asking about the engine specifics and nature of the races he competes in. The patients he spoke with at Landstuhl wanted to know about the car, but also about his military career.

“That man seems really nice and he’s got a really nice car,” said Fernando Acero, a civilian contractor injured in Iraq by an improvised explosive device. “Where I’m from in the Philippines, they show this kind of racing on television.”

Mr. Thompson listened as a wounded Marine described time spent at the race track in his Kentucky hometown.
Mr. Thompson graduated high school in the mid-1960s and enlisted in the Army, with the promise of college help through the GI Bill. After college in his home state and a taste of jungle fighting in Vietnam, it was the impact of one certain group of hospital visitors which sparked interest in his eventual career field.

“An auto racing team came and visited us while I was in the hospital and I was really taken by what they did,” Mr. Thompson said. “When I ended my time in the military, I took a job with a team where I was just doing odds and ends, but no driving.

“I finally got a chance to drive in a race and then later, I purchased a car. It’s a big-money sport and it can be addictive. You can spend a lot of money so you need to also earn some.”

Mr. Thompson came to Europe and won the first 10 races he entered. The prize money from those triumphs fueled the start to a successful career and he has made his place as one of the top drivers in the history of drag racing.
“Coming to spend time with military personnel is special for me because I think many of these guys can relate not only to the sport and that neat looking car,” Mr. Thompson said. “But they also know that I understand what they’ve been through and where they are now.”