NASCAR is in the midst of a youth movement, with racing veterans heading off into the sunset while cheaper, younger drivers get put behind the wheels of the sport’s most iconic cars. But, for one race at least, there will be history made by a legitimate veteran, Mark Thompson.
Thompson, a Vietnam veteran, will become the oldest driver to start a Daytona 500 at 66 years old. He will fittingly drive the number 66 Ford. He knows that the field will be even younger than usual for what will be Thompson’s final race in any series.
“I think the quality of driver in Cup is really quite outstanding,” Thompson said via KWWL.com. “Even though I might be running around with some younger people, they are seasoned. I’ve known some young pilots that were really good pilots and I’ve known some old pilots that were never all that good.”
Thompson was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, and considers himself a pilot over a racecar driver, and has realistic expectations for the race, saying: “I’m a good pilot because that’s what I do. These guys are good race-car drivers because that’s what they do. I hope to not to get in anyone’s way.”
Thompson is no stranger to setting Daytona history, as he became the oldest driver to ever win the pole for a race there in 2015 in the ARCA series. He will beat the previous record holder for oldest driver in the 500, Dave Marcis, by 6 years. The oldest Daytona 500 winner was NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison at 50 years old in 1988.
Thompson will start the race in 40th place, but didn’t have to worry about missing the race since only 40 cars entered the 40 car field.