I only knew Mark Thompson for just shy of five years. In our early days on Twitter we started to follow each other. Both of use kept Count Dracula like hours. Needless to say, we spent many a late nights tweeting about IndyCar, current events, our personal lives, and so many other topics. We enjoyed that special weekend or two every year when our fellow race fans were up late with us. Generally it was the 24 Hours of Daytona, and IndyCar from Japan. Those races fell into our sleep schedule.
By 2011, Mark and I were very close. We spoke on the phone either by voice or text regularly. So that season I covered IndyCar’s east coast events for Open Paddock (St. Pete, New Hampshire, and Baltimore), I also wanted to include Indianapolis. 100th anniversary and I had never been to IMS yet. Mark had told me so many tales of IMS. Making me really want to go.
So after the countless hours of tales from IMS as a fan, and his years as a USAC official at IMS for the 500–I was in. IMS was tight with media credentials that year. Neither Open Paddock or Race Ran Radio (where I did a regular IndyCar segment with Jeremy Scott) could get me into IMS that year. So instead, I went as just a fan to experience it. New Hampshire was the only race weekend that season I needed a motel room. In St. Pete I crashed with my friend Crystal in Gulfport race weekend. Baltimore–Friday night was at my friend Charlotte’s house in Philly, and Saturday was supposed to be in a Baltimore hotel payed for by Ortsbo. For the experimental “IndyCar Social Racing Grid” which I was a part of. In Indiana, Mark Thompson’s place was where I stayed.
His home was a shrine to the Indy 500. The only decorations in the place were all Indy 500 items. From the giant picture of Helio kissing the trophy on canvas in his living room, to two of his old USAC race official uniform shirts in the hallway. It was basically floor to wall Indy 500. In his bedroom was a giant bookcase. In it, every Indy 500 program from the ‘60s through today. Many in multiples. Also in that bookcase was a used Indy lights front tire. Yes, he had a race tire in his bedroom.
Mark’s home was a true Mecca for any Indy 500 fan. It was as if he lived in the basement of the IMS museum. And I was the special guest of honor. I was so excited to check out everything. Mark loved me being there. He loved talking the 500. Especially war stories from his days in the USAC shirts. A gig I know he really missed till the day he passed.
That was the final Pole & Bump Day weekend for the old liveries. We got some great action at IMS on Saturday. As much as we talked and joked around at his place. Mark was all business when cars were on track at IMS. He brought his new SLR digital camera for pics. Often during practice I was using my camera taking video while he was yards away taking stills with his. I went off to visit another fan and friend I made on social media who was in the stands around turn four. Then the rains came, and stopped all action. I took cover in the turn four area and discovered my cell phone which was near death had died. I had no way of getting in touch with Mark. I was staying at his place, and rode with him in his Jeep. Now I have no idea where he might be, since we made no rain delay plans. We missed any forecast of rain.
Eventually I found my way back toward the pit road bleachers, and the most active area outside Gasoline Alley. I heard someone yell my name, and there was Mark. We joked it looked like I was going to have to walk back to his place had he not seen me. I had just missed the impromptu Tweet-Up, and also the group photo. That would be the only chance we ever had for a picture together. I have great memories of Mark, I’m sad today, the day after he passed we never had a picture together.
Shortly after that, we went back to our seats, now joined by Shaun who had a media credential but opted to sit with us for the final segment of Pole Day. It was one amazing Pole Day. Many said the best in years if not a decade. We saw Sarah Fisher racing and Ed Carpenter put together an amazing run. We saw the “red cars” struggle. When Dario went on his pole run, he looked like a likely threat. Then as he came for the white flag, both Mark and Shaun turned to me and said almost in unison over the sound of his engine, “That doesn’t sound right”. Well, they were right. Dario ran out of fuel that lap.
Suddenly we had a very surprising Pole winner, Alex Tagliani. After that Mark talked about how it was like Pole Days of old. One filled with excitement, and unpredictable outcomes. One that defined IMS. Mark said on the ride home, Pole Day may have shown us that the 500 that year could be one for the ages. He sure was right.
I didn’t make it to any event in 2012 due to my becoming a constable in Pennsylvania. In 2013, Pocono was back on the schedule. Mark had always said in the years he supported my effort to bring the race back, he not only hoped it returned–Mark wanted the Triple Crown to come back as part of it. He swore if so, he would come to Pocono. It was one of the ovals from the old days he did not ever see IndyCars at in person.
In the months leading up to the Pocono race I kept nudging Mark to come. Then, probably about a month before the race he explained to me why he couldn’t make the race. First he had tickets to a concert–but the bigger problem. Mark was not healthy. He had lung cancer and at the time was keeping it on the down low. He fought illness before, and was optimistic he would prevail again. I really wanted him to be at the 2014 Pocono race. But late this fall, things seemed worst, and as we rolled into winter, things were not looking good for Mark.
In the last few weeks Mark and I chatted on Facebook messenger late at night, when he couldn’t sleep. It was clear, it was getting bad. While the cancer in his lung was gone, and clear, Mark told me the worst. Tumors were turning up elsewhere in his body now. I sobbed a bit that night. I had a bad feeling what that meant. But Mark felt better than his previous treatments. He refused to let it get him down. He refused to go without a fight.
And even though I knew it was bad, I still was crushed last night when I heard the news. My dear friend, one of the sweetest guys on this Earth was no longer with us. I cried intensely and then threw up so violently. I only did that one other time–when my father passed away from cancer almost five years ago, just months before I met Mark.
I already miss him so much. I just can’t imagine IndyCar talks without Mark. I really can’t imagine May without Mark. Every time I will hear about a “bronze badge” I will think of Mark–who had a great collection of his and a few other bronze badges from over the decades. I will miss Mark when ever I see a FourSquare check-in on social media. So many things remind me of such a great soul. A soul all of us in the racing world will not be the same without. A soul that made the IndyCar community such a beautiful place to be a fan.
Mark, we all miss you already. There will always be an empty place in our hearts’ without you. I’m so glad you were a part of my life for such a short time. I just wished I could have said goodbye properly. Say hello to Dan Wheldon, Tim Richmond, and my dad for me. We all love you buddy!!!