By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Although Thompson considered himself a pretty shrewd negotiator, Goodwin was in another league entirely. In their merger talks, Goodwin held himself out to be a “promotional genius” who understood accounting better than a CPA and who had created a “proven product with Supercross that [threw] off gross and net profit” like a golden retriever shaking itself dry. Goodwin told Thompson he had the experience to take Thompson’s company bigtime, put people in the stands and increase profits in everything from the gate to the T-shirt concession.
But the thing that really sold Thompson, Mickey said, was Goodwin’s contention that he could protect Thompson from Pace International, a big Houston-based motor-sports entertainment company, which, Goodwin suggested, had imminent plans to move into Southern California, start running truck and Baja buggy events, and drive Thompson out of business.
On April 1, 1984, Thompson and Goodwin signed the merger agreement, which called for what Goodwin would later describe as an 18-month “engagement” period, followed by a full merger after that.
Unfortunately, their first combined production, a race in Indianapolis in the summer of 1984, lost money, and their second event, at the Pontiac, Michigan, Silverdome, went broke before it started. When Thompson made a conference call to Goodwin and his company’s president, Jeannie Bear Sleeper, to find out what was going on, Thompson said in the deposition, Sleeper was crying so hard she was incoherent. “She said she didn’t know what she was going to do,” Thompson said. “We had to write checks. There was no money. And they were going to yank the advertising. We needed over $100,000 to put on the event.”
Thompson couldn’t understand why the event needed money. As he understood his contract with Goodwin, he was supposed to put in 30 percent, Goodwin would put in 70 percent, and they’d share the profits and losses accordingly. “Then,” according to Thompson, “Jeannie Sleeper said, ‘Mike, you know, we don’t have any money back here. You have got to put money in this thing.’ ” Thompson was stunned. “I said [to Mike], ‘What do you mean you’ve not put any money in?’ Mike said, ‘I have never put any money in, and I am not going to put any money in now.’ ” (In Goodwin's version of this conversation, Sleeper was upset all right, but because Thompson wouldn't put up any cash.) When Thompson subsequently called Goodwin’s office to ask for a financial statement, he was told, he said, that Goodwin had issued orders not to give him one.
Realizing now that he’d made a terrible mistake, Thompson demanded his company back. But Goodwin, says Bartenetti, simply told him, “No, I’m going to keep it.” At this point, Thompson sued Goodwin to return both his company and all the money he’d lost during the 1984 racing season. Goodwin responded with a $2 million countersuit, charging that Thompson had never made good on his promise to develop an artificial racetrack. Soon enough, 14 lawsuits were flying back and forth like misguided missiles.
Goodwin had never been a stranger to lawsuits. The difference this time around was that he was losing them. In October 1984, a judge ordered the return of Thompson’s company. And in May 1986, Thompson won his original lawsuit, with Superior Court Judge Pro Tem Lester Olsen ruling that Goodwin’s failure to provide Thompson with financial statements was “an intentional or recklessly careless act designed to mislead Thompson into continuing to advance cash.” Olsen awarded Thompson half a million dollars. When interest and attorney’s fees were added, the total came to $768,000.
Although Goodwin’s friends urged him to settle — “You lost the judgment, pay it off” — Goodwin adamantly refused, saying that Thompson won only because he “lied” in court.
When Thompson realized Goodwin had no intention of paying him, an L.A. County marshal, John Williams, was dispatched to seize Goodwin’s Mercedes 380 SEC luxury sedan. But Goodwin and his wife, Diane, cursed out Williams, he would later testify, in such vehement and profane language that he had to threaten first to have the pair arrested, and then to seize the car anyway. At this point, Goodwin transferred his rage from Williams to his business partner: “Mickey Thompson is fucking dead. He doesn’t know who he is fucking with.”
The first time Mickey Thompson was threatened by Mike Goodwin, he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He had been an off-road racer, a businessman, a promoter, a world land-speed record holder, a man who had been invited to the White House by John F. Kennedy. In all that time, not once had anyone threatened his life over a business deal. “Can you believe this?” Thompson told a friend. “This guy threatened to kill me if he lost the civil suit.”
It wasn’t only Thompson who was getting threats. Phil Bartenetti says that Goodwin hired a “defrocked Sheriff’s deputy” to follow him. Jeff Coyne, a court-appointed trustee whose job it was to collect money from Goodwin’s bankruptcy estate, said that on one occasion, when Goodwin was popping pills from a little pillbox, he warned Coyne, “If you don’t lighten up, bad things will happen.” Mike DeStefano, a former top motorcycle racer who worked for Goodwin before teaming up with Thompson, says that Goodwin called late one night yelling and swearing. “He must have been on drugs,” DeStefano says. “He went into a tirade. I hung up on him. He called right back. ‘You’re a dead man. You’re gone.’ I hung up on him again and made a Sheriff’s report.”