In his day job, Richard K. Thompson Jr. pulled teeth and filled cavities. He did root canals and installed crowns. He was a fourth-generation Washingtonian, the grandson of a physician and the son of a dentist with whom he shared the early years of a practice that spanned a half- century.
To his patients he was “Dr. Thompson.” But to hundreds of thousands of sports-car enthusiasts, Dick Thompson was “The Flying Dentist,” the driver of fast, sleek and powerful automotive machines on tracks across the United States and Europe at speeds of more than 200 mph.
In a racing career that began in 1952 and ended in 1969, he won eight Sports Car Club of America racing championships in several categories. He was best known as the driver of Corvettes, for which he won five championships. But he also raced MGs, Jaguars, Ferraris, Porsches, Mustangs, Cobras and Maseratis.
His last race was at the fabled LeMans track in France in September 1969, a 24-hour event driving a Howmet Turbine car. At 49, he decided it was time to step away from the track.
“I was always a dentist first and a race driver second,” he said.
On Sept. 14, at a hospice center in West Palm Beach, Fla., Dr. Thompson died at age 94. The cause was pneumonia, said a granddaughter, Jennifer Wicks.
His first auto race was in 1952, the first “12 Hours of Sebring,” at the Sebring International Raceway in Florida. He entered the endurance event in what seemed like a spur-of-the-moment decision, according to a friend, Richard Prince, a New York-based photographer and writer specializing in auto racing.
At 32, Dr. Thompson had owned and driven sports cars for years, but he had no race driving experience or training. Nevertheless, he decided to try it.
With a friend, he drove his 1950 MG-TD sports car from Washington to Florida, entered the 12-hour race, finished in eighth place, then drove back home. That got him hooked. The following year, Dr. Thompson replaced the MG with a Porsche Super and won a national Sports Car Club of America title. He won another SCCA title the following year in a Jaguar XK 120.
He established a pattern he would follow for the next two decades: working on patients’ teeth during the week and driving race cars on weekends.
In 1966, Washington Post sports columnist Bob Addie asked Dr. Thompson if he had ever been stopped for speeding.
“Twice,” he said. “These days I do all my speeding in competition.”
Richard Knight Thompson Jr. was born July 9, 1920, in Washington. He graduated from what then was Western High School. Before and during World War II, he attended Dartmouth College before graduating from George Washington University and Georgetown University Dental School.
He was a D.C. bus driver while in college during the war. According to his daughter, Diane T. MacKinnon, he “raced buses,” sometimes driving by would-be passengers waiting at bus stops so he could finish his routes early and get in some extra study time.
He was a Navy dentist during the war, then joined his father’s dental practice in Washington.
In 1971, Dr. Thompson moved from Washington to Poolesville, Md., where he bred horses and rode to the hounds with the Potomac Hunt. He raced motorcycles for a year after he retired from auto racing, sailed on the Chesapeake Bay and played golf regularly into his 90s.
After retiring from his dental practice in 1996, he moved to Florida and lived in Wellington at the time of his death. His first marriage, to Sarah Spearman, ended in divorce.
Survivors include his wife of 47 years, Eve Lloyd Thompson of Wellington; a daughter from his first marriage, Diane Thompson MacKinnon of Chevy Chase; two grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
In his years of sports-car racing, Dr. Thompson made only enough money to cover his expenses. He did attract corporate sponsors, and in 1956 he caught the eye of executives at the Corvette division of General Motors, for whom he won a championship in 1957. His driving of Corvettes would help establish the car’s reputation as a top-flight racing vehicle.
His most satisfying triumphs, Dr. Thompson said after he retired, were an early 1960s victory in a Corvette Stingray at Watkins Glen, N.Y., and a 1967 win at the Spa in Belgium, driving a Mirage-Ford in a 1,000-kilometer race. It was raining during the Belgian race, and Dr. Thompson’s auto was slipping and sliding, hydroplaning from side to side, said Prince, the auto writer. The treacherous experience contributed to Dr. Thompson’s decision to retire from sports-car racing two years later.
“Racing cars is a sport with me,” Dr. Thompson told The Post in 1966. “The general idea is that the car and I will work as a team. I’m like a jockey. I can’t win without a great horse.”