Two strokes of Salt
Last fall Steve Davis (my shop Service manager) I took a trip to Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah for a few days of learning how cars set Land Speed Records there. The first time you see this snow white sea of salt you know you are at a place like no where else on earth! When you get out onto the salt it makes a midwesterned like me feel like you are on a hugh frooze lake. I even found myself calling it ice every now and then. Since many people are unfamiluar with the histroy surrounding Bonneville, let me give you a little history on Bonneville. Bonneville is known around the world as the “fastest place on earth”. It is a unique place where mile after mile of a thin ribbon of salt provide a perfect place to run at high speeds. The salt is wet and actullay cools the cars tires as you drive. Tires getting too hot and exploding is never a good thing at high speeds. Bonneville is located right next to the Nevada boarder and about one hundred miles west of Salt Lake City, Utah. Early maps show this area as “unpassable” and it was avoided by all. But then in the mid thirties a guy named Eb Jenkins, who lived the Salt Lake City area decided to take a car out there and do some playing. Jenkins soon discovered there was a ten mile plus piece of straight salt where you could really go fast…faster than anywhere else he had ever heard of or seen. At that time speed records in the United States where set on beaches, places like Daytona Beach in Florida for example. The beaches provided a flat surface and the sand cooled the tires too. But one mistake and the tires would “dig” into the sand and cause terrible accidents, with bystanders also close to the action. Jenkins felt this salt surface was the perfect answer. The salt flats firm surface let the tires “slide” over it, rather than dig in. Jenkins started to set speed and endurance records on the salt and slowly convinced the rest of racing world that Bonneville was indeed the “fastet place on earth”.
Today, teams of people come from all over the world with their cars and motorcycles and in their attempts to set land speed records at Bonneville Salt Flats. And in August of this year, one of those teams included a group from Fort Dodge, Iowa running a Green, 1968 Saab Sonnet II, with a tiny three cylinder, 750cc two stroke motor. That team was myself, Davis, and Verlyn Gregerson, another long time employee of my main business, Fort Dodge Transmission. As most of you know, Saab made a Sonett back in the fifties and sixties that had the running gear and lower chassis of the 93 and 96 model cars. Saab called this car their model 97 and shorten it up to make it a two seater and wrapped it it a skin of fiberglass to reduce weight. I had read about a guy making a Saab 96 to run at Bonneville from the Chicago area, named Bertil Skoggenholm and thought it was a unquie way of racing, one that appealed to me. I also rememebered seening in old copies of “Saab Sounding”, Saabs newsletter/magizine of the sixties, stories of a guy named Dick Catron and his attempts and success he had at Bonneville with bullnose Saabs of the day.
I chose the Sonett because I have always liked the Sonetts and it meant I could use a two stroke motor, rather then the more modern four stroke type, like all cars are made with today. I have driven two stroke Saabs my entire life, and still own the very first two Saab two strokes s my family ever owned. We started on the car in May and my team worked hard to get a car race ready within the short period before th August racing dates. Needless to say it is a lot of work to get a car that is rusted in half welded all back together and ready in just three months. If not for my staff at Fort Dodge Transmission and the dedication of my team, none of this would have happened. I Also had many other people help, like David Baugher who is one the top two stroke rebuilder in the country, as well as Bud Clark who knows more about Saab two strokes and racing more than anyone I know. I also had tech help from Peter Backstrom of the Swedish Muesuem, and the top two strokes minds in Sweden fomr the boys at XP Extreme Power. Bruce Turk even send me a two stroke racing block to “inspect” and learn more vital info from for my engines. Also, our car would have never made to the salt in time with out the herculean efforts of Marty Adams of Meyer Saab, the oldest Saab dealer west of the Mississippi and his brother Chris Adams of Admas Racing Chassis. I gave them only a couple weeks to make a roll cage for my SOnett. Something that is very hgard to do and still have the driver able to enter and exit the vehciel!! Yes is easy to forget all the people who help you on such a large project, kind of like Bill Jacobson, of Wilmington Delware never recieving the “Larry Stroker Williams” award at a SOC. Bill has been on the selection committe since it started in 1998. Bill has done more for the Saab community, both vintage and contempary, than anyone in the USA. Sometimes things get over looked, even when they are so obious. I did the same thing when lettering my Saab Sonett to thanks all those who helped me…I forgot Bertil! With out Bertil, my Bonneville dreams would be very different.