August 15, 2011, we set new and first record at 98.968 MPH
August 17, 2011, we re-set our record to ……..105.613 MPH
August 18, 2011, our final record was set at 107.443 MPH
In 2012 we started out to break our own 2011 record of 107.443 MPH
August 13, 2012 we set a new record at 109.514 MPH
August 15, 2012 we re-set our record to 115.619 MPH
This video is from our return record setting run on Wednesday, August 14, 2013. We hit over 122mph
Our Vintage 1968 Saab Sonett II breaks it’s own World Land Speed Record for 750cc engine (“J Class”) and even EXCEEDS the 1,000cc (“I” Class record) with a return run of 122.033 MPH at Bonneville International Speedway August 14, 2013. This 750cc two stroke engine was putting down over 100HP to the wheels on a Mustang Chassis dyno. It’s hard to see but my iphone (Speed app) is on the left next to the red battery kill switch. The shift to 4th is at 95mph and I am at 109mph by mile 1. I am at 120 mph by the start of mile 2. Exit speed was 122 mph +.
The busy crew just as we were told “start your engine!”…..the excitement is still there!
Good results from Bonneville this year. With an almost all new pit crew, David Roe, Issac Poldervarrt, and my wife Patti we jelled into a real “pit team” and Bumped our record 3 times!!
We ran in the GT body class again this year (2 seat sports car).
Our engine is a “J” class (501cc- 750cc) upto 46CID)
They take the average of 2 runs over 2 day (down & back runs to set a record)
Our 2012 record was 115.619 mph.
We set new record on 8/11/13 of 118.082 mph (down=117.236 & return=118.929)
On 8-13-2013 we bumped our record to 119.291 mph (down=119.503 & return=119.080)
On 8-14-2013 we bumped our record again to 121.203 mph. (Down = 120.374 & return = 122.033)
The 122.033 mph run on 8-14, was our fastest speed.
The 122.033mph exceeded the next engine class size (“I”) record for engines upto 1000cc!
That is rare to see when a smaller engine exceeds the record of the large engine!!
They however would not let us run as an “I” class car because our engine was “too small” 🙁
Last year, and even early in the week this year, they said we could Run as an “I” class with our smaller engine. Rule interpetation is very hard.
After that we set everything up to the edge of “go or blow” since we only had 1 day left and it takes two days to set a record. No luck on final 2 runs as they heat of the day (99 degrees) got the better of us.
The funny thing is our fastest top speed (still only 750cc ) engine still sat in the trailer and we never swapped it out. Once we were informed we could not run our 750cc engines in the 1,000cc class we lost interest with the heat to swap it “just for fun”.
More to come later……………….Thanks to all who follow us!! Tom
Heavy rains turned the Salt flats into “Lake Bonneville” again and forced the cancellation of Races in August.
2014 was a strange year in Deed. It begin with the unexpected death of my salt racing friend Bertil Sollenskog the end of June. Then the races in August were cancelled shortly after we arrived with 2 cars, Our Sonett and Bertil’s Monte Carlo. Then again in October they were cancelled again due to wet weather at the salt.
But conditions did dry up enough the first week in September for Races to be run by the Utah Salts Flats Racing Association. And we showed up with Bertil’s Monte Carlo to attempt to set some new records for his crew and his widow Pat.
I was able to set a new record of 111.472mph on September 6, 2014 and Finally Bertil’s main driver set the last and final record of 112.642mph on Tuesday, September 9, 2014.
We are very grateful for Pat to allow us to run Bertil’s car and for his crew to be there to set the new records. It took a lot of work from many people, as you would expect from anything worth doing.
More articles published in different magazines to come later……..tom
Happy Moments after we finally got Pavel his Land Speed Record in Bertil’s car at Bonneville. September 9th, 2014. See the photo of Bertil in the rear window “riding shotgun”. (Mike is in the black shirt)
Fat Man in a little car…Tom
Driver Steve Myer of Ames Iowa Isaac Poldervaat, Steve Myer & Tom showing 124mph
A Tale of Salt (And Saabs!)
After Speed Week was cancelled due to heavy rains and flooding in 2014* and 2015 we finally got back to the salt this past August 2016. We were fortunate enough to have the SOC16 (Saab Owners Convention) a week before Bonneville this year. Usually the dates collide and I choose the salt as a year of prep can not go to waste. This allowed me to attend SOC16 in Atlanta and a great track day with one of three cars to run at Talladega Speedway back in 1987. In 1987 Saab set 21 world and international speed records at Talladega with Saab’s world famous LONG RUN RECORDS. As many in the Saab community know, I was asked to bring my #3 car (1987 Saab 9000) back to Talladega to run. This was almost an impossible event to miss for me, so that said we did the killer trip to Atlanta and then raced back to Iowa to grab my truck and trailer and head to Utah! Going to SOC is always a great event and should be a “must do” for Saab lovers. Seeing old friends and making new ones keeps SOC’s a fun event. Many well wishers at SOC were seen and heard. Leaving for Iowa after SOC was a speedy trip home only to gear up for round TWO…a date at the salt.
To explain how hard it is to prep and run a car at Bonneville, read about the work of Dan Haugh of Kansas and his 1987 Saab Classic 900 at the salt. The salt can be a grueling event with heat into the high 90’s and long hours at the “brightest place on earth”….the hot sunny salt flats. Dan set a new record of 140.857 MPH (Down run of 139.620 & Record run of 142.095 MPH) with his turbo powered 2.0L car and explains in his articles in NINES about the stress of attempting to do all this at Bonneville. Dan is busy making modifications for 2017 already. Dan had also ran at the Ohio Miles and has records there with his classic Saab too.
The trip to Atlanta and back to the salt was pulled off without issues so we arrived in Bonneville a day early and setup our pit camp. That allowed us to take a much needed day off on Friday the 19th. Unfortunately for me my long suffering back went out and landed me on the trailer and hotel floor laying as much as possible. I gutted out the next few days determined not to let my back “win”. I did get blessed with a much better back on Monday and keep it at bay till the day back home in Iowa when it finally said ENOUGH and gave up on me for good. (Note I did have experimental back surgery with the “installation” of a new artificial disc (ADR) in my L4/L5 region in Texas this past October. As of this writing I am doing very well)
We started running as planned on Saturday morning the 18th as planned. I was the driver and glad for it as the salt was less than perfect. We ran fast but not quiet fast enough. There were a mirage of small issues limiting our success the first 3 runs. We had starter issues twice, once at the starting line, an electric water pump failure, our brakes completely failed (only use rear), and finally a rough track that kept us bouncing all over the course. Even though we had good runs only 3/10’s and 7/10’s of a second off our old record of 121.203 MPH we just could not get above 122 MPH.
Once we sorted all these issues out on our forth run we finally hit our goal with an average mile speed (set from mile 2 to 3) of 122.295 MPH and qualified to have another chance at a record run!. On our fifth run the next morning we were able to attain a NEW Bonneville Land Speed record of 123.075 MPH (with our 750cc engine. To date this is the fastest average mile we have ran with a return speed of 123.855 MPH (199.325 Km/h) Top (terminal) speed was actually over 124 MPH). After resetting our record it was time to change drivers (great news for my back) to Steve Myers of Skunk River Restorations in Ames, Iowa. Steve races nearly every weekend somewhere and was an exciting and experienced last minute add to our team when my service manager at the shop took ill and and had to cancel a week before leaving. My wife Patti, was very relieved when she heard Steve had agreed to go as it got off the hook as an emergency “back-up” crew member. With a new driver in place it was time to continue to crawl our way up the speed ladder with a vintage our Saab Sonett two stroke.
As it turned out the salt Gods we not with us the last few days. My crew chief, Steve Myers, got his rookie training done and first runs out of the way. Waiting in line for his second real run we started to notice the wind was changing and had a chance for a tailwind. (Which would have aided in exceeded my newly set record). However as luck would have it, at 4pm, when we were only two cars from running, (after a 4 hour waiting) racing was postponed due to heavy Crosswinds that had now came up. Then at 6 PM they canceled racing for the day. (Which ultimately cost us a new record.) The next day Steve DID exceeded my new record with a down run of 123.397 MPH which sends you to impound till the next morning for a “back Up” return/record run attempt. But the return/record (back up) run the following morning was not to be. A weather system change arrived and we had to run into an 11 MPH headwind, and we simply could not get the Sonett back into record territory. That cancellation of racing we had two days earlier put us into the headwind days and cost us the new record.
We ran a few more times that day but the headwind was too great and the forecast for Thursday afternoon and Friday was the same, lots of headwind. So we loaded up and left with only one new record of 123.075 MPH. We had hoped for more, but obviously we are always happy ANYTIME we can set a new land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats. As the final records for the week long event came in, turns out the weather and salt produced the LOWEST number of records being set in modern memory. But this year did include getting to see Danny Thompson FINALLY set a land speed record at Bonneville @406.767 MPH (655km/h). He is the son of the late Micky Thompson and drove his dads 1968 twin engine Challenger II into Bonneville history books.
If you look at the record book of all the different records you’ll see that we are running faster than almost any “J” engine (501-750cc) has EVER ran in a non-blown, Non-altered, GAS category. Also we are consistently running faster than many of the “I” engine (751-1000cc) which are 250cc higher! (We actually have a higher record than the I class above us currently in the GT category!)
Also I did have two things happened this year I NEVER thought I’d say back in
2010 in a Saab Sonett powered by a 750cc two stroke engine!
1st. “I Could only go 114 MPH…at half throttle” (Throttle cable
slipped out of place and limited throttle to 1/2 opening)
2nd. “…121 MPH is all I can do” ……..
1st 3 runs of 2016…All good fun in an old Saab.
Thanks for reading and Safe Saab’in, Tom Donney
* In 2014 World of Speed (ran by the Utah Salt Flats Racing Association) did find enough
dry salt to run a 4 day event even through Speed Week
(ran by the Southern California Timing Association) was cancelled for rain.
Both groups honor each others records.
Blue Monster Saab 96 by Rex Svoboda
1968 Saab Sonett Chasing land speed records 2017
2017 has been a whirlwind for me and Patti. With me receiving an artificial disc in my low back and the June purchase of the “Saab Heritage Car Museum USA” in Sturgis South Dakota, land speed racing has taken a bit of a backseat. We were unable to make it to Speed Week sponsored by the Southern California Timing Association in mid August due to my primary engine have been ruined by a vendor attempting to put a special coating on the cylinders. (We run a long nose triple, carb block sleeved down to 66mm to be class legal). This coupled with the world renowned Sturgis motorcycle rally running the week before Speed Week I simply did not have enough time to get my “back up” engine ready. And since we hope to draw income to support the museum from this 400,000+ person event at Sturgis, we felt it was important to be there and analyze the happening. But that meant the time needed on my dynamometer with my backup engine would not happen. So we pushed going to Bonneville Salt Flats to an event called World of Speed (WOS) sponsored by the Utah Salt Flat Racing Association ran mid September. The problem with running at WOS is it’s only a 3 1/2 day event (vs 6 1/2 days at Speed Week) and the weather is almost always a factor and causes cancellation about every other year of the entire event.
After the Sturgis rally and the Saab Owner’s convention in LA, I was able to spend a couple weeks on my dyno with my back up engine and get it performing nicely. We were the current land speed record holder in our class of 501-750cc engines prior to going this year with a record of 123.075 mph. We did that in 2016 with an engine producing 104 hp in its most stable form. (Safe levels of compression & timing) Running on a Mustang Chassis dyno in 3rd gear at appx 100mph). After two weeks of testing and over 100 Dyno runs we were able to tweak the back up engine to produce 116 hp in a semi unstable condition. (Which means more compression then I should be running in Iowa!). With the extra gaining horse power we were fairly confident if we could get to the salt and not blow the engine we could set a new world record.
That said we set out for the salt on Wednesday, September 13 and drove 20 hours straight to get to Bonneville salt Flats. We put the car through technical inspection on Thursday afternoon and did not have any issues. We attempted to get fuel from the fuel truck which is the only place you can buy fuel in a land speed racing event like this. Both The fuel cell and your refill tank are required to be sealed under the eye of a race official. If the seal is broken or something looks strange your record will be disqualified. It turned out the fuel truck would not open till after racing started on Friday due to the inability to bring the fuel truck onto the salt by the fuel vendor. A snafu that I’ve not seen happen before.
It turned out the fuel situation did not matter because when racing was to start on Friday morning the winds were too high and racing was delayed all day long. We had received our fueled by 11 AM and decided to take our car to the starting line, which is about a 45 minute trip. Distances at Bonneville are very hard to imagine but you can watch the curvature of the earth disappear over the salty Crust surface. A very unusual landscape indeed. And your race car must be towed anywhere you take it, with a maximum speed is 15 to 20 mile an hour because of the bumpy salt surface.
Our car sat in line all day Friday as we patiently waited to race. But it was to no avail as the winds got stronger all day long. The races were officially canceled for the day about 5:30 PMand we made the decision to leave our car out on the salt overnight, thereby keeping our 6th place in line so we could start racing early Saturday morning.
On Saturday morning we able to run by 9 AM and had a disappointing speed of only 119.6 mph averaged from the 2 to 3 mile start to finish. That was much slower than our 123.075 mph record and I was a bit puzzled what to do next. We made some quick jetting entire changes and were able to get our second run in by around 2 PM. That run produced and even slower speed of 118.6 mph much to my dismay.
One thing not helping was the track was extremely hard and bumpy. The winds on Friday had dried it out but now everything was in bumps. Even though they plow the salt much like you would plow a street with snow, it was still very hard surface and bumpy and hard to control my car at speeds of over 115 mph. This is a new phenomenon and something I had only started to experience last year in 2016 as the salt conditions have steadily degenerated over the last several years. As many of you may know most events were canceled in 2014 and all events were canceled in 2015 due to thin salt and wet conditions. The salt used to be over 2 foot thick back in the 1950s but mining and other factors have caused the salt crust to diminish to an extremely unsafe level. And a byproduct of this is a very hard surface. Some say it is because a local mining company is now putting salt back on to the surface of the flats, but it seems to be much harder since it no longer has potash in it. (Potash is what they are mostly mining). Also the salt becomes airborne very easy were it used to be wet and sticky. There are many agencies studying this to see what exact exactly going on.
Back to racing!! Saturday afternoon late we were able to get up into the first starting position but unfortunately the races were called just before it was our turn to run due to the low light of sunset. So once again since we were in the first position we decided to leave our car out on the salt overnight rather than securing it in the safety of our trailer back in the pit area several miles away.
On Sunday morning we came out and made a few minor changes & tricks and found the magic formula to make the car run as it had back in Iowa on the dyno. Our early morning run on Sunday produced what is called a “qualifying run” where we exceeded our own record of 123.075mph by a speed of 124.479mph. We actually hit 125mph on the GPS for about 6 seconds but the only speed that matters is the average speed from the 2 to 3 mile mark.
In the land speed racing at Bonneville setting a world record is a two day event. It requires what is called a “down run” or a “qualifying run” where your speed must exceed the current record. Once you have done that your car goes to an area called “impound” where you have about four hours to work on it and then you must cover the car and leave it overnight. Then in the morning you come out early before daylight and get your car ready and as a group of qualifiers get escorted under the watchful eye of the officials to the starting line. This is what is called a “return run” or a “record run”.
Once both runs have been recorded (your down run and your return run) You take the average speed over the two runs, in the same measured mile, and if that average speed exceeds the old record you are now the proud owner of a Bonneville land speed record! (Since my car is slower than 175mph it only runs a 3 mile course so my 2-3mile average speed is always my fastest. Faster cars run a 5 mile course but sometime are the quickest from the 3 to 4 mile and that’s where they must average their record run the second time)
We took our car to impound and spent the necessary time (maximum of 4 hours allowed) to make adjustments and check the car over carefully for any possible issues. We were going to leave the area as required after 4 hours but we were informed that due to weather coming in on Monday morning they were going to be running our return runs (record runs) later that afternoon. Many of us racers in the impound wondered about this since the weather forecast looked good till about noon on Monday and typically your car does not run as well in the heat of the afternoon. That said at WOS heat is normally not an issue as the hottest day we had was 78° which occurred on Sunday afternoon for our record “return” run. Speed Week this temperature could easily have been 98° which is a factor.
All that said we went ahead and made a return run in the car about 4:30pmand the Saab ran perfect up until about the 2 1/4 mile mark with a speed of 124mph. At that point it picked up a very slight engine miss and our speed instantly declined to 121 mph. Even though the miss was slight it was enough to cost HP and speed. But fortunately the miss went away at the 2 3/4 mark rather than becoming a complete engine failure! Then from the 2 3/4 mile mark to the finish line at 3 mile the car actually gained its power back and the speed increased to 123 mph in that last 1/4 mile. 123.052 mph was our official return run speed.
This gave us a two-way average over the two days of 123.765 mph and a new world speed record for a J/GT class. That speed record is actually faster than the I class which is the 751-1000cc engine class above us!
But since we set our record on the last full day of racing we only had half a day on Monday to try to once again establish a faster record. Knowing we would only have a couple runs on Monday we decided to go with a “break a record” or “break a part” approach. We swapped to a higher compression head and a higher octane fuel and simply ran out of time to make the combination work at a faster speed. We were able to squeeze in three runs Monday morning and our third run look to be the fastest running 123mph at the 2 mile mark until I ran out of fuel! I know that sounds ridiculous but we only had about a half hour of racing left and it would’ve taken us 45 minutes to an hour to refuel our tank since it must be done under the official sanctioning rules. We made a calculated guess we had enough fuel and were wrong. We had switched fuels that morning and the specific gravity of the new fuel was lower. Thereby causing fuel consumption to increase slightly and our small fuel-cell to run out after 2 & 2/3 runs! And as anyone knows that has raced, if you run out of fuel in a race you’re going to burn up an engine. So we succeeded in “breaking a part”.
As a sidenote we dedicated our last run to a friend of mine and former employee, Brian Healy, who lost his life at a too early age to cancer. And just as Brian’s life had been cut short by cancer, so was our run cut short at the 2 mile mark due to running out of fuel.
All in all we had a great time at the salt and I was finally able to take my long time friend Chuck Crimmins. Chuck had made the 20 hour 1 way trip to Bonneville back in 2014 only to sit idly in the hotel for two days until rain finally squelched all hopes of running at Speed Week. When wind caused WOS to be canceled on our first day there on Friday had begin thinking Chuck was a bad luck charm! But his insight into engines and his lifetime of racing experience became invaluable to me at the salt Both Chuck and another fellow employee Will Roberts made the trip very enjoyable. Our goal this year was to set a record and try to have fun. We Succeeded at both in the cooler temperatures that WOS provided us.
Also WOS allowed us to meet two very special ladies! Lyn St. James who was a 7 time Indy 500 driver who ready helped break barriers for women in Motor Sport Racing. Also Tracy Hoffman from Sweden who is a Swede really into US HOT RODS and Muscle cars!
Take care and safe SAAB’in…Tom Donney
The year 2018 is a bit of a “lost year” for me and Patti. Setting up a Saab museum is a full time job by itself. Let alone transporting 150 plus cars and literally “tons” of shop supplies and equipment to operate it. Taking 10 hours each way to haul trailer loads of Saab stuff from Fort Dodge, Iowa to Sturgis, SD is a daunting task. So having time for “fun stuff” was ruled out for 2018. Job ONE is the museum. But Chuck Andrews helped haul 100 cars out from May to July which was a “God Send” for me and Patti. But even with Chuck’s help I told Patti in early July that running at Bonneville Salt Flats seemed out of the question this year. I had been trying to figure out a way to perform a magician’s “hat trick” and pull a couple rabbits from my Sonett hat. But that seemed to be impossible for 2018. To be successful at Bonneville you need to have more horse power than the previous year to set a new record. For me that takes a lot of dynamometer time. Usually 75-150 Dyno “pulls” as we call test runs. But the Saab museum has consumed all of my time this year and any spare time I have needs to be spent addressing issues at my transmission business.By mid August I was working on a possible “hat trick” and I told Patti I had one chance to produce more horsepower on the Dyno with our “best guess” modifications. Problem was I only had 3 days to do the testing & mods! One mistake and the rabbit would die. Also even if you keep everything the same on a two-stroke engine, but you increase the bore size, typically intake and exhaust modifications must be modified too. So just increasing the bore does not give you extra horsepower like a four stroke. That said we made one attempt to increase horsepower on the dyno & we did! We got lucky. That gave us just enough added horse power to potentially exceed the “I Class” record of 122.539 mph.
Also, if I failed at added HP, I had one more rabbit I could pull out of my hat. And that was to “Hop up” a class and run in the LARGER engine size class of 751cc-1000cc. I like the saying, “figures don’t lie… But liars figure”. Because of all the speed we have managed to obtained on our small 750cc engine we were now running a faster average mile speed record in “J Class” at 123.765 mph, then the “I Class” with a 1000cc engine at 122.539 mph. That meant if I could just make my engine a few CC larger and keep everything the same I would have a chance to set a new record in the “I Class”. Maybe I had found ONE rabbit hopping around!So with 2 rabbits in our hat we set off in September for “World of Speed” 2018. I had three main goals for the trip. First was a new world record. Second was to obtain my 125-149 MPH license. Lastly was NOT to blow up my engine! I took along my service manager Chuck Crimmins and my lead Saab tech Will Roberts along to help pit.
It took a few runs as we missed the first run by .023 of a second from qualifying. The next two runs were lost to a throttle cable stretching and then breaking! But on the next run we eventually squeezed just enough power to exceed the “I Class” Record of 122.539 to a very slim NEW RECORD of 122.679 mph (That is the average speed for 2 runs, for the 2-3 mile run, over 2 days).
With our first goal accomplished it was time to tackle the next 2 goals. The problem was they tend to collide with each other since we could only get to 122.5+ mph. But in Bonneville you either break records or break parts. And to go over 125 mph was going to require a delicate dance of carb mixture, timing, compression ratio and fuel choice. I have a friend named Howard who is my “go to guy” for two stroke racing turning. We talked Sunday night on the phone and crunch the numbers. He felt the engine “might blowup” with these new settings, but I hoped I could get to the 3 mile mark before it melted down! Running wide-open throttle for 3 straight miles is a strain on any engine! My pit crew was a bit divided on which way to go. Young Will Roberts had been campaigning to make the changes and “go for it”. Both Chuck and myself thought we were at the end of our power output with the 752cc engine and exceeding 125 was not possible. Chuck and I went for a walk and told young Will to decide on his own. If we came back and the changes were in the process of being made we would compete the next day. If not we would head home and spend more time on the dynamometer to find the needed horse power to exceed the 125mph mark without blowing up an engine immediately!
When Chuck and I returned to the pit “Will Power” had taken over! Will was making the delicate changes and we would see what the morning would bring.
The next day the car ran faster than it ever has! As I entered the 2 mile I was already over the speed of 124 mph. And this GPS monitored speed just kept climbing! We ended up with an exit speed of 129mph and a run of 127.763 mph for the 1 mile average speed. The second rabbit had finally been pulled out of the hat! We had discovered a new formula to make the small engine run even faster then we thought it was capable of.
We did our back up run into a 2 mph headwind which only cost us 2/10’s of a mph. So we ended up with a two run average of 127.660 mph for the NEW “I Class” record! (751-1000cc engines).
And the icing on the cake was our engine was in perfect condition. No damage had occurred. It was time to go home!
But the story doesn’t end there. Armed with a new formula to make the car run faster we then set our sights on the “World Finals” three weeks later in October with a slightly smaller engine back in our old “J Class” (501-750cc engines).
My crew for the “World Finals” consisted of my wife Patti and newfound friends (we had only met a week earlier at the Saab Museum) Reggie & Kitty Pitts of Hill City, SD.We had the right car & the right crew…And FOR A DAY, the right conditions. We ran our FASTEST run ever at 128.758mph. (That is an average speed for 1 mile) with a top speed of 130+mph).
However rains came that night and we were unable to run our mandatory “back up run” the following day. Racing was postponed for a day and the course was shortened by 2 miles (from 10 miles to 8) because dry salt was found out in the middle of the course.
Unfortunately more rains came that night and what was an already saturated salt became a salt of sea. We were left in impound without a new record. We left our fastest ever run slip hanging on the “Porta potty wall” along with about 18 other race teams that were unable to compete in the newly formed “Lake Bonneville”.
We loaded the race car and all of our tools and parts from our pit area in toe to ankle deep saltwater and sadly headed home. But we were encouraged by our fastest runner ever. More importantly Patti and I had felt blessed to have found new friends in Reg & Kit.
So never be afraid of hat tricks & rabbits!
Safe Saab’in! Tom Donney.