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.
Bonneville Salt Flat Nines 2018admin2018-12-13T10:22:47+00:00