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Speed record cause of envy for woman driver

March 11, 2012
Messenger News

Way back in 1968 in my first stint at The Messenger, I was fresh out of college with strong walking legs and an emotional need for a car.

Work had its own car for the area reporter, so I didn't have to have a car, but I was 21, out of school and I had to have a car.

My uncle, Pete Pitsor, hooked me up with a huge Mercury Marquis. It was fast. I wanted to see how fast, so I took it west of town on a blacktop road and opened it up. Putting 95 mph behind me, I hit a little knoll and went airborne.

Deep in my heart that flutter of airborne speed stays alive, and it takes a self control of biblical proportions to keep my foot away from the metal when I'm out on the open road. So it is, when I heard of Tom Donney's land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats International Raceway, my green eyes deepened.

Envy isn't a good look on anyone.

It took more than two months for Donney and two others from Fort Dodge Transmission - Steve Davis and Verlyn Gregerson Jr. - to build the 1967 Saab Sonnet. Last August they took it to Utah, near Wendover, a track set up specifically for speed trials.

Setting a new land speed record was their goal - and they accomplished that. Three times, in fact.

"In order to set a new land speed record at Bonneville, you must first exceed the speed of an existing world record on what is called a down run," Donney wrote in a recent email. "You then have to park your car in an official impound area till the following morning. Then, under supervision of track officials, you re-run your car on what is called a back run. If the average of your two runs, over the two days, exceeds the current world record, you are then the official holder of a new land speed record."

The Donney team broke a three-year record of 96.668 mph held by a Houston team driving a French-built 1959 Deutsch Bonnet. I have no idea what kind of car that is, but it must be special.

Anyway, after taking the speed record the first time, the team installed a special cylinder head designed by technicians at Fort Dodge Transmission and ran again, beating their own new record.

When something's under your skin, in your blood, driving you onward, it's hard to stop, so they took a third try and once again broke the record with a down run of 108.671 mph and back run of 106.215 mph, which gave them the new land speed record of 107.443 mph.

Man, if I hadn't stuffed that old Mercury under the back end of a semi flatbed, I maybe could have taken it to Utah.

But what I really want to know is where Donney checked the speed of his Saab for the first time and whether he now needs a woman to drive it in a speed test.

So long friends, until the next time when we're together.

Sandy Mickelson retired as lifestyle editor of The Messenger. She may be reached at



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