Nationally known Sprint Car historian lives in Brandon

By: 
Tom A. Savage, Contributing writer

Photo courtesy of Chip Kniffinl 

Brandon resident Tom Savage went to his first automobile race in 1946. He’s since been inducted into the Hall of Fame at three area racetracks and is one of the top Sprint Car historians in the country.

The sport of Sprint Car racing has grown dramatically over the past century.

Prior to the mid-1970s, Sprint Cars were known as Big Cars, and the name of the car has transformed over the last 100 years. It’s actually only been in recent history where the cars that race each Sunday night at Huset’s were known as simply ‘Sprint’ cars. The first time Sprint was used in this area was at the famed 1980 Knoxville Nationals. 

The name of the car may have changed over the years, but that’s just the start. Big Cars were the given name, just to differentiate them from the cars that ran at the Indianapolis 500. Big Car racing – or Sprint Car racing – was obscure as they were considered the minor leagues compared to those who made the jump to Indianapolis.

However, the sport of Sprint Car racing is now one of the most popular forms of motorsports in the country. The vault to Indianapolis from a Sprint Car is less and less in the modern era. Sprint Car racing – to many professional drivers around the world – is the top level, and the purest form of motorsports.

The sport has produced some of the biggest names in motorsports. No matter your interest level, names like Steve Kinser, Sammy Swindell, Doug Wolfgang, Gary Bettenhausen, Ron Shuman, Larry Dickson, Jack Hewitt and A.J. Foyt are certainly in the mix when it comes to household names.

For area race fans now, it’s easy to get caught up in the glitz and glamor that is 410 Sprint Car racing. Multi-million-dollar haulers snake their way down both entrances to Huset’s on Sunday nights. Even more find their way to Knoxville on Saturday evenings.

But there’s a lot of history that’s brought the sport to this point. One of the Sprint Car racing’s greatest historians lives right here in Brandon.

He’s also my dad.

Tom Savage attended his first automobile race in the summer of 1946 at Armscamp Speedway in Alexandria, Ind., which lies about an hour northeast of Indianapolis. At age eight, he attended his first Indianapolis 500 that same year with my uncle and grandfather.

His first Sprint Car – or Big Car – race came a couple of years later at the Winchester Speedway, a famous ½-mile track in eastern Indiana where many famous names honed their craft.

Armscamp, Indianapolis and Winchester all clearly got a hook into my dad. Growing up in Muncie – positioned about an hour north of Indianapolis – the passion for automobile racing took a real hold as he hung out at Turner’s Alignment Shop. As a little kid hanging out in the greasy alignment shop in central Indiana in the 1950s, my dad saw race car after race car come through the garage as they received weekly maintenance. 

His family moved to Sioux Falls when he was a junior in high school in 1954. Although he’d left the hotbed of automobile racing in Indiana, he soon became the bedrock for local racing in this area.

He never turned a wheel in a race car, but over the years, he’s seen a ton. More importantly, he’s recorded it. He was at the first race ever at Huset’s in May of 1954, and rarely missed another over the next four decades. 

His record-keeping of those early days is fascinating. The number of Steno-type notebooks that still fill his Brandon home office are countless, and if you need to know who finished fourth place in the third heat race on Sunday, July 8, 1973, just give him a ring.

At age 83, and within minutes, he’ll know the answer.

He formed the Huset’s Speedway Hall of Fame in 1998. Ten years later, he was inducted into it. He’s also been inducted into the Knoxville Raceway Hall of Fame, and the Jackson Motorplex Hall of Fame in Jackson, Minn.

He was an original member of the Board of Directors of the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in Knoxville when it was formed in 1990. He’s not been inducted into that national shrine, but it’s my opinion that that honor is only a matter of time.

No doubt I’ve ridden his coat tails in this profession. His automobile racing writing is that of legend. His decades-long weekly national racing column, along with hosting regional radio shows, is still referenced by historians.

We share the same name, and when I was named Director of Public Relations for IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500 in 2002, it happened more than once when people asked me if we were related.

Upon my return home to South Dakota, Chuck Brennan asked me if I would run Huset’s for him after he purchased it from the Clarence Rubin family in 2015. 

One of the first things I did at Huset’s was to ramp up the Hall of Fame page on the new Badlands Motor Speedway website. I called a lot of people in my first few weeks, hoping to track down historical photos.

“Hi, this is Tom Savage from the race track in Brandon,” I said when I greeted the recipient of my call.

“Welllll…Tom Savage. How the hell are you, old friend,” or something like that, is what I heard at the start of almost every call.

“Sorry to disappoint,” I said. “But I’m his son.”

I worked as the General Manager at the track for just the one year that Brennan owned it in 2016. It’s also the last time my dad’s been to Huset’s – or any track.

He still watches IndyCar and NASCAR on TV, and occasionally he’ll see a Sprint Car race on his computer … if we can collectively figure it out.

And there’s little doubt a grin still covers his face when he hears the rumble of a Sprint Car when Huset’s comes to life.

He and my mother thankfully still live independently in their townhome in Brandon. Although his pace has slowed over the years, rest assured that my parent’s windows are cracked just a little each Sunday night in the summer.

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The Brandon Valley Journal

 

The Brandon Valley Journal
1404 E. Cedar St.
Brandon, SD 57005
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