I truly believe Swede Savage would have done for Indy, what Dale Earnhardt Sr. did for Nascar.
I never was much into auto racing until I saw a story that was done by ABC sports about 5 years ago. It was about an up and coming driver that had passed away in 1973, but he was unlike any other driver of his day.
David Earl “Swede” Savage Jr. was not your typical southern good ol boy race car driver. With most drivers coming from the south or midwest, Swede was the typical Southern California boy. He was tall, good looking and had a cool way about him. He was nice and humble and many felt he would be one of the huge break out stars in the indy circuit. Swede was a four sport athlete with a racers heart, first racing as a 5 year old in the soap box circuit. Many were predicting the 1973 Indianapolis 500 to be his coming out party to stardom. He was the guy girls wanted to date, and the racer guys wanted to be like. Dale Earnhardt had that marketing aura and I think Swede was a marketers dream.
More than a few race fans felt that the 1973 Indy 500 was cursed. The rain was a huge factor cancelling the race for two and a half days. There had also been a fatal accident during a practice run. Salt Walther was critically injured on Monday with some spectators having to be hospitalized for burns from the fuel. At the end of the race, 3 people would be dead, one racer critically injured and several fans were hospitalized.
In one of the most horrific wrecks you will ever see, on lap 58 the rear wing of his car came loose and it made the car unstable. Jim McKay’s voice raised immediately when he saw this and it’s hard to listen to. Swede’s car turned directly into an infield retaining wall at full speed hitting head on. The car exploded and a huge plume of fire and smoke rose. He ended up near the upper wall and the fuel leaked all over and caught on fire; debris was everywhere. It seemed like a lifetime before they could get the fire out with fans screaming for the firemen to hurry.
Here is rare footage of the accident from the wall.
If the nightmare wasn’t bad enough crewmember Armando Teran ran across the infield to help the drivers. He was run over by a fire truck driving at 60 MPH and was killed instantly. He was hit so hard his body flew high up into the air and the Indy 500 crowd screamed in horror.
When Savage began to move, Jim McKay was stunned. Swede actually was joking around with those helping him and he went into the hospital with hopes for a recovery. Sadly in 33 days he was gone.
There still remains a mystery on what killed him. Doctors said it was tainted blood that gave him hepatitis and caused his liver to fail; or his kidneys failed. His father said it was pulmonary damage from the fire and the lack of oxygen that was given to him. We may never know the real story.
Sadly Swede Savage left an unborn daughter. His wife eventually would give birth to Angela. They had another daughter Shelly who tragically died in 1995 from Leukemia. Swede also had a son John.
His daughter Angela has lived with pain for a long time. She said she was born with a broken heart and never got over the loss of her dad. She once said she thought she’d be sad forever. She had battles with drugs and alcohol as early as 10 years old and never had peace.
On the coaxing of a race car fan who wanted her to see why her father loved Indy racing so much, she began to think of going. With a groundswell of financial and moral support, social media friends raised money for her to go to the Indy 500 this year. When Indianapolis Motor Speedway Management found out about it, they contacted her and paid for the basics of the trip including a memorial car for her to drive in honor of her father.
Angela went with her husband Scott and Swede’s brother Bruce. A documentary book and movie are now in the works for all of Swede’s loving fans.
I had always been a little bitter that Indy did not do more to commemorate Swede but I can understand it. I was very happy though to see many Indy people and former racers embrace Angela and Bruce during interviews. You could see their joy in talking about him. I think this gives the fans, as well as his family the closure they’ve longed for. Angela was all smiles and she wore her fathers old racing uniform today.
Angela stated in an article,”What I want to do now is to take the open wound, sew it up and celebrate; cap it off with joy!”. For Angela, the drivers and the fans, the closure and celebration of his life heals many wounds.
Swede Savage, his adoring fans, and his family deserve nothing less.