Fast time in the legendary Bandag Bandit
By David A. Kolman, Senior Editor
In the early 1980s, I had the opportunity to meet Tyrone Malone — a true character and an unabashed showman.
Malone got his start by purchasing a dead 20-ton whale that he named Little Irvy. He had it flash frozen, placed it in a specially-built refrigerated trailer and hauled it with a Kenworth tractor across the U.S. as a traveling sideshow.
Malone then added show trucks to his traveling attraction, some of which I got to sit in. The first show truck was his Boss Truck of America — a 1971 Kenworth powered by a 540-horsepower 12V-71T Detroit Diesel with a 13-speed Roadranger transmission.
Eventually, Malone got Bandag as a sponsor and his show trucks only ran on Bandag retreads. A few years after I met the man, I was at Utah’s historic Bonneville Salt Flats — an amazingly flat, desolate white plain — for a Bandag gathering. There, in the middle of nowhere, was a wooden shack, a broad black line on the ground and timing traps alongside. This was the “racetrack” (straightaway) for land speed trials.
The highlight of the event was the attempt by Bandag’s head man at the time, Martin Carver, to set a diesel truck world land speed record in Tyrone Malone’s Bandag Bandit show truck.
The Bandag Bandit was a customized, two-axle 1978 Kenworth conventional with a wind deflector on its rear. It was powered by a 12V-71T twin turbocharged, 1,300-horsepower Detroit Diesel with an Allison HT-750 5-speed automatic.
We all watched as Carver made several runs down the straightaway. The sound from the Bandag Bandit’s big Detroit Diesel was deafening.
The show truck then pulled up before the crowd. Carver shut off the truck and stepped out. He was dressed in a full flame-retardant racing suit, gloves and shoes, plus had a protective racing helmet. From a lottery among a select group, I won the chance to ride along in the Bandag Bandit as Carver attempted to set the speed record. I was going on the ride of a lifetime.
Needless to say, my excitement was building. How cool would it be if Carver set a record with me riding shotgun?
“That’s your seat,” I was told. I heard myself exclaiming: “Yipes!”
After unfolding the chair in the space where Bandag Bandit’s passenger seat had been removed, I sat down and looked around for a seatbelt. There was none. My exhilaration waned as my apprehension and fear grew.
My feelings of dread intensified when Carver climbed into his special driver’s compartment — a full containment racing seat with a multi-point seatbelt harness system, encased in a very sturdy roll cage.
Carver gave me a thumbs up, which I unconsciously returned. I then quickly grabbed the bottom of my seat with both hands and squeezed with all my might. I believe I actually dented the metal of the chair with my fear-induced finger power.
At the time it seemed like a reasonable safety measure.
We sped off in a roar and rapidly made several runs down the Salt Flat’s racetrack. Very surprised at just how smooth the ride was, I soon calmed down and began enjoying myself. Without realizing it, I had let go of my death grip and found myself inching forward in my folding chair to get a better view of things.
More amazing to me was that there was very little sensation of speed. Since we were driving on the barren Bonneville Salt Flats, we were not zooming past other vehicles, billboards, telephone poles, mile markers or other objects.
All went well and we returned safely. I was disappointed that we didn’t set a speed record, though.
Turns out Carver was just practicing for the next day. That is when he set a world speed record for a diesel truck at 150.918 mph.
Unluckily, I have lost my photos of the event during my many moves throughout the years.
Luckily, I still have a special desk set memento of the event. That keepsake has a prominent place on my desk.