At only 5-years of age, David Earl Savage Jr. already had a passion for racing. That was when he started Soap Box Derby racing in his hometown, San Bernardino, CA. He was nicknamed Swede because of his blonde hair (it was also a way to differentiate himself from his father, David Earl Savage Sr). As he got older, he moved on to racing quarter midget cars with his brother. He participated in the championships in Las Vegas, NV, driving a car nicknamed “The Bucket of Bolts” The number of the car was 79 – representing the boys’ ages at that time.
At age 12, he started racing go-karts, then later moved on to motorcycles by his mid-teens. In 1967, when he was only 21 years old, Swede attended a test session at the Riverside International Raceway. Monte Roberts, who worked for Ford Motor Company saw Swede wheelie a motorcycle for almost a mile! Awestruck by his talent and courage, Roberts recommended that Ford take Swede under their wing in stock car racing. Not long after that, Swede was invited by the legendary Dan Gurney to try sports car racing.
In 1970, he took first place in the “Bobby Ball 150” with an Eagle-Ford Indy car. He raced in the Indy 500 twice in addition to many other races. He was one of the brighest new stars in racing then.
In the 1973 Indy 500, Swede was in the lead from laps 43 to 54 before he had to make a pit stop. A few laps later, Swede lost control of his car, hitting the wall head-on. His car exploded in a 60-foot high plume of flame. Swede was thrown back across the circuit, still strapped in his seat and conscious. He was rushed to the hospital where he died 33 days after the accident due to complications related to contaminated plasma.