Sigurd Olson 'Sig' Haugdahl, the 'Flying Norwegian' was born in Tiller, Norway. A fine speed skater, he moved to the United States in 1910 and stayed with his uncle in Albert Lea, Minnesota. He went to work in a local machine shop. He started ice racing in 1912 on a motorised sled powered by an Indian motorcycle engine. He switched to racing motorcycles on dirt tracks and then in 1913 he moved onto four wheels in races promoted by J. Alex Sloan.
When Sloan founded the International Motor Contest Association (IMCA) in 1915, racing on the mid-western fair circuit from Canada to Texas, Sig found himself racing his Mercer Raceabout against the likes of Louis Disbrow and Leon Duray.
He began his dirt racing career in 1918. Financed by Sloan, he lowered the mile record set by Barney Oldfield at the Minnesota Fairgrounds.
In 1912 in collaboration with Sloan, he built the Wisconsin Special, primarily to beat the USAC champion Tommy Milton. The car was named after its 836 cubic inch Wisconsin 6-cylinder aero-engine, which was connected directly to the rear axle. The car was 192 inches (488 cm) long, had a body only 20 inches wide and produced 250 horsepower.
Sig is widely reported to have run at 180 mph in the Wisconsin Special on the beach at Daytona, Florida, on April 7, 1922. This would have broken the existing world record held by Kenelm Lee Guinness in the 350 hp Sunbeam by some 47 mph. It not be until five years later, in 1927, that the mark would eventually be reached.
Anyway Haugdahl's record was never recognised by the AIACR (Association Internationale des Automobile Clubs Reconnus which became the FIA) in Europe as it was not officially timed by the relevant sanctioning body. It is actually very unlikely that he ever achieved this speed and that there was more than a small degree of showmanship and IMCA promotion involved. If the car had been that quick it would seem logical to attempt an official record but this never happened. Thus it fell to Henry Segrave in the 1000 hp Sunbeam to better three miles a minute on the beach at Daytona in 1927.
In 1924 Sig did most of his racing in California on the new Ascot Speedway but returned to the mid-west in 1926 in search of the IMCA National Championship. He won the title six years running between 1927 and 1932.
Haugdahl was also a fireworks expert and built a rocket-powered car with which he toured the country in 1932 making exhibition runs.
This was the first manned rocket powered car. An earlier German effort was an unmanned and ran on rails. His first public exhibition run was on June 17, 1932 at the Bo Sterns Speedway, Wichita, Kansas. He is also credited with being the first person to balance his racing car's wheels.
In the early 1930s, Sig lived in Florida and became a keen golfer. He continued to race, mostly midgets, on the east coast of the United States, finally retiring from driving in 1934.
Haugdahl came up with the plan to hold a stock car race on Daytona Beach. In early 1936, Haugdahl, along with local attorney Millard Conklin and consultant Bill France, laid out a course of 3.2 miles consisting of 1.5 miles of State Road A1A and 1.5 miles of beach with short turns on the north and south end of the oval-shaped course.
A 250 mile, AAA-sanctioned stock car race was held on March 8, 1936. The event drew and interesting array of competitors such as Indianapolis 500 winner Wild Bill Cummings, midget racing legend Bill Schindler, sports car racing pioneer Miles Collier, millionaire sportsman Jack Rutherford, English speed king Goldie Gardner and Daytona’s own Bill France. The city posted at $5,000 purse. However thousands of spectators had already arrived at the track before the ticket booths were set up, the sandy turns became virtually impassable and the event was stopped after 75 of 78 laps. The race incurred huge financial losses to the city.
France entered a 1935 Ford V-8 coupe owned by a fellow mechanic named Glen Brooks. The local Gulf Oil dealer sponsored France with fuel and tires. Along with his driving chores,
France raced a 1935 Ford V-8 coupe and was also the mechanic on Milt Marion's 1936 Ford convertible. Marion went on to win the race while France came home fifth.
Haugdahl talked with France and they persuaded the Daytona Beach Elks Club to host another event in 1937. The event was more successful, but still lost money. Haugdahl didn't promote any more events but France used the experience and went on to found NASCAR.
Sig suffered several strokes before he passed away on February 4, 1970. He is buried at Jacksonville, Florida and was inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Iowa in 1994.
historicracing.com with thank to the Sigurd W. Haugdahl collection for the photographs.