Moline businessman headed to Utah for run at land speed record

22 Jul

John Knaack poses with the car he'll take to the Bonneville Salt Flats. Phil Roberts photo.

John Knaack poses with the car he'll take to the Bonneville Salt Flats. Phil Roberts photo.

Everyone should have some goals in life. And it doesn’t hurt to have a few dreams, too.

A Moline businessman has a dream of going fast — real fast. And he’s inching closer and closer to achieving it. John Knaack’s dream is to set a world land speed record in a vintage coupe at the Bonneville Salt Flats in northwestern Utah.

Knaack, 60, co-owner of Moline’s General Pattern Corp. and a First Ward alderman in his first term, has been spending every spare minute and dollar for more than a year building the car he’ll take to the Salt Flats, a huge remnant of Lake Bonneville, a glacial lake.

Knaack was born in Moline and is a lifetime resident. He attended Moline High School, Black Hawk College and Scott Community College.

He became a patternmaker in 1974 and went to work at General Pattern in 1986. He and a business partner bought the place in December 1992. Knaack and his wife Trudy bought out his partner in November 2008.

Knaack’s love of cars, he guesses, started in the early ’50s at the age of 3 when his dad and a friend entered a 1937 Ford in the stock car races at the old Quad-City Speedway. Lee Morehardt drove the No. 50 Contract Roofing Special.

While at Moline High and beyond, Knaack drove what now are considered classic cars — a 1957 Chevy, a 1964 Grand Prix and a 1968 GTX.

He says he started building hot rods with his friends after he married Trudy, his wife of 39 years with whom he has two daughters and one grandson.

“The first hot rod was a ’31 Model A,” he recalls. “We put six two-barrels on it and a 301 cubic-inch engine in it.”

More recently he built a 1955 Buick hot rod.

Now the land speed record run is occupying his time, though it’s not like Knaack was running out of things to do. There’s the alderman job, the first political office he’s had.

“I’m very excited about being an alderman,” he says. “I find it very rewarding.”

Knaack also likes yard work.

“I love gardens,” he says. “I have a fairly good-sized rock garden.”

He admits it’s been neglected a bit the last year or so since he began pursuing his dream.

“But a rock garden can carry on without a lot of care,” he adds.

Knaack also builds furniture as a hobby.

“I try to build furniture for both girls as a Christmas gift each year,” he says.

It was his find of a 1929 Ford Model A five-window coupe that gave rise to Knaack’s dream of setting a land speed record. He traded a pistol for it and told his wife he wanted to prepare the car for a run at the Salt Flats.

How did she react to that?

“She said, ‘You’re not getting any younger.'”

Knaack says that sort of support was not really a surprise to him. “She’s always been behind me in the decisions I made or wanted to make,” he says.

Knaack will compete in a vintage coupe class for his shot at the world land speed record.

The Southern California Timing Association officer changed the class he was to run in to a class that is somewhat faster than he originally planned to go. The Classic Altered Coupe (C/CGALT) class record set in August of 1998 is 238.241 mph.

“I would like to go 240 mph,” he says.

The 1929 Model A body sits on a heavier 1932 Ford chassis, which has been “narrowed and pinched” to fit the body. The car’s roof has been “chopped” (lowered) 3 inches. The Ford has a Franklin quick-change rear end and is powered by a vintage 1958 364 cubic-inch, 650-horsepower Buick engine. A parachute will help slow the car after the run.

“The car is dedicated,” Knaack says, “to my uncle, Mike Nelson, who was killed September 4th, 1999, at Cordova Dragway.”

Knaack had hoped to make his attempt at a land speed record the first week of August. But some late-arriving parts — including a heavy duty timing chain that’s coming from Germany — will delay the attempt to this fall. Now he hopes to compete in the World of Speed activities being held Sept.16-19 at the Salt Flats.

His wife and a two-man pit crew will accompany him.

If Knaack can qualify and get a license to compete, he will be allowed to make some practice runs before going after the world record.

“The biggest process is going through inspection,” he says. Everything has to be just right.

Knaack says his venture is expensive, but friends have helped by donating parts and their time working on the car. Someone even donated T-shirts he is selling to raise money.

Anyone interested in helping can call Knaack at his shop, (309) 762-1581, or e-mail him at

Win, lose or draw, this has been a unique experience for the Knaacks, and they’re documenting everything for the sake of family history. “I have compiled lots of notes and pictures,” Knaack says.

Copyright 2009 by Phil Roberts, Creative Enterprises.

1 Comment

Posted by on July 22, 2009 in Uncategorized


One response to “Moline businessman headed to Utah for run at land speed record

  1. Coop

    July 23, 2009 at 1:44 am


    Great story about John! Hope you’ll be able to follow the storyline all the way to the finish. It might make a good book documenting the build, the licensing, practicing, and the actual land speed trial, followed (with luck) by the land speed record. “Alderman on the Salt”



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