My Tribute to the Phoenix Land Speed Record Truck

BY Jim Shepherd

Evergreen, CO     January, 2011

Update 1/27/11:  Added photos of the Gates belt drive "gearbox"

Update 12/8/10:  Kathy (Slagle) Madsen was kind enough to send a wonderful biography about her dad.  It is shown later on this page.

Update 10/28/10:  since I published this page, I have been able to establish contact with several of the family members associated with this project.

Several folks have asked if I could include biographical data. Rather than republish data from the internet, I have asked the family to provide information they wish to have published.

Jan Heap said that she still has the Phoenix in her possession.  She is trying to locate a museum that will purchase the vehicle from her and display it with a proper tribute to the people involved.

At the bottom of this page, I have listed two You Tube videos.

I will update this site as information is obtained and time permits

This is the last picture I took of the Phoenix at the 2003 Bonneville Speed Week event.

That year it set the record record of 272.685!!

This is the first picture I took in 1990


My reason for this tribute is to document an amazing project.  It last ran at Bonneville Speed Week in 2003.  After the owner passed away in 2004, it was never run again.  My fear is that the history of this truck and the folks involved will be lost as the years pass.

I was very fortunate to be at Bonneville in 1990 which was the second year that the Phoenix ran on the salt and the last time it ran (2003).  I have never been around such fun loving people who just had a ball being on the Salt.

In 1998, I worked with the team when they used a Gates PolyChain belt for the final drive.  As the speed of the Phoenix increased, the team struggled to get a gear ratio that would be "tall enough" to keep the engine at an acceptable RPM.  The tried the Gates Polychain as a part of an overdrive system.  The had some problems with the belt when they first started to run that year, but I worked with them to get belt "broken in" so that they could make a record run attempt.  Indeed, the Phoenix did qualify for another record, but they were not able to make the second required run due to some engine problems.  I advised them that the design was marginal.  The next year, they had a fabricated steel gear gearbox.  Shown below are two pictures of the drive. 


The PolyChain "Gearbox" being assembled (note the rear end "pumpkin" at the bottom of the photo)

Close-up view of the PolyChain Belt


The truck was built out of a junk yard truck - a 1943 IHC K-7 model.  The truck was co-owned by R.B. Slagle and Carl Heap. 

Salvage yard version


Some of the specifications are:

  • 1943 IHC K-7 truck

  • Detroit Diesel 16V92 engine.  (1472 cubic inches)

  • Engine is mounted behind the cab

  • Engine has 4 turbo chargers and produces in excess of 4,000 HP

  • Engine is redlined at 3200 RPM as opposed to the standard 2100 RPM

  • Truck is over 18,000 pounds

  • Truck used 737 and 747 airplane tires (update:  Carl's son informed me that the front wheels are 707 nose wheel tires)

  • The truck had "skis" mounted on the front axle that allowed a safe deceleration in the event of a front tire failure.

  • Transmission was an in-out box coupled to a "Brownie" auxiliary transmission (used top three speeds of a four speed box

  • Truck did not have a clutch system - it was push started and the in-out engaged at the proper speed.

  • The truck uses 7 gallons of fuel in 5 miles.  Carl estimated that it used 4 gallons in the last mile of the run. Those numbers were from 1999 and the fuel consumption in the next few years probably increased in later years.

My first exposure to the truck was very memorable.  It was on a trailer in a hotel parking lot.  A friend and I were kind of sneaking around looking at this marvel.  All of a sudden this meat hook of a hand hit my shoulder from behind and a very deep voice boomed "son, you can't see anything down here - crawl up there and look to your hearts content". It was R.B. Slagle, the owner.  He was an absolute character and a wonderful person to be around.  R.B. drove the truck, while Carl Heap (later became a co-owner oversaw most of the maintenance and contributed strongly to the various versions of the truck.  After R.B's passing, Carl took over the driving chores.

In 1990 the truck was very basic with an almost stock cab and an engine with no cover in the back.  By 2003 the streamlining had become very sophisticated. Both versions are shown in the pictures below. 



1990 Version


2003 Version


Over the years,  the aerodynamics and engine modifications permitted setting many records:




Sanctioning Body


Speed (MPH

Standing Record

Bonneville Speed Week


Carl Heap





Bonneville Speed Week


Carl Heap





Bonneville Speed Week


Carl Heap





Bonneville Speed Week


Carl Heap





Bonneville Speed Week


Carl Heap





Bonneville Speed Week


Carl Heap







R.B. Slagle





Data from:

Both R.B. and and Carl became members of the elite 200 MPH club.  R.B became a member in 1992 with a speed of 212.440 and Carl in 2000 with a speed of 231.356.  R.B was the first driver of a truck to be inducted in the 200 MPH club.   By the time I got to the pits shortly after Carl had received his 200 MPH shirt, he had already gotten it dirty.  Sadly, R.B died in 1998 and Carl died in 2004 - both from cancer.  I talked to Carl after he set the 272 MPH record in 2003, and it was obvious that his health was not good.  Never-the-less, he still had a wonderful time!

The following are some photos and information that I have collected over the years.

Push truck and Phoenix, 2003

This is one of my favorite photos.  The Peterbuilt push truck has a very hopped up 8V92 two-stroke engine.  That year, they cracked a head on the push truck and the owner repaired it in the pits.  He was an old time two-stroke mechanic and took a lot of time showing me how to "run the rack".  That is a process of setting the injectors so that they all function in unison.  It is very sensitive process that involves very special techniques.

Update:  I have been contacted by Hazel Nielsen wife of George Nielsen who still owns the Peterbuilt.  She gave me the following information:

The Pete started drag racing (as "Class of '65") in 1987--held the track record at Woodburn Dragstrip for several years--fastest time in the quarter mile 12.24 seconds//113 MPH..  It weighs in at 12650 lbs without the driver.  2008 was our last year at the drags.

The Pete was also campaigned on the salt and held a record of 156.510 MPH in the Highway Hauler Class until 1999



Tow truck and trailer

Again, this a favorite.  The 3/4 ton 4X4 tow truck has a Detroit Diesel 6V92 two-stroke engine with twin turbo chargers.  My guess is that it produced at least 400 HP.  It was mated to a truck 10 speed transmission and the rear end is from a semi, machined down so the 3/4 ton axles and wheels could be used.  A 6V92 weighs over 2,000 pounds, so the truck had to have special springs.  Getting the engine in the truck must have involved a rather large shoehorn!  They said it really pulled the trailer and Phoenix very well except for cooling issues.  Later they mounted a large radiator in front of the grill.  Update:  Carl's son Travis is trying to located the current owner in an effort to buy it back.


1990 version.  No streamlining.


1991 Version.  Start of streamlining.

2001 version.  More streamlining

2003 final version front view

2003 final version rear view



Robert Bradley (R.B.) Slagle

Submitted by Kathy (Slagle) Madsen

Born in Talent, Oregon on March 30, 1925, and raised in the Rogue Valley.

In 1942 at age 16 he started pulling green chain for Alley Brothers in Prospect, Oregon. Shortly after that he quit high school to drive a log truck and he drove a truck for the rest of his life.

When he was 17, joined the United States Marine Corps and was stationed in the Philippines during WW II where he worked on Corsairs.

In 1948, he bought a new White lumber truck. He and his dad (and sometimes his brother-in-law or others) drove the truck 24 hours a day, hauling for a lumber mill in Brookings, Oregon. That truck was later converted to a log truck.

In 1950, he married Margaret Byrne of Brookings, Oregon. They began their family a year later with son, Mike, followed by daughters Kathy and Betty, and a son Steve.

They moved from Selma, Oregon to Grants Pass in 1953. He continued to haul with one truck until 1964 when he bought five trucks and began hauling for Spaulding and Son’s. He stayed with Spaulding and Son’s for nearly 30 years, having increased his fleet of trucks to 17.

Bob and Carl Heap became good friends when they both got involved in tractor pulling in the late ‘70’s. Carl had his little 4X4 and Bob used his work pickup, a diesel, of course. Shortly after that Bob decided he should probably not risk breakdowns on his work pickup, so he built a diesel “puller”. He did so well outpulling the gas-alcohol rigs that he was soon placed in his own category. Always a crowd pleaser with the thick black smoke pouring out of the exhaust pipes, he spent hours tinkering with his puller, trying to make it better.

On a fall night in 1982, while Bob and Margaret were at a high school football game, they watched as a bolt of lightning came out of the sky and landed right about where Bob’s wood-framed shop stood. As the fire sirens and alarms sounded, their hearts sank. His shop burned to the ground. All of his trucks were spared, but everything in the shop was a total loss, including his “puller”. They salvaged what they could, and a small shack on the property was used for the driver’s to check in and out on Monday morning. Not a load was missed. The shop was rebuilt.

Six weeks after the fire, Bob and his chief mechanic, Mike Johnson, had the puller up and running again, this time named the Phoenix, because it literally arose out of the ashes. Why a diesel puller? “I went diesel just because I am stubborn. In the back of my mind, instead of brain cells, there are gears, ratios, compressions, bearings, and other related things” said R.B.

Tractor pulling ceased to become a challenge as Bob began to set his sights on speed. In 1985 he found a 1943 International truck and pulled everything out, replacing it with two V8 tugboat engines bolted together, 98 cubic inches per cylinder, four turbos, and two superchargers, giving him 4000 of horsepower. He designed his own gear ratios, and made any parts that he could not find on the market.

Carl Heap helped build the rig’s transmission and rear-end. With Bob as the designer, engineer, owner, and driver, and with help from Carl and others, the Phoenix set a land speed record in 1992 of 212 mph. Bob was the first man to drive a diesel over 200 mph on the Salt Flats. Bob had the names of his pit crew (his grandchildren) painted on the side of the Phoenix. He told them all they went 212 miles per hour that day.

In 1995, Bob retired from the log trucking business and made a deal with Carl. If Carl would give him shop space so he could work on the Phoenix, Bob would make Carl a full-time partner. Carl became the partner and when Bob passed away in 1998, Carl became the sole owner of the Phoenix. With help and parts from various sponsors, Carl was able to run the Phoenix to its record 272 mph on the Salt Flats before he passed away in 2004.

While the Phoenix was a fun project, Bob’s heart and soul was always with his log trucks. He kept only one truck after he retired. That truck made its last run, after being painted, polished, and loaded, by friends and past drivers, on January 29, 1998, as the fully loaded logging truck was driven down Sixth Street in Grants Pas, Oregon on its way to Bob’s memorial service.



The following is an email I received from Carl.  He was writing to a friend of mine who was working at the National Automotive and Truck Museum of the US ( in Auburn, IN at the time.  It is the home of Endeavor, a competitor in diesel truck racing at Bonneville.

From: "Carl's 4x4" <>
To: <>
Cc: <>
Subject: Re Land Speed Record Trucks
Date: Mon, 20 Mar 2000 22:38:31 -0800

I recieved your e-mail in regards to land speed racing trucks. I have
also been in contact with Jim Shepard who is helping me with my belt
drive system. Jim had everything almost correct, with a few exceptions.
There are more than two diesel truck classes. At this point there is a
Highway Hauler class and a diesel truck class for trucks under 1 ton. In
the 1 ton class there are breakdowns for cubic inches including
AA,A,B,C,D,E, and F. Also when Jim refered to the parachute being
deployed at about 100 mph, that is when I begin to use the brakes. The
parachute is deployed as soon as I cross the 5 mile marker at 239 mph.

Other than that I think Jim had it very accurate.

In regards to the fuel consumption I use about 7 gallons in a five mile
run. If you consider that I do not reach maximum fuel consumption until
mile 4, I would say that you are probably correct in your guess at 4
gals per mile at top speed.

I hope you can use some of this information. If I can be of more help,
please let me know. I am not very handy with this computor so please
bear with me.

Carl Heap



Update 10/28/2010

Readers have referred me to two You Tube Videos:

Click here for video 1 This video is some raw footage from a record run in 2003.

Click here for video 2 This video is a bit of a “production” showing lots of scenes from 2003. It has some good footage of Carl and his wife as well as various folks involved with the Phoenix.  It has good footage of the Peterbuilt Push truck.  For the life of me, I don't recall seeing the plane flying that close to the track.  The video does show how much fun the members of the team had.

It is troubling for me to watch portions of video 2, as you can see the pain that Carl is in. As noted above, he passed away the following year from cancer.  I was in their pit area at approximately the time some of the footage was taken.  The joy was unbelievable.   Perhaps some of the special celebration was the fact that the folks close to the team knew it was the last year they would be on the salt as a team.

Note:  the black smoke of both the push truck and the Phoenix is normal.  They over fuel the engine to produce the huge amounts of power.  The first time I saw the Phoenix run, I thought it had caught fire. 

As a side note, you can actually see the curvature of the earth at Bonneville.  The cars "disappear" over the horizon.  Some of the photographers at the starting line some stand on ladders when they are shooting long distance photos.