Time Heals: Swede Savage’s Daughter Angela Discusses Her Father’s Omega Speedmaster
Today, the heartwarming story of how a daughter keeps connected to her father, the late racing legend Swede Savage.
In 1973, American race car driver Swede Savage was on the cusp of stardom in the sport when he died at age 26 from complications while recovering from injuries sustained in a crash during that year’s Indianapolis 500.
The then 26-year-old driver left behind an 8-year-old daughter, Shelly, and his wife, Sheryl, who was 5-months pregnant with another girl, Angela.
Of course, as a result of this tragedy, Angela never got the chance to meet her father. But her road to making peace with the past has included the support of the racing community. She also found a physical talisman for navigating her family’s history (and embracing its future) in the form of her father’s Omega Speedmaster.
David Earl Savage Jr. went by the nickname “Swede” because of his bright, blond hair and athletic build (he was also a star football player in high school). The California native had a keen desire to race, starting with soapbox derby cars, moving on to go-karts, then graduating to motorcycles. He also wanted to know what made a vehicle tick and joined the Holman Moody race shop – then the official racing contractor for Ford – as a mechanic.
By the time he was 21, Swede found himself behind the wheel of a stock car. His bravado caught the attention of the media as well. In 1967, for instance, Competition Press & Autoweek profiled the rising star, writing: “He knew he needed to learn the ropes of the racing world but couldn’t conceal his ambition. ‘Maybe I’ll race in the Indianapolis 500, and I’d like to race Formula Ones, too,’ he said.”
By 1968, Swede split his time between NASCAR and running both USRRC and Can-Am with Dan Gurney’s All-American Racers. By 1973, it seemed like all of his dreams were coming true.
But after competing in a number of Indy car races and a non-championship Formula 1 race, Swede was driving in his second Indy 500 and lost control of his STP-sponsored Eagle-Offenhauser race car on the oily track surface, eventually striking the wall. Swede was engulfed in flames for nearly a minute but was quickly rescued and initially expected to survive, even joking with the medical staff at the hospital. Sadly, Swede Savage died of complications 4 1⁄2 weeks later.
Tragically, his career was cut short, but due to the enormous potential he showed early in his career, Swede’s story became iconic.
Unfortunately, Angela Savage grew up with only the legend, not the father. However, now an adult, she’s finally reconciled the desire to connect with her father’s legacy. The result is a book called Savage Angel: Death and Rebirth at the Indianapolis 500, co-authored with Ted Woerner.
Born three months after Swede’s death, Angela struggled with feelings of loneliness for her whole life. “I was born with a broken heart,” Angela told Watchonista. “You feel like the forgotten one.”
In 2014, a racing fan contacted Angela through social media and asked her about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS). “I was asked: ‘Would you ever come back to the 500?’ And my first response was no. [That race] sort of ruined my life.”
But after giving the question some thought, Angela decided it was time to slay the dragon, telling me: “The president of IMS gave us tickets. The welcome was overwhelming. It was a profound experience.”
“When I got back from the track, layers and layers [of family trauma] came away,” she added. “I became comfortable being Swede Savage’s daughter.”
The experience led Angela to dive deeper into Swede’s legacy. “After my dad died, all of his stuff went into a trunk,” she said. But finally feeling up to going through her father’s possessions, she came across his late-1960s Omega Speedmaster Chronograph. And fatefully, she decided to take the well-loved watch out of the trunk and onto her wrist.
Love You to the Moon
“I’m a huge Omega fan,” stated Angela, and when she spots one on somebody else, she gives them the nod of recognition. Not only is her Speedmaster a treasure from her father, but during our interview, she turned the Speedy over to reveal that it is also a family heirloom. Given to Swede from his dad, David Savage Sr., the caseback is engraved: “SWEDE FROM DAD,” and Angela told me, “Knowing that it was the same [timepiece] worn by the astronauts – he knew that it was a special watch.”
The first Speedmaster model’s ties to racing were already well established before Savage’s late-1960s pre-Moon model was made. The Speedy was introduced in 1957, and this configuration with its black dial and tachymeter bezel is one of the most classic iterations. In 1962 Omega introduced the straight baton hands, and in 1963, the 42mm asymmetrical case, designed to protect the chronograph pushers and crown. The “Professional” marking (as seen here) first appeared on the dial in 1966 when the Speedy was approved by NASA for official use.
Angela graciously allowed us to examine her pre-Moon Speedmaster. Interestingly, after 1969, the Hippocampus on the caseback was replaced with the phrases: “The first watch worn on the Moon,” and “Flight qualified by NASA for all manned space missions.” Plus, it is very stirring to see Savage Sr.’s short but sweet note inscribed on the back.
“I wear the watch just about every day,” said Angela. “You look at any pictures of him, and he’s wearing it. For most of my life, it was too painful. How was he so wonderful but gone before I got here? But now, when I wear the watch next to my skin, it’s as close as we can be on other sides of the veil. It makes me feel close. He walks with me.”
This intergenerational message is one that Angela hopes to share with the world through her book, Savage Angel. While you can’t create a dialogue with someone who’s no longer here, no one is more adept at telling her story of loss and reconciliation better than Angela.
“When a woman is very pregnant, the baby can get PTSD too. But the posthumous child wasn’t studied until after 9-11. As the subject became better understood, we discovered that knowledge is power,” she explained. Getting involved with the racing community and taking stock of Swede’s legacy has helped her navigate the world. But it has also inspired her to share her story. “Inspiring others is my biggest goal,” Angela added.
Final Thoughts & Pricing
To close, Watchonista would like to thank Angela Savage for sharing her heartbreaking yet inspiring story and legendary Speedy with the watch community.
Available now, you can purchase Savage Angel: Death and Rebirth at the Indianapolis 500 via the Savage 42 website.
(Photography by Kat Shoulders, other sources mentioned)