Jim Baker's Then and Now

A Tribute to JERRY SAAR

In the drag racing world, you meet many people who all have the same objective: to WIN!  Some are honest, some fudge at any opportunity, and some are just low key, greatly talented folks with tremendous common sense.  We were stunned June 2, 2018 when Tony Sheffler (feature announcer at Atlanta Dragway) informed us of the death of Jerry Saar.


For our many readers across the land, but not those from the Mississippi River basin, you probably do not know of Jerry.  In his native tri-state area (Iowa, Illinois and Missouri), he was huge. A brilliant star of drag racing and flying who never left his home area of Keokuk, Iowa.


Jerry became one of my personal close friends over the years. From appearing at the first drag race we held on June 14, 1960, to helping me rebuild my Pro Stock engines in 1976-77, and hanging out with son Brad and I at the 2016 ‘Rust Revival’ in Wayland, MO.

During our ‘Bucket List’ trip in 2016 we visited Jerry (left) at his home in Keokuk. Friends remarked that they hadn’t seen Jerry smile like that in years.  I was extremely happy too. The next day here came Jerry to the ‘Rust Revival’ in Wayland, MO, driving his fully restored 1962 DeSoto convertible. YES, Jerry was a ‘dyed in the wool’ MOPAR man for life!

When Tri State Dragway opened in 1960, Jerry came with his Keokuk friend Bob Morris entering and winning A/G with this 413” Mopar Wedge powered Anglia.  The duo won A/G many times until Ed Bruegge took over in 1962.

A photo taken at Tri State Dragway in Kahoka, MO. (Jerry’s birth place) shows Jerry, second from left with his tiny daughter Cassie, and their crew with his Chrysler-powered Top Fuel entry called “Yipes Stripes”.


About this time, Tri State Dragway in Kahoka was forced to close due to new highway construction crossing the shutdown area. Jerry and his brother Ron seized the chance to resurrect the defunct Sportsmans Park drag strip in west Keokuk. The brothers opened the Lee County Dragway in 1969 and continued operation until 1988.

Hundreds of racers from all over the US provided great shows for the fans on the bank of the Mississippi. Jerry let brother Ronnie be the leader of the track, but we were there several times, and Jerry did all the jobs necessary to keep things on schedule.  His beloved wife Andrea (Andy), who had raced in the powder puff races at Kahoka, became the tower operator for the Saar team. The Saar boys built her a magnificent tower to work in.

Brother Ronnie, was a popular manager at the drag strip. We remember Tommy Johnson, Sr. winning a season title at Keokuk and praising Ronnie’s leadership.


Before I get too far ahead, I remember Jerry flying me out over the Mississippi River to Dallas City, IL,and back to Keokuk. He was always flying in his spare time. And Jerry seemed to have more time or drive than most. When buying his own airplane seemed too expensive, Jerry bought kits and built his own. (Three times)!

Jerry Saar of Keokuk stands by his latest homemade plane, which is in the light sport class. Saar built and sold two other planes, which were faster than his present one.


On a trip to the NHRA Winternationals in 1972, Jerry, Tony Sheffler, and three others came by our shop (Precisioned Speed) in Anaheim, CA, to visit. Jerry said he was looking for a Funny Car to buy for exhibitions and match races at Lee County.


Later that day, they were at a shop in L.A. where Gene Snow hung out during the California races. Jerry stepped up and said, “Anybody have a Funny Car for sale”? He quickly found a taker in Snow and brought the original ‘Rambunctious’ back to Iowa.

Prior to their California trip, Jerry hand-built his own Funny Car, just to have a match race car at small expense at Lee County Dragway. Called the ‘Mad Centaur’, the Ford Mustang was powered by a 392” Chrysler of course.

Tony Sheffler, who was the track announcer at Lee County, related to me some of the adventures they had getting the ‘Mad’ one up and running. Tony was very much a fixture at Lee County once the Saar Brothers went into action.


Five years ago, when Jerry was in his mid-seventies, Tony wrote the following. It was long before Jerry’s untimely passing, but it may serve as his epitaph:  “Jerry Saar has a birthday on Sunday, March 30, and I just want to send Best Birthday Wishes and a sincere expression of gratitude to one of Keokuk's real racing heroes. By my best guess, almost everyone who got into street rodding and/or drag racing from 1960 through 1990 in the Keokuk area were touched, assisted, encouraged, or just downright influenced by Jerry Saar and his selfless love of performance automobiles and the people who shared his enthusiasm for cars. He came by it honestly, probably starting with his dad, Carl, who was a mechanical whiz in his own dedicated way and that extended to his mother and brothers and even his sister because the entire Saar family was at the backbone of drag racing in its humble beginnings.


“I have known Jerry since I was a 14-year-old car crazy kid who stared in the window of Saar's speed shop in the 700 block of Main back in the mid 60's. I thought it was so cool to be a place where hot rodders could congregate and talk about and buy parts for their cars. The Saar Brothers were the impetus behind so many Keokuk area young men getting interested in, and sometimes (as in my case) addicted, to everything high performance in the auto industry. Jerry has always been selfless in trying to be a source of knowledge to anybody interested in just about any subject that includes cars and that generosity has never been chronicled as I would like to suggest it should be.


“This started out as a birthday greeting for Jerry, but I have so many fond memories of events that Jerry contributed to for people in Keokuk and the surrounding area that I had to bring up a topic that really needs to be chronicled for posterity. Jerry and the late Andrea (Andy), his loving and patient wife, their daughters Cassie and Krystal, his brothers Ronnie and Gayle, and his sister Linda all were part of bringing racing to life for a great run in Keokuk, Iowa. There were literally dozens of real drag racing enthusiasts that had a place to race because of the Saars.


“Above and beyond the sport was Jerry Saar, working 40-hour weeks in a factory in the beginning, repairing cars in his garage behind the house on Bank Street, building his own race cars, assisting the speed shop operation, and in general being the cornerstone of a terrific time in Keokuk's history of auto racing obsession. Fifty years later, I have lived a business life that is auto-centric, I have announced drag races all over the country, I work directly with the automobile manufacturing Industry, I still own drag cars, and on weekends, I announce at Atlanta Dragway. Every bit of this gearhead infatuation with cars can be directly attributed to the graciousness and generosity of my pal, Jerry Saar. A very kind man who treats everybody with respect and honesty and is still one of the very best "car guys " I have ever met. Keokuk, Iowa, is home to many Racing Legends and Jerry, you are right there with the best of them. Happy Birthday, Pal.”


Well spoken, Tony!

An ‘old’ photo from Tri State Dragway shows two roadsters doing battle. On the left is Bob ‘Bobaluie’ Morris with his Jerry Saar 413 MOPAR-powered A/R.

This photo shows St. Louis car builder Jerry Haas vs ‘Animal Jim’ Feurer’s Ford Fairmont in Pro Stock action at Lee County Dragway. In the background, the home with the white shutters is Jerry and Andy’s home. Behind the house is a 13-stall shop which Jerry allowed us to use three times when we were on tour with our ‘Chevy West’ Pro Stock.


While Jerry never tasted victory at an NHRA National event, he was always a champion at home, raising his family, plus racing consistently during the summer months in the middle Mississippi River area. He led a great life and was respected by all who knew him.

This sign was in his home garage during our visit in 2016. I remember when it was at Saar’s Speed Shop on Main Street more than 50 years ago.  R.I.P my friend, you are another true pioneer of our sport.


Until Next Time, Be On Time.  


Testing the AA/FD at Kahoka, Missouri

Tom Kohlmonger’s tribute gasser!

Tom Kohlmonger’s tribute gasser!



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