OREM — During his life, Don Cash Jr. enjoyed taking on some of the world’s greatest challenges.
Or, perhaps more accurately, some of its tallest.
Cash Jr. was one of only a handful of people who have successfully climbed the “Seven Summits” of the world — the tallest mountain on each continent.
Setting and meeting lofty goals was part of his personal philosophy, his father, Don Cash Sr., said — his belief about the way that life should be lived.
“My son Don had strong feelings that you need to have a bucket list,” he said. “You have to have goals. He was just a real stickler on intentional living, he called it. Intentional living. He had this feeling if you are going to do epic stuff, bring people with you.”
Tragically, Cash Jr. didn’t make it back from conquering his seventh peak — Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world — in 2019, collapsing on his way down after summiting.
He left family and friends behind and at least one great challenge unconquered — a project he referred to as his eighth summit.
Now, those who knew him are trying to complete the challenge that Cash Jr. wasn’t able to. It’s a family affair, just as Cash Jr. intended it to be, perhaps now more than ever.
When the opportunity came to purchase and revamp a former speed-record-setting 1952 Buick, famous for its runs on the Bonneville Salt Flats, it was just another chance for Cash Jr. to pursue the improbable.
“Bombshell Betty,” as the car has been dubbed, had previously set six land-speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats International Speedway. The latest record-breaking run came in 2013, when it recorded an official time of 165 mph.
Its exit speed was even faster — clocking in at 171 mph.
That record, in the XO/GCC class, was broken in 2018 by a car that went 175 mph. Cash Jr. not only wanted the record back, he wanted to shatter it and get his car to go 200 mph.
“He was a very interesting person, and he liked doing unusual things and having big goals,” Cash Sr. said. “And he thought that a 4,000-pound Buick that set a land-speed record was like driving a 4,000-pound Lego block down the Salt Flats and (trying) to do 200 (mph) would be a fun goal.”
Before his passing, Cash Jr. paid various automotive companies to upgrade the safety features of the car and begin work that would allow it to move faster than ever before.
“He kind of referred to Bombshell Betty as maybe his eighth summit,” Cash Sr. said.
It was a fitting analogy.
Like climbing the tallest mountains in the world, getting an old Buick up to 200 mph is a difficult feat for a vehicle not initially designed for racing.
“The aerodynamics on this car are absolutely horrible,” said Jeffrey Holm, Utah Valley University Transportation Technology professional in residence. “You don’t even have to be a race car guy to look at the front end of this thing and see how much frontal drag you’ve got on it. We can’t change that, just because the iconic looks of this car. I cannot change that.”
All work on Bombshell Betty stopped after Cash Jr. passed away.
“After Don died, the budget kind of dried up on the car, understandably,” said Holm, who is also a family friend. “And I probably was one of the first to get over to the house when I was aware that Don had died, and I just kind of made a commitment to myself that I was going to get this car done, one way or another.”
Cash Sr. said he doesn’t remember who initially made the suggestion, but Holm’s connection to UVU proved providential, and the car was taken to Orem to be finished by a group of college students there.
They started in October.
“I love the idea that there were different shops that were touching the car, because it meant new people that we would meet, new interests and excitement on behalf of additional people that were involved,” Cash Sr. said. “So the school thing just seemed like it would be exactly what my son would want us to do, if he wasn’t here, to have as many people involved ... as possible.”
Currently, about 10 students are on the race team, and they are helping with the car’s electrical system, metalwork, transmission, aerodynamics and basically everything else.
“It was a little bit daunting,” said Hadley Tibbitts, a freshman automotive technology student who is working on the race team. “Once we got it up on the lift and looked at everything that needed to be done — which was literally everything — we were a little bit concerned, but it was also really exciting because you got to see how much you’re going to learn. There’s just so much opportunity there.”
The students aren’t getting paid for their time — they generally work on the car on Thursday evenings —and they view it as something akin to a passion project. Each also has a paying job, along with the workload of school.
Cash Sr. plans to try for the record in September 2021, giving the students near 11 months to finish the work, which could be a tight window if COVID-19 restrictions don’t loosen, he said.
“To get a car to do that kind of speed at Bonneville, the details are just exhausting,” he said. “Everything from bearing adjustment to alignment to gear ratios.”
Progress has slowed to a crawl thus far, and all extracurricular activities have been paused as the number of COVID-19 cases in Utah has spiked in recent weeks.
“Even just working Thursdays, there is no way that we’d be able to complete the car by next September,” Tibbitts said. “So Todd Lowe was talking about, like, we need to work more days, we need to work weekends.”
“Honestly, all of us are so excited about it that if we needed to come every day, we would.”
Though Cash Jr. had high hopes for racing Bombshell Betty, the primary reason he bought the car was to work on it alongside his father, who has been a vehicle junkie for the majority of his life.
Cash Sr. and his wife were involved with Bonneville racing for around 30 years, and they previously worked as time officiants for the Utah Salt Flats Racing Association.
“He felt bad that something so interesting got past him, that he didn’t get a chance to share that with me,” Cash Sr. said. “And so he bought that car as a way of the two of us doing something together — to try to achieve that eighth summit, if you will.”
After Cash Jr.’s passing, Cash Sr. approached his granddaughter, Danielle Cash Cook, with an out-of-the-blue proposition.
He wanted her to be behind the wheel in 2021 when they went for the record.
Cook, a mother of four, raced motorcycles as a kid but has very limited racing experience otherwise, and practically none in cars.
Still, Cook said yes.
“If someone were to ask why I’m doing this, I would say it’s kind of the concept of not letting fear hold you back from doing amazing things,” she said. “That’s what my dad represented, is getting out of your comfort zone and doing things that scare you. I’m doing this for something that matters even more than that, though ... and that’s because of loving relationships.”
“The whole car concept, my dad restoring Bombshell Betty, began as something to work on with his dad and to restore relationships with his dad. So I am also doing it as a way to bond with my grandpa, to bond with my dad who started this project.”
“Some people have asked when I feel my dad the most because he was such a racer and an adrenaline junkie. But, ironically, since he’s passed away, the moments when I feel him the most aren’t when I’m behind the wheel, it’s when I’m hugging my grandpa and I’m working alongside him. And I know that that’s what he had bought this car for, was for relationships.”
For 2021, Cash Sr. has set his sights upon beating the existing record — as well as attempting to capture the title in the XO/FCC class — even if the car won’t be quite ready to go 200 mph.
The Cash family will continue reaching for the ultimate goal of 200 mph in future years.
“It’s cool because we are not just building a car to race it just for the sake of racing or hitting a goal, but it’s also for ... Don Cash’s daughter, so she can drive it across the Salt Flats in memory of him, which is a great cause,” Tibbitts said. “It feels more like we’re giving something back as well.”
“The priority is to make sure that Don Cash’s daughter is safe and that she feels like this is something she can be proud of.”