In 1914, when "Terrible" Teddy Tetzlaff broke the world's land speed record at 142.8 mph in his 300-hp Blitzen Benz, the Bonneville Salt Flats in northwest Utah became the holy grail of speed. Since then, wheeled contrivances of every sort have come to make their mark.

Scandinavians are known for traveling great distances to make history: In 985 AD, a Norse-Viking merchant named Bjarni Herjólfsson was blown off-course as he headed to Greenland. After three days' sailing, he sighted land west of Greenland and inadvertently became the first European discoverer of America.

On April 27, 2012, 1027 years later, Boije Ovebrink, a Norse-Viking descendant from Sweden, at the helm of his 2000-hp Volvo Mean Green Machine, established several Diesel Hybrid Truck records at Wendover Airport, which is historic in its own right. Sitting near the edge of Bonneville, it's the only remaining fully operational airport of the World War II era in the world.

Unpredictable spring weather makes the salt flats unusable for speed runs until the summer heat evaporates the rain water and hardens the crust. Schedules being what they are, this made the 8000-foot Wendover runway 8/26 the best location for time trials.

At 4237 feet above sea level, the recently paved smooth, level airstrip offered conditions similar to the salt course a few miles away. Light winds out of the northwest validated the necessity of averaging two-way runs as required by FIA and USAC. The goal: to establish a new Diesel Hybrid Record from a standing start and a flying start for half- and full-kilometer runs.

Why diesel/electric hybrid? This is clearly a crazy, but cool-looking truck. But what's the point of a 2000-horsepower diesel/electric semi tractor? It's an attention-getter, no question, but, more important, it starts a conversation about the future and whether there's a place for such technology in it. As an on-highway, long-distance transport, the idea doesn't yet seem to have much viability, but for short-trip, start-and-stop applications, it begins to shine.

Since the '70s, diesel particulate emissions have been reduced by 99 percent. In that time, every aspect of trucking has been refined to achieve such success. Tires, weight, aerodynamics, friction, rolling resistance, electronic engine management, high-pressure fuel-injection, fuel, oil, lubricants, engines, transmissions, and drivelines have been modified to meet EPA mandates. As phenomenal as this is, it's come at great expense. Billions have been spent, which has translated into significantly higher costs for the trucks, the fuel, and, as a result, all the cargo they carry. Considering 92 percent of everything consumed in the U.S. has been on a truck, those costs affect every one of us.

And, while diesel/hybrid platforms may cost more initially, they make a lot of sense whenyou consider inner-city transit buses, school buses, refuse trucks, postal trucks, UPS, FedEx, and other stop-and-go local delivery vehicles, as well as low-emissions zones like the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. It works in yard goats -- vehicles that go in and out of warehouses. And it works in quiet zones.

The majority of emissions are produced when a vehicle accelerates from a stop, and several hybrid technologies are currently in use or in development to address that issue. In the trash, refuse truck industry, a hydraulic pump driven by the diesel powertrain stores energy in an accumulator. From a stop, the stored energy is released to assist in acceleration to the next stop. In suburban areas, a trash truck route often has several hundred stop-and-go events in a single day.

A diesel/electric motor can do the same thing by assisting the engine, or it can run on its own, using battery reserves. Electric motors produce torque from the first revolution, and they produce no emissions or noise. When used in parallel with the engine to accelerate, engine size can be reduced. Smaller engines produce lower emissions and weight, less cost, and with hybridization, equal cargo capability. As in most hybrid cars, regenerative braking helps replenish battery energy, prolongs brake life, saves maintenance costs, and lessens down time, while increasing brake efficiency and improving safety.

The performance of his 15.0-liter racing engine (about 2100 hp, 5000 lb-ft total power) is impressive. Setting a two-way flying kilometer record of 236.577 km/h (147.002 mph) is definitely an eye-opening feat for a 14,000-pound truck. Setting another from a dead stop at 153.282 km/h (95.245 mph) is more so.

Backing it up with enough remaining battery power to prove that it's a true hybrid and running the kilometer on electric power only was the slow but defining moment. This is the kind of thinking that isn't clouded in feel-good, but not-so-useful environmentalism. This has workhorse potential that can make a true impact on the overall carbon footprint of trucking, and it's available now.


Hauling And Hiding The Hybrid

The Mean Green race truck's transporter is a black big-rig. It's based on a real truck. The hybrid race truck is based on a standard truck chassis, which makes it difficult to enclose in a regulation-width trailer.It's quite a trick to enclose and carry a truck in a truck to protect it from inquiring eyes, as well as weather on the highway, through tunnels and aboard ships, while staying within legal length and width dimensions.

The trailer is designed with a low load angle, which keeps ramp length at a minimum. Mean Green is only 4 inches or so off of the ground. The width at the outside of the tires is 95 inches. Guide rails on the trailer measure 96.5 inches wide, leaving 0.75-inch of clearance on each side for loading. That in itself is no big deal, but try getting it through the doorway of any standard 102-inch-wide trailer available on the market, and you'll see how difficult it becomes.

Built on top of the step deck is a unique enclosure that hydraulically expands the sidewalls at their base to allow entry. Once the truck is secured, with the push of a button, the sides close up and protect the racer from the elements. Load the ramps, close the doors, and you're ready to go.

Up front is a cab-over tractor that is nothing less than opulent inside. Under the cab, the 15.0-liter engine puts out 750 horsepower. Europe limits truck speeds to about 55 mph, but many of its roads are steep and tight. Torque and horsepower help keep trucks there at road speed, lessening the crawl that slows traffic on the hills we often see here.