There must have been something strange in the air in Jönköping county in southern Sweden in the mid-1960s. The first strange thing was in 1966 when Bengt Erlandson, known to all as “Big Bengt”, decided to build a cowboy town in the middle of a Swedish forest, near the village of Kulltorp. Erlandson came up with the idea after being offered 200,000 telegraph poles by the national telephone company. The town was christened High Chaparral. Next door he built a museum of industrial artefacts.
At the same as this was happening, a few mile to the west in the village of Anderstorp a man called Sven Åsberg, known to all as “Smokey”, announced to his friends Åke Bengtsson and Bertil Sanell, over coffee one morning, that they were going to build a racing circuit in the wooded marshlands of Stötabomossen, to the south of the town. Åsberg had a successful plastics business but he did not have the kind of money needed to invest in a circuit. His plan was to integrate an airstrip into the facility and to get the local industrialists to fund the idea, on the basis that they would then have an airport which would make the region more accessible to the world. It was 80 miles from Göteborg and 250 miles from Stockholm.
Weirdly, it worked. The charismatic Åsberg sold shares in the project and the circuit was designed by an engineer called Holger Eriksson, with advice from F1 driver Jo Bonnier. The circuit was dominated by its long back straight – the airfield runway – but the rest of the track was twisty with a number of constant radius slightly-banked corners. This made it very difficult to set up cars because one had to find a compromise between the two sections. Oddly, the pits were also separated from the start-finish line, as this was not long enough to meet the necessary requirements. The track hosted its inaugural race on June 16, 1968, and Åsberg shocked everyone by declaring that in five years the circuit would get a Grand Prix. That seemed unlikely at the time. There was little infrastructure to support a big race, with few hotels, although the racing visitors would stay at the High Chaparral and race on dirt roads through the forests to Anderstorp. However, Åsberg was no doubt aware that a new generation of young Swedes were climbing up the racing ladder, notably Ronnie Peterson and Reine Wisell, and he hoped that one or more of them would replace Bonnier in F1. Peterson and Wisell duly made their F1 debuts in 1970 and Peterson was soon established as a star.
Amazingly, on June 17, 1973, (five years and a day after Åsberg’s ambitious claim, the first Swedish F1 Grand Prix took place at Anderstorp. There would be five further Swedish GPs, but the deaths of Peterson and Gunnar Nilsson in 1978 meant that it became impossible to keep the event going.