• Charlie on Don, Part 2

    by Charlie McCarthy

    Win, or Die Trying

    When Don and I would talk, we often spoke about becoming the Open Class World Champion. Nothing else mattered. Win, break or die trying. If you didnít have that attitude you had no business being on the racecourse. It was a manís sport, where only the strong survived.

    Don told me I had everything it took to win a World Championship, except time. He explained that after a certain point, money is the same with every one. But the oneís that could afford to devote an unlimited amount of time to the sport were those that would go on to become world champions. He told me that I had the skill, but since it was more important for me to pay attention to the trucking business I should only view racing as a hobby. Then he told me why he was trying to dissuade me from even trying. He told me he was putting new customers in boats with pros on the throttles. He said these boats and throttlemen would be set up so that even a monkey could drive the boat to a World Championship.

    Don with the Squadron XII

    In June 1979, after five long battles, I was tied with Betty Cook for the National Championship (so much for this being a manís sport). Just three days before the next race truckers went on strike across the country. Being in the trucking business, this was not the time for me to go play. Don called me on the phone and told me not to even think about it. ďDo not go to that race. Stay home and take care of the businessĒ he said. It killed me, but I stayed home and Betty went on to win the World Championship that year. Something I felt she deserved anyway.
    Don was a very gracious person in many ways, but when it came down to competition he HAD to win. Competing against Don was often an ugly thing. He and Mark Donohue used to race home on Biscayne Boulevard to Donís house, going over the traffic islands and down the sidewalks. Don even competed with garbage trucks.

    Don setting the diesel record on a Florida canal

    One particular night Don was leaving the horse track long after it had closed, and the place was completely deserted. The parking lot was huge and flat. It was designed in a T formation with one main intersection. Don was driving his newly restored Ferrari Daytona and decided he wanted to beat the only other vehicle for miles around- a garbage truck headed for the same piece of road. You know the result. Don never backed down and neither did the garbage truck driver. One very badly damaged Ferrari later and Don was rethinking his win-at-all-costs strategy.
    On another occasion, after a wonderful waterfront mean and some drinks, Don challenged Billy Martin to see who could get back to the shop first. Billy jumped into his car and began screeching his tires as he worked his way out of the parking lot. Don watched him go, then simply jumped into his car and went right through the shrubs and right out onto the road right in front of Billy and then took off. Don won.
    Don was a smart businessman and jumped at any opportunity. He helped me with some investment by including me in deals in which he and his friends were involved. Every year in January a group of us would buy positions on Bell Jet Ranger helicopters. In my case I would order two new helicopters and give the salesman a deposit. Delivery time was running about a year at that time. In July of every year, like clockwork, Bell would announce that there would be a price increase of about $40,000. As the delivery date of our new helicopters got closer, we would begin to get calls from buyers who wanted a new chopper but didnít want to wait. They were often willing to pay the new price for our delivery date and chopper and we pocketed the spread. I sold my last two to Wayne Newton and a big divorce lawyer from Palm Beach.
    Back in those days offshore racers had a much closer relationship with the top auto racers of the day. Mark Donohue and Don were very close. Mark and Roger Penske were just developing the Camaro-based IROC series and Mark built one of those cars for Don to play with on the street. Don loved that car so much he used it as his daily driver for many years. Don wanted his friends to have them too. I had one just like donís, in silver and Dr. Bob Magoon had one in red with a turbocharger. We even talked about running the Cannonbvall race with these cars.

    The Shop
    In the early years of the Formula and Donzi era, weekends were often spent back at ďthe shopĒ as he would call it, with his kids in tow. He would tinker and doodle new ideas while the kids ran around and climbed in and out of the boats. One such outing turned into a research and development session. Don had a new sixteen-footer, all lettered up with Donzi splashed across the sides. At the time, his idea of marketing consisted of running up and down the inter-coastal, jumping the wakes of big cruisers. He thought people would see the DONZI name and be impressed with the little boatís ability to jump like that and keep going.

    Don Aronow, Legend.

    He was having a great time, but his son Michael as passenger that weekend was sliding all over the boat. Don looked over and asked if he was having a good time. Michael saidÖ ďNo, not really. Iím getting beat up back here. Don told Michael to take the wheel and give it a go, which Michael did. Now it was Donís turn to try top hold on to the smooth fiberglass. Withing a very short time Don said the test session was over and it was time to go back in. The very next day the Donzi workers were told to install the famous horseshoe-shape grab rail around the cockpit. No more sliding around for Don or his customers.

    My Mentor
    Don had as many facets as a diamond. If he liked you he would give you the shirt off his back (usually silk or linen). But if he didnít like you, there was no way you could get on his good side. His business associates called him ruthless, and he was. If he knew someone had lots of money, he would work them hard to get the very best deal for himself. On the flip side, if he knew you didnít have money, he would be very generous with his time and advice and whatever else he could do to help.

    Without Donís help I would have never accomplished my dream of racing in the open ocean. His advice on racing was always on the money. During races he would often fly over me in his helicopter just to wave his fist out the window and encourage me to keep going.
    Whenever I raced in the Bahamas, he always made sure I had Willie Meyers as my navigator, a man that knew those waters better than anyone. One year I won the Key West race in my little 24-foot Banana Boat in the Modified class, beating the 28 and 30-foot boats on a very rough day. Don got Bill Wishnick and some of the old guys to stand up and give me a big ovation. I felt like I was World Champion that night, standing in front of those guys with a trophy in my hands.

    I learned alot from that man over the years. He was my friend, mentor and idol. There was one piece of advice he gave to me that probably won me more than a few races, and Iíll share it with you. He said that no matter how rough it was there would always be flat spots between the big waves. That would be the time everyone else relaxed to catch their breath. He said thatís the time I had to push and prepare for the next big wave. Trim up and take advantage of the flat spots but watch out for the big wave thatís waiting for you. By that time youíll be further along than the competition. If you look at the famous photo of Don in The Cigarette, you can see that his tabs are up. He was trimmed up and running fast in the flat stuff when he found his first big wave.
    Thatís how Don lived- trimmed up and running flat out, never knowing when a big wave would slow him down. Heís been gone 25 years now but I can still hear his laugh. It was the laugh of a man who lived life to the fullest and enjoyed every moment. It was the laugh of a man who knew something the rest of us didnít. It was the laugh of a man that had no true peer. Don was in a class of his own. As the undisputed King of Offshore Powerboat racing and father of the sport, he will always be remembered as a fearless competitor and an icon of the sport.
    Iíd like to wish my old friend Happy Birthday. Don would have been 85 years old.