I’ve heard about the new film, Speed Kills starring John Travolta that has been made about the life of Don Aronow.
I cannot say I was a bosom pal, more like a close acquaintance but I knew Aronow very well.
We spent many occasions together both in the States and in Europe and every moment was one to remember.
Don had a dubious background.
He was in his late twenties when he turned his back at a moment’s notice on a fabulous home in New Jersey taking little more than his wife, children and a suitcase.
He headed for a new life in Florida where the warm weather and the sea perhaps offered a less risky challenge.
I first met Don at Torquay in 1967 after he finished third in the British race on his way to his first world offshore title.
By then however he had launched and sold at huge profits three powerboat companies, Donzy, Magnum, and Formula.
I joined his great friend Bill Wishnick aboard Boss O’Nova in the 1971 Cowes-Torquay.
Bill and Don were always together socially and as I was usually with Bill when I covered events in the USA.
We all stayed together in Bill’s New Jersey beach house.
We often went out to dinner together, went to parties and race presentations even joining him and Bill at the 1976 Monaco Grand Prix where he seemed to personally know half the drivers on the Formula I grid.
Hence I got to know him extremely well.
He was between wives in those days but what with his outstanding personality and what seemed endless funds he was always surrounded by beautiful women adding huge glamour to our get together’s.
Everything he touched seemed to turn to success.
He was certainly shrewd in business. I once asked him how he sold his racing boats and he gave me an example of how he shamed certain customers into clinching a deal.
A powerful Italian industrialist was interested in racing one of his Cigarette 36’s:
I told him he was too small and weak to handle such a powerful craft and that I had a small Donzy Baby runabout (a model named by a girlfriend) more suited out back.
I knew he would take it as an insult.
The Italian replied:
What do you mean?
I’m as strong as you and to prove it I’ll have two 36’s.
Great selling but something only Don could get away with.
I also asked him why he stopped racing himself:
When I began beating my customers.
He usually carried cash with him in a small personal briefcase, reputed to be $10,000 or more, I assumed he must be one of the most successful boat builders in the States.
I certainly knew those running large British marine companies such as Sunseeker never appeared as rich.
I naively thought he must be the world’s most successful builder.
Little did I know!
This said, he was extremely generous particularly when playing a joke on someone.
Don took Clive and Ann Curtis to dinner at the Beacon Manor Hotel in Hamble (now a block of apartments) after Clive had successfully crewed aboard the winning Cigarette at Cowes in ’69.
The couple were not exactly flush for funds in those days.
As Don left ahead of his guests he approached the head waiter asking roughly what everyone in the restaurant would need to settle their bills.
He was given a rough estimate, doubled it and told the waiter to tell everyone as they left that Clive and Ann had picked up the tab!
This was typical of Don.
He wanted to be liked, known and famous and certainly mixed in the top league.
He was an associated of President Bush, King of Spain and many members of the social scene in Florida and New York.
He was always seeking publicity, not necessarily for his racing boats, more for himself and hence always keen to give interviews to the general press.
His humour can be appreciated when he was interview by Peoples Magazine which in America is along the lines of the British socialite publication, Tatler.
Asked how he felt when one his boats were caught smuggling drugs?
He was quick to reply:
Someone is building a faster boat.
Top Photo: Credit Required
Ray is the oldest powerboat racing journalist on the Planet!
His columns in the Motorboat & Yachting over a 5 decade period were a must read for any boating enthusiast.
He took part in the very first Offshore Class 3 race back in 1962.