Bio - WILLIAM L. (Bill) DONER
In today’s world, Bill Doner would be referred to as "Uber-promoter", but forty years ago when the charismatic drag-strip entrepreneur was just getting started he was just another race promoter. Today, after staging as many as a thousand events a year at various tracks up and down the West Coast, he is considered by many as being the king of race promoters.
Bill Doner is a brash-talking', big-dealing' kind of person who loved providing ground-poundin' excitement for the race fans. When the veterans of the past drag-race wars huddle together to chop old jackpots, it's usually not long before talk turns back around to memories of "Fox Hunts," spectacular night-time fire burnouts, "(How Many?) Sixty-FOUR Funny Cars!" and the epic, high-volume, "SAT-urday Night!/SUN-day Afternoon!" saturation commercials which trademarked Doner's innovative International Raceway Parks promotions of the halcyon, pre-ESPN 1970s.
How long ago was all that? Fuel funny car driving legend John Force, 15 funny-car championships later, was a rookie at Orange County in 1978 when Doner ran it and that was near the end of the Doner Decade. However from the very beginning, he always had a knack for luring the big names. His first five-figure crowd at then-debt-ridden Seattle International Raceway in 1970 saw Don Prudhomme set a new track-record of 6.62 ET en route to the top fuel title in an unprecedented mid-March season opener. Doner defied the proverbial Pacific Northwest rainy season – and won. With Evel Knievel jumping 18 and 19 cars, respectively, on his "comeback" tour, Doner's first couple of high-dollar shows attracted a fleet of future Hall of Famers, including race director Steve Evans – a longtime Doner ally in the IRP saga. Not only Prudhomme, but Ed McCulloch, Jerry Ruth, Gary Beck, Herm Petersen, Dick Landy, Shirley Strahan, Roland Leong's Hawaiian, John Wiebe, Mike Snively and Dave Uyehara ignited imaginations at SIR, with Doner quickly installing lights to usher in night drags (see "Fox Hunts") at the Northwest's premier facility, which soon was solidly in the black ink.
Over his 10 years at the helm of IRP, fully five dozen of the Hall of Famers crowded into the Doner orbit and established an unforgettable brand of drag racing seen never before or since.
Doner has never been a stranger to icons. There are even those who argue the Harvey Wallbanger cocktail was invented in his bathtub; for certain, when NHRA President Wally Parks was among the celebrities who went to Terlingua, Texas in '67 for the inaugural International Chili Cook off, Doner was there, stirring the sauce along with one of his many compatriots, surfing legend JJ Moon, who could "hang 11" cuz he had six toes on his right foot.
Beside his prowess as a king of race promoters, in 1967 Carroll Shelby put the onetime Newport Beach, Calif., sportswriter in charge of the introduction of the classic Ford Cammer-powered Shelby/Baney/Prudhomme "Super Snake" AA fuel dragster which debuted by winning '68 Winternationals.
After an extraordinarily demanding 11 years, running as many as eight (count 'em) Washington, Oregon and California tracks, Doner sold off at the end of 1979. He emerged in Baja California, for six years, skippering the seven-boat Tortuga fishing fleet, and put himself into the headlines by catching a record, 1,234-pound Black Marlin. After this, Caesars Palace Hotel/Casino succeeded in luring him back to Stateside promotions as the casino's vice-president of marketing. As such, he shepherded world-class events such as the Sugar Ray Leonard-Marvin Hagler "Super Fight" and attended – rather flamboyantly -- to the needs of thousands of Las Vegas high-rollers. This was followed by a four-year turn as commissioner of the unlimited hydroplane circuit, which he grew from six to 11 races. Yes, there were even some of those ear-popping commercials for thunder-boat racing crowds across North America.
Also, he never actually quit voicing his distinctive radio ads, servicing as many as 15 other drag strips, in addition to his own promotions. Not ready to totally relax, he also added stints as a collegiate play-by-play basketball announcer, television pitchman for new-car dealerships, advertising executive, global football promoter (Gary Davidson offered him a World Football League franchise in '74), pro tennis promoter, thoroughbred horse owner/breeder, major-league sports consultant, and creator of the Rose Bowl's first hospitality concourses at the 1989-'90 New Year's classics.
Today, Doner lives with his wife Lori and two dogs, Rocky and Rusty, in the Southern California desert community of La Quinta however his links to drag racing have never really ceased; he is now teamed up with long time racer/promoter, Don Rackemann as the president of the Fuel Saver Group whose products paid contingency money at the Bakersfield California Hot Rod Reunion, and their MPG3 Fuel Enhancer sponsored Cory Lee's top fuel funny car was participating at the NHRA World Finals at Pomona.