Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sometimes They Leave Us ... Don Araki, "God Speed" Ol' Friend

I know a lot of you that read this blog never met or knew Don Araki. However, he was a genius at fabrication with anything that dealt with cars. He was on the Shelby Team in '69 when they were running Trans-Am, worked on drag cars, circle cars and road race cars doing several championship builds over the years. He was a friend that I trusted to build for me, on my cars. Don recently passed, leaving us and the car community. I'm reminded how fragile life is when things like this happen and only wish I could spent another hour or day talking with him. Here's what one of our blog followers, Jon Guilmet  posted on facebook.

Here's Jon's facebook story: I first heard his name mentioned in 1963 while I was just getting into drag racing a 409 Chevy, I hung out at Menlo Oscars, a cherry coke, hamburger and hot deep dish apple pie w/icecream and for desert ...a street race for a little cash to pay for our fun and hopefully add to bragging rights. One night a '59 Ford cruised in looking for me, he wanted to race me on Fri night at Hourglass (our favorite place to race) his car looked like a low rider and sounded like a stock 352, I agreed to meet him and race for $50 ( big bucks for '63), Fri night we met but the car sounded a lot healthier and it was equipped with headers and slicks, and there was a Japanese guy driving it. I figured that I had been suckered but , " what the heck" I'll race him anyway, I knew I could beat the Ford, I beat up on them all the time, boy! was I wrong, I got my doors blown off and learned who Donnie Araki was, he put his 427 motor in the '59 and drove it. He was running an auto parts store called CV Auto parts on Moreno Blvd. He later opened a shop called "the House Of The Rising Sun" and we became good friends, he was a really neat guy and a fun guy to talk to. "God Speed" Donnie, and Thanks' for the priceless memories, I will never forget you and see you again someday.

Don doing what he loved best, building a badass car. Image © Bob Gagnon

One story that I would like to relate. Don had finished doing some work on my car before a Monterey Historics event. So, I took it down to a local autocross for some testing and invited Don down to check it out, if any last minute tweaking needed to be done. I ran a few runs to feel things out, figuring that I wouldn't push it, came in and asked Don what he thought. His answer was so Don, "Put your foot into it, you looked butt ugly." Don, you will be missed!

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  1. I can't believe the guy I had breakfast with a few months ago is gone. He was so vibrant telling his stories about things like refusing to ride with Dan Gurney at a track one day. I never thought that would be the last time we would talk.

    John Straub introduced me to Don sometime around 1984. We drove down to his shop in my 914/6 to talk about Don working on it.

    The picture John shows of my orange 916/6 with Don was taken during that great time in my life when I got to talk to Don weekly...for 5 years while my car was in his shop. I learned so much in those conversations and was prompted to read books on chassis design.

    When the 914/6 was finished, I took it to its first autocross at Qualcomm and Don cam along. I had no clue what I was doing or how to drive the car. I hadn't even driven and autocross in over 6 years. Don coached me on driving and we put the car up on jack stands and added a huge amount of rear toe in. Don says something like "brake late, turn in and get right back on it" the car will do the rest.

    Result: Top Time of Day. Nobody knew who I was or had ever seen the car. What a great fun day and way to end years of work. Thanks Don.

  2. I got to know Donnie while we waited in Lane One,(Exhibition Cars) at Barona Drag Strip yo run out Junior Fuel Dragster. Donnie was always sitting faithfully and attentively in the Crash Truck waiting for any need of a crashed racer or a cleanup of the track. We always knew that when the shit hit the fan Donnie would be there for us. The last time we raced a few weeks ago, the truck was empty, and even one of the tires was flat! The track guys were using the little Crash Truck and didn't seem concerned or even aware that the former LACR truck was tits up. The truck was empty and out of commission, much like our hearts are after hearing of Donnie's passing. Donnie will be missed.
    Black Magic Racing
    Lakeside, Ca.

  3. Celebration of life services for Donnie Araki will be held at Barona Dragstrip on Sunday March 25. Please goto or for additional information.

    Art Rizzi
    Adkins & Rizzi Racing

  4. Jack and Fran Wilt, April 11,2012

    We are so haapy to have had the good fortune to have met you, you certainly were a life saver for us.

    We were travelling in an RV when a spark plug blew out of the head of our Ford v-10. We spent days trying to find someone who could fix the problem. Finally a really thoughful Service Manager at an RV dealer gave us Don's name and number. A day and a couple hundred dollars latter we were back on the road - Ford dealers wanted several thousand to do the repair.

    Don was such a joy to be around and his stories, one after another had us captivated. We finally had to excuse ourselves so Don's 15 minute repair did not stretch much further past two hours.

    I just called Don to see if I could get him to help me find a copy of the repair tool kit he used sine we are planning another trip in the same RV. We hope Don will be watching out for us again.

    We are actually glad we broke down and spent several harrowing hours on Southern California highways in our crippled vehicle - it was well worth it to have met Don and to spend a couple hours with him.

  5. 04/11/2012

    I first met Donny Araki in the 1960s, but I didn’t get to know him very well at that time. Then, for the next three decades or so, our lives took very different paths. It wasn’t until around 2004 that we ran across one another again at the Antique Drag races at Barona. Finally, after bumping into each other a few more times, we started keeping in touch on a regular basis – mostly when I was stuck and needed help on a project. Donny was generous with his time and his skills. He bailed me out on a number of occasions and I was always taken with the depth of his knowledge and his amazing historical references. A close friend, who also knew Donny well, remarked that if only he could download Donny’s brain, he would be light-years ahead of where he was at the time. I feel the same way. I owe Donny a debt of gratitude for his friendship and his insight, and for sharing so much of himself with me. That debt, if I live to be a hundred, still will not be repaid in full. Donny Araki was a gifted and generous man. I’m proud to have known him, to have shared a brief part of my life with him, and to have called him my friend. I will miss him.

    The attached photo was taken August 20, 2010 at a race at the stadium. From left to right: PAUL GEIS, DONNY ARAKI, SCOTT CASE.


  6. Hey I'm really sorry to hear about this. The guy was amazing I'm going to really miss his help. Does anybody know a good guy to call for bolt removal know?

  7. This time of year is very hard for me but it makes me happy that my dad touched so many people in a positive way (no tact or subtlety but that was Donnie) I didn't grasp how awesome he was until it was too late but he lives on in memory. I still hear "well you know the problem with that. ...."

  8. I read "every year" these memories of a guy I "once knew", even for a short time......
    He was one "hell of a person" & knew so much more than I will ever know.
    Especially him doing a burn out at the San Diego Shop
    Had to be one of the BEST Fathers...........& is STILL missed...

  9. Wow. I had no idea. I met Donnie at Quality Truck Recycling, in Lakeside, while he was helping out my boss on an Irwindale Super Late Model race car. His stories were mesmerizing, to say the least. As I grew to know him, I was always amazed at the unadultered manner in which he talked with everyone. His demeanor was captivating. I cannot imagine getting through the design and building process of the cute little stroker Pontiac 2.5L without his vast knowledge and guidance. I'm absolutely certain he made me a better person.

    Charley J