Legendary drag racing promoter Bill Doner brings United Nitro Fu - SWX Right Now-Sports for Spokane, CdA, Tri-Cities, WA

Legendary drag racing promoter Bill Doner brings United Nitro Funny Cars to Spokane County Raceway

Bill Doner made a name for himself in the 1970a as the promoter of massive 64-funny car race extravaganzas Bill Doner made a name for himself in the 1970a as the promoter of massive 64-funny car race extravaganzas
By NW Motorsports
Spokane, Wash. — It’s a homecoming of sorts for Bill Doner — 45 years removed. Doner brings his United Nitro Funny Car circuit to Spokane County Raceway Friday and Saturday, June 9-10, turning back the pages of history. Like it or not, the legendary drag racing promoter, who has also served in other marketing roles throughout his career, is always seemingly known for his 64-funny car extravaganzas from the 1970s.
That golden time, in fact, immediately came to mind for Doner when he spoke about the tour of nostalgia race cars that will compete for a $32,000 purse in an eight-car elimination bracket Saturday. An expected 12 cars will qualify for spots beginning Friday night and continuing Saturday.
“I go back all the way to Deer Park in 1972 – 45 years ago,” Doner said, referring to a National Hot Rod Association points meet staged at the old Deer Park Drag Strip.
The race launched the career of a very notable individual.
“It was the first-ever win for this kid named Gordie Bonin from Red Deer, Alberta,” Doner said of the future inductee into the Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2000. Bonin drove for Edmonton’s Ron Hodgeson in the Pacemaker car.
A photo of the post race celebration shows the tower where Doner was blazing away on his portable typewriter for a story to appear in National Dragster.
* Doner's first trip to the area was in 1972 where he watched the late Gordie Bonin win a major race at the old Deer Park drag strip. It was the first of a long line of races that landed Bonin, the Red Deer, Alberta native, in the Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame.
Nearly a half-century later, Hodgeson is back with a national-record setting nostalgia funny car with his son, Ryan driving. They come here after having won the prestigious March Meet at Bakersfield, Calif.
Bucky Austin, the former Spokane Country Raceway operator in the first year of ownership by the county, brings a car driven by Bobby Cottrell. “They will be awfully tough to beat."
An International Hot Rod Association competitor, Jason Rupert is in the field. Rupert’s dad, Frank, once was a notable name here as driver of the Pay ‘N Pak dragster owned by Dave Heerensperger of Spokane.
Local driver Chris Davis will have his patched up funny car back on the track after crashing at the UNFC’s race in Boise. And another familiar name from the past — Twin Zeigler — will drive for Jim Boychuck from Edmonton. They won a race in Spokane in 2016.
Doner, who retired to Lake Havasu, Ariz., returned to drag racing promotion two years ago at the urging of some of the oldtimers. The nostalgia class turn back the pages of history to when funny cars first burst on the scene.
Once a program that raced at numerous NHRA race tracks, the nostalgia cars had drifted into the shadows, Doner said. “They got lost in the shuffle because NHRA has a lot bigger fish to fry,” Doner said.
While they may have the look dating back 40 years, “These cars run really good,” Doner said. “(The) side-by-side racing is terrific.
His legendary 64-funny car races were not always extravaganzas.
“We started with 16 in Seattle on a Friday night,” Doner said. That morphed into 32 and eventually became 64. “We had crowds I’ve never seen to this day,” he added. “We had every funny car on the face of the earth up there.
He ramped that up to 100 at the old Orange County Raceway in California. That never caught on. But “64 funny cars in Seattle, people still talk about that,” Doner said.
Jim Rockstad, the longtime Northwest promoter who was Doner's protégé, said in a 2009 story in Competition Plus, "We had the largest crowd ever in SIR (Seattle International Raceway, now Pacific Raceways), at 26,000-plus, for the '79 edition of 64 Funny Cars."
But Doner, who can call the most legendary names in drag racing — Don Prudhomme, John Force, Jerry Ruth, Ed McCulloch, Tom McEwen — his friends, also dabbled in other ventures.
From drag racing he moved to vice-president of marketing at Caesars Palace where he promoted the famous 1987 middleweight title fight between Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvin Hagler, Competition Plus wrote. He was the Commissioner of Unlimited Hydroplanes in the 1990s.
 Info: www.spokanecountyraceway.com, 509-244-3333
Friday  Schedule: Spectator Gates Open at 3 p.m. Racing starts at 4 with Nitro Car Qualifying at 7. Admission $15.00.
Saturday Schedule: Spectator Gates Open at 10 a.m. Nitro qualifying noon and 3 p.m. with eliminations 6. Admission $25.00. Buy a Weekend Pass for $35.00 and Save $5. Kids 12 and under Free. Parking $10.00 per day.
 
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