A Tribute to Bob Donner, Jr

Founder of the Rocky Mountain Region

by

Tim Greenshields

Several years ago I was racing my European Ferrari 246 Dino GTB at the Continental Divide Raceway track just south of Castle Rock.  It had rained in the early morning hours.  The warm Colorado sun was reflecting in black pools of water on the circuit.  There were only a few cars running in practice, howling separately in the distance, out of sight most of the time.  I had just shifted into 5th gear on the long straightaway when I heard it.  From behind me, a distant high-pitched insect whine, reaching over the far horizon.  It swelled, first to a hum and then to a scream, growing closer and closer and louder and louder.  On it came, a gleam of dull metal, a glint of sunshine on glass and chrome.  Red paint that was flat and crude.  The noise shivered at its peak.

I trail braked from 110 mph and began the long entry and blur into the first downhill corner.  I was on the edge.  I heard a rapid-fire volley from the exhausts behind me as the driver overtook the Dino.  He dropped into fourth, then third, and into second, a puff of smoke from the wheels and then a long-drawn out howl of the punished tried rubber as the big Competizione Daytona 365 GTB4 V-12 slithered into the bend, swinging in close to clip the apex, a yard from my right front corner.  It fishtailed slightly as it vanished into the distance.  An aromatic veil of dust and fuel filled the cockpit.  I shook my head in wonder at this memory.  How had the driver entered that bend at well over 140 mph?  It had been another prancing black horse on a yellow background.  The driver?  It was Bob Donner, our Founder of the Rocky Mountain Region of the Ferrari Club of America!

We lost that founder on January 13, 2010.  What a great fellow, racer, friend to all, philanthropist, loving father and husband, and community leader.  Robert "Bob" Donner Jr., 78, spent his adult life in Colorado caring for his family, managing broadcasting stations in Colorado Springs (KYSN), Denver (KIMN), Portland, and Laramie, supporting the Prairie Wings conservation effort and enthusiastically supporting his interest in motorsports.  Around the world he left a legacy that will be cherished throughout time.  Pikes Peak Hill Climb racers, road racers, vintage clubs and organizers together with many people across Colorado will miss a great friend. 

I met Bob in 1974 and was part of the group that helped bring the Rocky Mountain Region to the Ferrari Club of America.  I worked as the early club's recorder and secretary.  It was Bob's idea to start the Region and he served as the President and Founder for many years.  Bob and his personal Ferrari restorer and mechanic extraordinaire Jim Robinson guided me through my first 330 GT 2+2 restoration.  I was so thankful for that wonderful help.  Bob was one of the finest gentlemen that I have known.

Besides being a kind and caring person he always made all of us laugh at his story of going to Europe with another couple and their Ferraris to drive the German Autobahn.  On a straight-line highway with no speed limit, they were pulled over for going too fast!  His wife Joan would always say that it was difficult to do any sightseeing at 180 mph.

Always an interesting Ferrari enthusiast with surprises, Bob decided to start his Mauro Forghieri designed  Formula 1 ex-Lauda 312T2 flat 12 engine at one of the Region's parties.  This was a 510 bhp wonder.  It was 10 pm at Mike Dopudja's MPH shop in Englewood.  After warming up the oil and water temps, Bob blipped the fuel injected engine several times and then nearly to red line.  On and on the blips continued!  The swinging tach needle hurtled side to side as the engine screeched at everything in the dark neighborhood.  As fast as that tach had come alive, so did the police cars appear.  No one was arrested.

Bob was widely known and respected in the automotive world, having competed professionally throughout the country with great success in sports car racing.  He started racing Porsche Spyders in the 1950s and made it into Sports Illustrated in 1959 after winning three races in the first two days of the old Continental Divide Raceway outside Castle Rock. Bob also won his class in the Pikes Peak Hill Climb three times in Porsche Spyders from 1960 through 1962.

Bob also campaigned numerous drives at the Classic 12 Hours of Sebring with a onetime appearance for Chaparral Cars until finally settling with his favorite Prancing Horse, Ferrari.  He was a Director of the Pikes Peak Hill Climb from 1979-1991, and President from 1988 to 1990.  Bob was inducted into the Colorado Motor Sports Hall of Fame in 2007 and was also a frequent entrant in The Colorado Grand, usually driving an unusual Targa-bodied Ferrari (ex-Harrah) or his 250 GTO.  When he wasn't driving one of his beautiful Ferraris, Bob loved driving his classic Dusenburg to various Concours d'Elegance events. 

He was a permanent fixture in the car-racing world, and under his guidance, his two sons, Bobby Donner III and David Donner, became prominent open-wheel drivers, both winning on Pikes Peak.  They finished first and second in the 1989 Race to the Clouds open-wheel division, with Bobby setting the division's race record. A few months later, Bobby would die tragically in his open-wheeler at the end of the Teller County Hill Climb north of Cripple Creek.  David Donner continued racing and has had four victories on Pikes Peak.

Besides many community involvements, both he and his wife Joan were socially active through the years.  Bob was also a trustee emeritus at Colorado College. He is survived by his wife, Joan (Cogswell) Donner, daughter Deborah Donner of Denver, son David William Donner and his wife Meredith Webber Donner of Colorado Springs and five beautiful grandchildren.

Bob was a treasure.  His badge was a prancing black horse on a yellow background.  Listen closely because you can still hear it.  The jarring wail of twin airhorns and BLAAAAAAAAAARGH!  A blood-red Ferrari 250 GTO shrieking past, its sound wave rocking any car on the road as if all of us were standing still.

We will miss you Bob.