An interview with Bill Doner

(file photo)

Over the past few months there have been a great deal of things happening in our little slice of heaven which is known as nostalgia drag racing. The biggest thing was the brouhaha brought about by the Ron Hodgson ’69 Camaro body built by Victory Race Cars, that made its NHRA debut at the California Hot Rod Reunion this past October. The debate on whether the body was legal or not is nebulous; the NHRA allowed the team to run the body and the Hodgson team took the win at the reunion.

Thursday night of the Reunion, a group of funny car racers including Hodgson, Gary Densham, and Rich Townsend instigated a meeting with renowned race promoter Bill Doner. The purpose of the meeting was to have Doner attempt to work his magic on the nostalgia funny car class.

Doner, who back in the seventies and eighties was promoter extraordinary at many tracks up and down the West Coast, may be best known for the 64-funny car shows that ran at Orange County, Irwindale, Fremont, Seattle, and Portland that drew hundreds of thousands of fans. [For a look at some of his past accomplishments]

It was Doner’s idea for the Fox Hunt, an event where ladies got free admission to the event. Doner’s thought process is that guys will bring their girlfriends, and if the guy could do it for free, it was a win-win for everybody.

Doner took some time out of his day to talk about his latest foray into drag racing with the UNFCA.

To speak with Bill Doner is like jumping on the back of a run-away Brahma bull. All one can do is hang on and wait to see where it stops. Doner is passionate about what he does and it shows. Doner has some salient points about nostalgia racing, but the natural born promoter always is at the forefront. Therefore, due to space requirements it was necessary to do some editing. Now, our conversation with the king of drag racing promoters, Bill Doner.

What is concept you envision for of the United Nostalgia Funny Car Association?

BD: Well actually, it is the United Nitro Funny Cars Association. The term nostalgia is being bantered around whether or not the members want to use it or not. There are two schools of thoughts, I don’t happen to have one, and I am willing to go whatever way, I do call it on my business cards, United Nitro Funny Cars Association and underneath I have say Nostalgia’s Best. For a bunch of years -- like about five or six -- a number of people have gotten ahold of me and asked ‘Why don’t you help these guys out with what we will call the nostalgia funny cars?’ They are floundering around and they don’t have a face that people can put to them. And, if you are not one of the ten owners of what we will call the NHRA Big Show then all the rest of the funny car racing in America is done by this group. And they get a race wherever they can including the two races at Bakersfield -- the March Meet and the Hot Rod Reunion which are kind of like the U.S. Nationals, you know big races, lots of cars. Thirty-three cars for example at the Hot Rod Reunion, and the IHRA has done a pretty good job of putting them (funny cars) out front at races and featuring them but other than that the pickings are a little slim. Now, for the IHRA since they don’t have a track in Tucson anymore or in Spokane anymore they pretty much run all their races in the east, the only race in the west or that I will call the west is one at Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

Denny Cissell (left), President of London Bridge Raceway Park in Lake Havasu City, Ariz., with Doner (right) who was CEO for the project. In 2014 Cissell stated the track would be finished in 2016. As of August 2015, the group was still looking for investors, according to the local newspaper.

I have also been working on a television show, and my guys at Lionheart Entertainment who is run by Dick Clark’s son, they came to Bakersfield (California Hot Rod Reunion). And they are making a proposal to a major network actually, January 11th they are pitching it putting together a presentation, and it would be sort of a reality show based on nostalgia funny cars. It would be based on IHRA and some NHRA races.

We are going to negotiate entry fees for a couple of major races to get our cars’ entry fees waived, that would be a big step. It’s hard to do that with Bakersfield since the tower just burned down, and waive all the entry fees for all our cars; I was at a point where the Bowser’s would do that. I also want to get with NHRA, ’cause there is no reason this class should not be part of their television package, and be featured at all the Heritage races as well as some of the Lucas races. (That is being done in Boise, as the Heritage Series runs in conjunction with Lucas Oil Divisional races.) The Lucas races are run ’cause there are so many racers (sportsman) and they (the sportsman racers) pay so much money to appear at those races, but there are no featured cars there. Lucas is going to be part of the NHRA TV package on Fox this coming year. These cars (funny cars) would be a natural to be a featured part of that race, to try to get spectators to come.