Former NHRA Pro Stock and blown gasser driver Ken Dondero died Jan. 17 after a brief illness. He was 74.
Dondero became involved in drag racing in Northern California in the early 1960s with a ’52 Chevy, and the skills he displayed there led to a number of offers from car owners. It wasn’t long before Dondero’s talents caught the eye of Bob Panella, who was campaigning an injected B/Gas Anglia. Panella first requested assistance with selecting parts, then asked him to take over as driver in late 1967.
Together they won Super eliminator at the Winternationals and Hot Rod magazine race in 1969 and came back for a Winternationals runner-up and Bakersfield March Meet win in 1970. Dondero’s four-speed skills soon produced offers from many teams in the newly created Pro Stock category, and after driving for Dick Landy in 1971, he was hired to drive Nicholson’s Ford Maverick in 1972. The fuel crunch at the end of 1973 made it difficult for Nicholson to match race from his shop in Orange, Calif., so Dondero relocated to Pennsylvania and began driving for Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins.
With Larry Lombardo designated to drive at NHRA national events, Dondero ran AHRA events and dominated by winning nine of 11 races in 1975 and 11 of 13 in 1976.
Dondero spent the last season of his first stint in Pro Stock with the Gapp & Roush team in 1977, then retired. After several years, he was called back into action by Panella, who wanted to put together a Pro Stock team for the 1984 season. Dondero informed him that Jenkins was selling a lot of his equipment, so Panella bought Jenkins’ Pro Stock Camaro and a few engines.
Pro Stock had switched from the weight-break engines to the larger and more powerful 500-cid powerplants, but Dondero adapted very quickly, and the Panella team quickly became competitive. By the time that Dondero decided to retire for good in mid-1986, the operation had performed well enough to earn much-coveted factory backing from Oldsmobile.
He is survived by his son, Rick; daughter Cheryl; brothers Wayne and Richard; sisters Audrey Hodges and Valarie Seymore; and his longtime companion, Rozetta Dawes.
Rico Paris, a former Top Gas and Top Fuel racer in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, died Dec. 21. He was 76.
Paris and his brother, Peter, learned their automotive skills at the knee of their father, Dom, who opened Dom Paris & Sons Collision Center, a Winnebago, Ill.-based auto body shop in 1958, which was the home base for the creation of the dragsters built by the brothers.
With Paris as the driver, they raced across the United States during the 1950s and 1960s and eventually ended up in the competitive Top Gas class, where two-engine slingshots were the norm. The Paris brothers took that one step further by unveiling the first rear-engine, twice-motored Top Gas dragster.
Unfortunately, NHRA discontinued the class not long after, and, following a brief foray into Top Fuel, Paris was forced to retire after suffering a stroke when he was 40 after continued exposure to paint fumes. Told he probably would never walk again, his determination and persistence proved all the doctors wrong. Within a year and a half, he had picked himself up and was moving on with his life. Prior to his stroke, Paris loved bowling, hunting, trap shooting, and, of course, drag racing, and in spite of his disability, later in life he developed a love of golf. He played most of the links in the area and many out-of-state locations.
Paris is survived by his wife, Marilynn; son Dom; daughters Laura (Bucky) Ihlenfeldt and Lindsey (Mike) Vanderhouter; grandchildren Jake, Mia, and Sam Ihlenfeldt; brother Peter as well as nieces; great-nephews; godsons; stepchildren; stepgreat-grandchildren; and a stepgreat-great-granddaughter.
Chris Lane, who drove the Arizona-based Phoenix and Desert Rat Funny Cars in the 1970s and 1980s, died on Dec. 25 after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 64.
The Tempe, Ariz., resident drove the Phoenix Funny Car that he co-owned with Joe Pierce in the early 1970s. They debuted a Barracuda-bodied entry in 1974 and built a Camaro in 1976 that they took to Australia and New Zealand in late 1977 along with other U.S. teams to race the best the Aussie and Kiwi teams had to offer. Upon his return the U.S., they sold the race car, and lane had a brief stint driving the Powers Steel Funny Car.
Lane also had a few fuel altered and a stint in Joe McKee’s Top Fuel dragster. From 1985 to 1989, he was the pilot of Ron and Val Sutherland’s Desert Rat with which he upset R.C. Sherman and Mark Oswald at the 1989 Winternationals en route to a semifinal finish.
In addition to driving, Lane was involved on the mechanical side as well. Following his five-year tenure driving the Desert Rat, he worked with Jimmy Stewart and Dave Settles on Chris Karamesines’ Top Fueler and with Jim Murphy on his Holy Smokes Funny Car.
Each year around the holidays, John Force Racing employees come together to make the Christmas season special for others in their community. This year, employees raised money to buy Christmas gifts for Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at St. Vincent in coordination with the Hospital’s “Giving Tree,” a program put together to ensure that each child in the hospital receives a gift on Christmas Day.
“We are so blessed to have the support of John Force Racing for the children served by Peyton Manning Children's Hospital at St. Vincent. When companies step forward with such generosity, it says a lot about the commitment and dedication of the owners as well as the employees. We are so grateful and appreciative for your support, and want to relay how much these gifts mean to our patients,” said Nancy Frick, Director of Foundation Advancement.
“You have brought many smiles to our smallest and most vulnerable kids, and they will be thrilled. What a wonderful way John Force Racing has chosen to express their concern and passion for kids who are sick and struggling with serious illnesses. Gifts are collected at the hospital during the holidays, but are handed out to children throughout the year. The Giving Tree gifts are also used for birthdays, end-of-treatment parties and as rewards or recognition for how well a child has handled a medical procedure.”
If you would like to participate in the Giving Tree program, drop off an unwrapped toy to Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at St. Vincent, 2001 W 86th Street, Indianapolis, IN.
“This is the fourth year that we have done something like this for our community,” said Alicia Fabrisi of John Force Racing, who coordinated with the hospital this year. “In the past, John Force Racing has selected and sponsored a local, less fortunate family with children in the Brownsburg area for Christmas. We’ve had such a huge response in donations from our employees over the last couple of years that we wanted to make sure to help as many people as possible and working with the ‘Giving Tree’ program at Peyton Manning’s Children’s Hospital was just the perfect fit for what we wanted to accomplish.”
In addition to the gifts, contributions of blizzard (i.e. heavy) fleece in one yard increments are also welcome. Each yard donated is made into two capes for pediatric patients at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at St. Vincent.
For more information or to make a donation, call Eva Keller in the St. Vincent Foundation at 317-338-7142 or visit their website at www.peytonmanning.stvincent.org