Pat O’Day, with the assistance of Gary “Burleigh” Shannon, has informed us of the passing of Bill Doner, a man who has been called “The World’s Greatest Promoter.” Bill left us on August 16, 2019….about 3 months shy of his 81st birthday.
If you aren’t familiar with Bill’s impact on the Pacific Northwest, he was a huge name in motorsports: drag racing and Funny Cars. Some of his best-known work was at Seattle International Raceway. People, who were around back then, still remember the high energy and creative radio ads that promoted Bill’s events on Seattle’s top rock ‘n’ roll radio stations. Here’s a picture (and an interesting caption) from Bill in his younger days. The archival photo and caption are from CompetitionPlus.com — Drag Racing’s Internet Magazine.
Pat O’Day, a Seattle radio legend and himself a master of promotion, has issued the following statement to his inner circle of colleagues and friends and to Puget Sound Media:
“The world has lost a genius. The world has lost its greatest ever promoter. The world has lost the guy that brought hydroplane racing back to life. The world has lost the guy that thought up ’64 Funny Cars.’ And we have lost a great friend. I’m so saddened by his passing, having talked to Bill a couple of months ago about dragsters running just on nitro. Damn it! A super good guy is gone.”
Pat agreed to share two personal memories of his time with Bill Doner:
“Bill was a guy who would get married now and then. One time was in Hawaii, back when I owned KORL in Honolulu. Bill said: ‘Hey Pat, can you figure out something special for the wedding’? I guess Georgia, who was his bride to be, expected something pretty big and memorable since she was marrying ‘the world’s greatest promoter.’ The wedding was held on the beach in front of the Sheraton Hotel. The ‘Hawaiian Wedding Song’ was sung, in person, by Don Ho — Hawaii’s all time best-known singer. Bill gave me a whole ten bucks for coming up with that production. I loved that guy and the world just isn’t as neat without him!!
“There are just so many Bill Doner stories to tell. There’s the time he decided to bring Porn Star Linda Lovelace (The head of the class) to Seattle International Raceway to sing the National Anthem. (This was at the peak of her fame and notoriety.) God, did he ever take heat over that one, but I had assured him it was a good idea. Later on Bill owned Fleet Tortuga in Cabo, a tourist business with a dozen deep sea fishing boats. He did that for nine years, until he was hired as the Marketing-Vice President of Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. Bill thought of new and innovative promotions at Caesar’s such as bringing in the Beach Boys for a week. He booked other rock stars into Caesar’s as well. When Caesar’s was sold to another firm, hydroplane boat owner, Steve Woomer, and I worked hard to help Bill get the job as Commissioner of Unlimited Hydroplanes. Our efforts were successful, and may I say what a great job Bill did! In his last year as Chairman, the sport had 11 races — Syracuse, Owensboro, Madison, Evansville, Detroit, Kansas City, Dallas, Tri Cities (Lake Lewis), Seattle, San Diego and Honolulu.
“THEN….THE STUPID OWNERS, OVER THE OBJECTIONS OF STEVE WOOMER AND BERNIE LITTLE (owner of Miss Budweiser and the most successful owner in Unlimited Hydroplane racing history), FIRED BILL DONER FOR GOING ‘SLIGHTLY’ OVER BUDGET. THEY WERE IDIOTS BACK THEN AND THEY HAVEN’T GOTTEN ANY SMARTER. Thanks”……..Pat O’Day
Puget Sound Media wishes to thank Pat O’Day for sharing his memories of Bill Doner — a major promoter, a big player and a part of Seattle’s rich historical past.