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March 3, 1927|
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
February 3, 1987 (aged 59)|
Miami, Florida, U.S.
|Cause of death||Homicide|
|Occupation||Boat designer, builder and racer|
Shirley Goldin |
(m. 1948; div. 1979)
|Family||Martin Kimmel (former son-in-law)|
Donald Joel Aronow (March 3, 1927 – February 3, 1987) was an American designer, builder and racer of the famous Magnum Marine, Cary, Cigarette, Donzi, and Formula speedboats. He built speedboats for the Shah of Iran, Charles Keating, Robert Vesco, Malcolm Forbes, and George H. W. Bush. Retired President Lyndon Johnson owned several 16 ft. Donzi speedboats on his Texas ranch with which he would race his Secret Service agents.
Early life and education
Aronow was born in the Sheepshead Bay neighborhood of Brooklyn, the youngest son of Russian Jewish immigrants Herman and Ruth Aronow. He had two elder sisters, Sylvia and Lillian. His father owned a gas station and then a taxi company which collapsed during the Great Depression. He graduated a top athlete from James Madison High School in 1944, worked as a life guard at Coney Island, and enrolled at Brooklyn College. In 1945, he left school before completion and joined the merchant marine working overseas during the end of World War II. In 1947, he returned to the USA and completed his studies graduating from Brooklyn College in 1948 with a physical education degree earning letters in football, wrestling, and track.
After school, he worked as a physical education teacher for a time until he accepted a job at his with his father-in-law's southern New Jersey construction business which was booming thanks to demand from returning World War II veterans. In 1953, he established his own construction company, the Aronow Corporation which quickly became one of the largest construction companies in the state. In 1959, at age of 32, the now-millionaire Aronow moved to Miami with his family, where he began racing boats as a hobby.
The hobby evolved into a business and by the end of 1962, he had formed the Formula Marine boat company, which he then sold to Merrick Lewis' Alliance Machine Corp out of Dayton, Ohio. In 1964 he started Donzi Marine made the Donzi brand an international success and quickly sold the company to Teleflex Inc. in mid 1965. In 1966, he founded Magnum Marine and in 1967 proceeded to win his first World Championship driving two 27' Magnums, a single engine inboard and a triple engine Mercury powered outboard.
Since he was not supposed to be building boats in 1969, according to his non-compete clause following the sale of Magnum Marine, Aronow built the first Cigarette boat under the name Cary, with the help of Elton Cary's Miami Beach facility. After campaigning his boat "The Cigarette" around the world with mechanic Norris "Knocky" House as his cockpit companion, he won his second World Championship in three years, and third consecutive United States Championship while becoming only the 2nd American in history to win the UIM Gold Medal of Honor (Gar Wood was America's first UIM champion). Once Aronow was able to formally open his new company, he started Cigarette Racing Team using his own designs in 1970. Having sold Cigarette for the last time in 1982 (after having sold it and purchasing it back in the late 1970s while merging it with his own Squadron Marine), he formed USA Racing Team and built the Blue Thunders, 39-foot catamarans used by the United States Customs Service to patrol U.S. waters and run down illegal offshore activities, especially drug smuggling. Aronow's close friend at the time, Vice President George Bush, was a former Cigarette owner and was involved in testing out the 39-foot cats prior to government approval.
Aronow's boats won over 350 offshore races and he was a two-time world champion and three-time U.S. champion. He had been elected to every powerboating Hall of Fame in existence and as stated above, he and Gar Wood were the only two Americans to have ever received the UIM Gold Medal of Honor.
The great speed of Cigarette boats also made them a popular choice among cocaine runners. On February 3, 1987, Aronow was murdered in his car at the end of 188th Street in Miami where his boat companies operated. Aronow had just left from a meeting with Bob Saccenti, part owner of Apache Power Boats together with partner Ben Kramer. Witnesses said that a powder blue Lincoln pulled next to Aronow's car from the opposite direction, and when Aronow rolled down its window the driver opened fire. Another witness tried to follow the Lincoln as it fled but could not catch the killer(s). The Lincoln drove over the grass to get away.
Nearly a decade later, two men pleaded no contest to charges related to Aronow's killing. In 1995, career criminal Bobby Young admitted to shooting Aronow and pleaded no contest to second degree murder, eventually providing a full confession in 2009 shortly before his death. Ben Kramer, winner of the 1986 American Power Boat Association Offshore Championship, pleaded no contest to manslaughter in 1996. Kramer had a business dispute with Aronow after buying the latter's USA Racing Team but was forced to sell it back to Aronow after the Customs Service refused to do business with him. Kramer was already in prison on a life sentence with no possibility of parole following 1988 and 1989 convictions for drug smuggling and gun charges, as well as receiving a 1990 conviction for a failed escape attempt by helicopter from a federal prison near Miami.
The story was also the basis for the 2009 documentary film Thunder Man: The Don Aronow Story.
Aronow married twice.
- In 1948, he married Shirley Goldin who he had met while working as a lifeguard on Coney Island. They had three children:
- Michael who was a star athlete at the University of Florida until he was severely injured and confined to a wheelchair in a car accident in 1970.
- Claudia is a New York artist and ex-wife of real estate developer Martin Kimmel. Their son is menswear designer Adam Kimmel who is also the husband of actress Leelee Sobieski.
- His second wife was former Wilhelmina model, Lillian Crawford, 24 years his junior. They had two sons, Gavin and Wylie.
- "How a Kid From Brooklyn Put Go-Fast Boats On The Map" By Capt Ken Kreisler Archived January 6, 2014, at the Wayback Machine. Power & Motor July 2000
- "Don Aronow's Murder Leaves Miami Wondering: Were 'Cigarettes' Hazardous to His Health?", Joshua Hammer, People March 30, 1987
- David Ovalle (2010-12-08). "Kramer's Conviction Upheld in Aronow Murder". Miami Herald. Retrieved 2014-05-28.
- Barry Bearak (1989-04-18). "Helicopter Crash Foils Drug Smuggler's Prison Escape". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2014-05-28.
- "1986-1990 APBA Hall of Champions Inductees". American Power Boat Association. Retrieved 2014-05-28.
- "Master Of Those Mad Racers - Don Aronow hurts a little, but as the world's top ocean powerboat driver and builder he is never bored", Jerry Kirshenbaum, Sports Illustrated November 17, 1969
- "DONALD ARONOW, BOAT DESIGNER AND CHAMPION RACER, SHOT TO DEATH" New York Times February 4, 1987
- New York Social Diary: "Claudia Aronow" April 13, 2012
- New York Times, Men's Fashion, Travel: "For The Moment | Show Time for Adam Kimmel" January 11, 2008
- Interfaith Family: "Interfaith Celebrities: Coming of Age Again, the Girls of NYC and a Couple of Rookies" By Nate Bloom. April 17, 2012
- New York Times: "Paid Notice: Deaths KAYES, CECILY ELMES" February 4, 2004
- Don Aronow: The King of Thunderboat Row, 1994, by Michael Aronow
- Historic Offshore Race Boat Association - Donald Aronow
- Blue Thunder: How the Mafia Owned and Finally Murdered Cigarette Boat King Donald Aronow, 1990, Thomas Burdick and Charlene Mitchell
- "Liquid Smoke"[permanent dead link], David Samuels, Men's Vogue, January 2007
- "The Murder of Speedboat Builder Don Aronow", Matt Meltzer, Miami Beach 411, September 18, 2007
- "Rock around the States: Don Aronow" by Antonio Soccol
- "30 for 30 Shorts: Collision Course" Documentary on Aronow's Murder