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Bob Donner, 1930-2010

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#1 fbarrett

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Posted 17 January 2010 - 16:57


Sorry to report that racer and gentleman Bob Donner passed away on January 13th in Colorado Springs as a result of leukemia. One of the last of the "sportsman" types, he was mainly known for racing Porsches and Ferraris.

Bob won his class in the Pikes Peak Hill Climb three times in Porsche Spyders and drove them in the Sebring 12 Hours. He once drove a Chaparral there, too. He was a director of the Pikes Peak Hill Climb from 1979 to 1991 and was inducted into the Colorado Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2007. He was also a frequent entrant in The Colorado Grand, usually driving an unusual "Targa"-bodied Ferrari (ex-Harrah) or his GTO. Last time I saw him, he was driving his original Duesenberg to a car show.

A memorial service will be held at 10 AM January 22nd at Shove Chapel on the campus of Colorado College in Colorado Springs.



#2 Jerry Entin

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Posted 17 January 2010 - 18:16

Posted Image
Bob Donner Jr.

Frank: It is very sad to hear about Bob Donners passing.

The following is from Willem Oosthoek:
Bob Donner was truly a gentleman driver. We spoke on the phone only a few months ago and Bob was kind enough to send me a copy of his racing results over the years. He started competing in June 1953 at Estes Park, Colorado, with an MG, finishing 7th overall and 7th in class. In the remarks/excuses column on the right he wrote: "eating lunch when race started!"

Later in 1953 he drove his dad's Jaguar XK-120 to class wins at Lookout HC and Buckley. Another class win followed at Salida in 1954 with the MG, but Bob was getting tired being beaten by Porsches.

Giving the MG to his sister, he bought a Porsche Super in 1955, followed by a 550RS in 1956. At Casper, Wyoming, in September 1956 he captured his first overall victory with the 550RS, beating two Temple Buell-entered Ferraris. Numerous class wins followed over the years.

In May 1959 Bob acquired a 1.6-liter RSK and continued his winning streak in FM class. In the Road America June Sprints that year he finished 2nd overall to Freddy Windridge's Lister/Chevy. Road America was a track where he excelled many times.

An RS-61 followed in 1961. With Don Sesslar as his co-driver, Bob finished second overall in the 1962 Road America 500. The Hall/Sharp Chaparral won, but Jim Hall was so impressed that he offered Bob a Chaparral ride at Sebring in 1963. The rear axle failed and Bob did not return to the race tracks until 1976 with his Ferrari. His last race came at Road Atlanta in October 1977, where he finished 11th. The right column said it all: "Ugh! Bad day!"

Edited by Jerry Entin, 17 January 2010 - 18:28.

#3 Jerry Entin

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Posted 17 January 2010 - 18:20

Robert Donner Jr. Businessman, philanthropist and sportsman

Robert Donner Jr., died in Colorado Springs on January 13, following a long struggle with Leukemia (CLL). He leaves behind his devoted family and wife of 51 years, Joan Cogswell Donner. The longtime resident of The Springs was born in Buffalo, New York on September 25, 1930 to the late Robert and Margaret (Hunter) Donner. The family moved to Colorado Springs in 1939. He was an alumnus of Brooks School, Andover, MA, attended Yale University for two years and graduated from Colorado College in 1954. Of his military service he mentioned that as a 1st Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps from 1953 until 1956, his artillery battery "sent a lot of lead down range but none was in anger and no one got hurt." For more than years 20 years Bob's principal business interest was radio stations in Colorado Springs (KYSN), Denver (KIMN), Portland, and Laramie. He sold his interests in radio in 1975 to pursue other enterprises. Bob Donner was widely known and respected in the automotive world, having competed professionally throughout the country with great success in sports car racing driving Porsches. In addition to winning the Pikes Peak Hill Climb with Porsche 3 times, Bob also campaigned numerous drives at the Classic 12 Hours of Sebring with a one time 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. He founded and served as President of the Rocky Mountain Region of the Ferrari Club of America. Bob was a dedicated member of the Boards of the family foundations established by his grandfather, William Henry Donner, serving the William H. Donner Foundation and the Donner Canadian Foundation for more than five decades. He was also Director of the First National Bank of Colorado Springs and its successors, Affiliated Bank and Bank One, 1966 - 1993, Ski Country USA, Denver, in the 1960s; the Webb Waring Lung Institute of Denver, Colorado College, 1969 -1993, and was a founding member of the "Wine Bibbers" in 1974, and numerous other clubs and organizations, with so many dear friends from around the world. Bob loved the Buffalo Bill Historic Center in Cody, Wyoming and was a long time member of its firearms board. To his children and grandchildren, " Papa was an extremely generous man who loved his family and friends. He was a competitor, a steady hand and sharp eye with pistol and shotgun, a successful businessman and well read on most everything, especially World War II military history. He liked his bacon crisp, flat and blotted, and his eggs just right, and don't forget the orange marmalade. He had a keen interest in anything that kept time, projected light or held a razor sharp edge. If it was sleek, fast and powerful, color casehardened, blued or checkered, it caught his admiring eye." He was preceded in death by his son Robert Donner, III, in 1989, and his sister Margaret (Donner) Spencer. 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. Five grandchildren; Brittany Donner Roy of Boston, Dillon Cogswell Roy of Denver, Alexa Caraway Donner, Ava Margaret Donner and Reeve Meredith Donner, all of Colorado Springs. A memorial service will be held in Colorado Springs at Shove Chapel on the Colorado College campus on January 22 at 10:00 A.M. In lieu of flowers memorial contributions may be made to Chapel of our Savior, 8 4th St., Colorado Springs, CO.,80906. Shove Chapel, 1010 N. Nevada Ave., Colorado Springs, CO., 80903.or the B-Chronic CLL program under direction of Dr. Neil E. Kay at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota..

Edited by Jerry Entin, 17 January 2010 - 18:34.

#4 Jerry Entin

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Posted 17 January 2010 - 18:55

The following is from Gary Knutson:

Bob and Joan Donner were both good friends. Joan was in my class all thru grade and high school. I still have a set of SnapOn Whitworth combination wrenches (with Donner Jr etched on them) that Bob gave me when I bought my Lotus Eleven. Those were the days..... Bob was THE guy to beat in the regional SCCA races. He will be missed by many!

My condolences to Joan and the family.

Gary Knutson

#5 Jerry Entin

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Posted 17 January 2010 - 19:19

Posted Image
Bob Donner and his RS-61 on their way to second overall in the May 27 1962 Prairie GP at Stuttgart, Arkansas.

Only Hap Sharp's Cooper Monaco managed to stay ahead of them in this SCCA National.

Photo: Al Clemens

#6 B Squared

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Posted 17 January 2010 - 19:29

I did not know Bob Donner, but I want to pass on my condolences to his family, loved ones and friends. Brian Brown

#7 raceannouncer2003

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Posted 18 January 2010 - 05:35

Sorry to hear about this. I don't think I ever saw him race, but I remember reading about him a lot. Here is a link to photos of some of his cars:


Vince H.

#8 Jack-the-Lad

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Posted 19 January 2010 - 01:09

My condolences to the Donner family. I did not know him and saw him race only once, but his name has been prominent for the entire 50+ years that I have followed motorsports.


#9 grandprix61

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Posted 19 January 2010 - 05:05

Posted Image
Bob Donner and his RS-61 on their way to second overall in the May 27 1962 Prairie GP at Stuttgart, Arkansas.

Only Hap Sharp's Cooper Monaco managed to stay ahead of them in this SCCA National.

Photo: Al Clemens

I never got to talk with Bob at various races in the midwest. He was always competitive and he was a great subject to photograph. Always putting the Porsche thru its paces. Here is a shot of him at Road America. not sure of the year. my condolences to his family and friends. Ron N.
Posted Image[http:]img51.imageshack.us/img/4814/porscedonner7201.jpg[/img]

#10 RA Historian

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Posted 19 January 2010 - 15:53

1962 Road America 500. Finished second overall, first in class. Co-driver was Don Sesslar.


Edited by RA Historian, 19 January 2010 - 15:53.

#11 fbarrett

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Posted 26 January 2010 - 17:40

For the record, Bob's results in the Pikes Peak Hill Climb's Sports Car Division were:

1959: Porsche RSK, DNF
1960: Porsche RSK, 1st
1961: Porsche ?, 1st
1962: Porsche RSK (or RS61), 1st

Bob's last win is remarkable in that he beat not only all the sports cars but also all the "stock" cars and all but 11 of the open-wheel cars. These reults are from Stanley DeGeer's 1991 book, The Pikes Peak Race, for which Bob wrote the foreword, including these words:

"It was 1941 when I remember being invited as a 10-year old boy to join my dad for practice, time trials, and the race, the last such event on Pikes Peak before World War II. My dad was interested in the race, and after the war, he helped Charles Tutt and his son Thayer, who were so instrumental in reviving The Race to the Clouds. Ab Jenkins, who was mayor of Salt Lake City and had set so many records on the Salt Flats, drove his record-setting Duesenberg [I expect this would be The Mormon Meteor. FB] from Salt Lake and stayed at our house [near the Broadmoor Hotel FB]. I have pictures of the car with its Utah license plates and unmuffled exhaust pipe. All catsup, coffee, tea, and adult beverages of any kind--including Coca-Cola--were relegated to the back shelf because Ab was a strict Mormon. I remember him as a robust, friendly person who delighted in helping me replace my bicycle chain in the kitchen. I did not know enough at the time to ask some pertinent questions. 'Mr. Jenkins, what is it like and how do you prepare yourself and the car to run for six, twelve, or twenty-four hours?' I didn't know I would be running a car at the Sebring 12-Hour Race in a few years.

"I met Phil Hill in 1950 when he struggled with an overhead-valve Ardun Ford motor in an Allard sports car, and, of course, I liked sports cars. It overheated--dry ice was placed in front of the radiator for the race, and it froze the cooling system--DNF! We first met in the confines of the Broadmoor Hotel Garage, where Chuck Myers was manager and everyone garaged in the 1940s and 1950s. The four cars [probably the hotel limousines] and space renters were simply moved out. Phil went on to win America's only World Championship and is an international authority and author on automobiles. He restored a Ferrari for me recently in Santa Monica.

"I remember watching Joe Coniff and his crew take practice times for Al Rogers; they had a half-dozen stopwatches at various timing points. The Maserati of Louis Unser was definitely faster through the corners, but Al's Offenhauser was right with the Maser on the straights. Louis won the race by less than a second. It was 1947.

"Many [people] were most helpful when I tackled Pikes Peak in 1959. Bobby Unser, for one, gave me helpful hints. Ak Miller, an old hand and my closest competitor, was a true friend. Luigi Lesovsky of USAC, a designer of Indy cars, came to my garage several times to crawl under my rear-engined [actually, mid-engined. FB] Porsche. He said Indy cars were headed toward rear engines and what a neat car Porsche had designed. I sought out Nick Sanborn and Ted Foltz for advice. They supported this new rookie on the mountain.

"What were my never-to-be-forgotten memories beside my victory in the sports car division? It would be difficult to equal listening to the staccato exhaust blasts of a Maserati, Ferrari, or sharply-tuned Chevrolet working its way up the mountain in the cool, early morning, with the reverberating sounds entertaining you and a herd of Rocky Mountain sheep."

Apologies to the publisher for stealing this text, but perhaps in this case he won't mind.


Edited by fbarrett, 26 January 2010 - 17:41.

#12 E1pix

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Posted 06 July 2012 - 01:26

I've finally been scanning more of my old racing film, so am posting this to honor the Donner family in perpetuity.

When I was 17 at the SCCA Runoffs at Road Atlanta, Robert "Bob" Donner's fabulous Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona raced in B Production. This was a "Big Iron" class dominated by Corvettes and Cobras, so the Daytona was a bit shy in the power department — but still blazing fast. And Oh, What a Joy it was to hear it shrieking around the circuit. My heart's long beaten its fastest for the cars from Maranello, for the passions that bore them but also for the aural ecstasy emanating from such beautiful works of art. I never much knew Bob beyond meeting a few times, but came to know his two sons Bobby and David over the years to come.

Three and a half years later, my wife and I had moved to Colorado and raced karts. In our second race I'd won the first two heats at a new track against 18 competitors, and felt so cocky I started the final heat dead last, stealing the lead with two corners to go. But on the final corner I was passed on the grass, well below the apex, by a fearless 16 year-old kid I'd tracked for laps and had finally gotten around. He won the race, the Stewards asked if I wanted to protest but 'Absolutely not!' was my answer. We immediately befriended this young driver, pitting and traveling together throughout his karting years. When he introduced himself as David Donner and I noticed the Prancing Horse decals on his kart, and on his 1969 Plymouth wagon "kart hauler," I asked... and sure enough this kid's Dad was Bob Donner. Young David spoke of him in a towering way that only a devoted father could earn. Perhaps ironic now, considering his off-course pass, David went on to win several Pikes Peak Hillclimbs in a career extending to today. :)

Years later while staying at Bob Donner's home, David asked if I wanted to see "something in the garage"... it turned out to be the ex-Michael Parkes Ferrari 512M, my single favorite race car since I was 10. I almost passed out in the sheer presence of it. Mr. Donner's contribution to sport and the cars he lived his life loving are treasures for us who bore witness.

On this link is Bob Donner's same Ferrari Daytona, driven in the 1988 La Carrera Classic by our old friend David and his brother Bobby. What a moment for them, a fleeting testament of Bob Donner's life and legacy, an eternal gift to his sons. Note older brother Bobby watching the tach out of concern for the V12's health:

Below is my 1977 photograph of Robert Donner's Ferrari 365 GTB/4, resurrected on my scanner just yesterday:

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RIP Robert "Bob" Donner, Jr., 2010 — and Robert "Bobby" Donner, III, 1989.

Thank You from all of us whose blood you enriched... mine included.

Edited by E1pix, 08 July 2012 - 07:08.

#13 RShaw

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Posted 06 July 2012 - 03:44

I did not know Bob Donner, Jr, but am fortunate to have this very early photo of one of his father's cars.

Below is a photo of a Mercedes Benz, a 540K I believe, that Bob Donner, Sr. owned in 1954. It is parked in the Broadmoor Hotel parking garage that was mentioned in an earlier post.

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This is a crop of the above photo. Note the name in the upper left corner.
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Photos by William & Beryl Martinez, from my collection.

Ron Shaw

Edited by RShaw, 06 July 2012 - 05:04.