We're racing through history!
Buck Thornton was the driver of the Aronow Unlimited in this photo published on Aug. 1, 1982.
By Joanne A. Fishman
Reprinted from The New York Times, June 28, 1981
For 17 years, Don Aronow has been the biggest kid on the block. And why not? It's his block, after all, the swampy stretch of 188th Street in Florida's North Miami Beach. With his fortune made in real estate, Aronow returned to the first love of his youth -fast boats. And he started on 188th Street by creating a Formula boat company.
Since then, Aronow has formed a string of high-performance boat companies - Donzi, Magnum, Cigarette and Squadron XII - all on the same block. No matter that he stopped racing offshore power boats 11 years ago after capturing two world and three national titles. Aronow's influence in the sport dominates. But now, the 53-year-old designer and builder has merged his Squadron boats with his recently reacquired Cigarette Racing Team, and he's preparing to invade new territory - the unlimited hydroplane circuit.
Aronow, in conjunction with Gary Garbrecht, the former head of Mercury Marine's racing program, has created an unlimited hydroplane that is revolution in design as well as power. Tests are scheduled to begin on Lake Havasu, in Arizona, this week with the craft, called the Aronow Unlimited, expected to make its debut on the thunderbolt circuit by the end of July. Buck Thornton, a tunnel boat driver from Richmond, VA., has been named the driver.
The unlimited hydroplanes are the fastest boats afloat. Riding on the tips of two sponsons and half a propeller, they are capable of reaching speeds over 200 miles an hour. Traditionally they are powered by a single, massive World War II airplane engine capable of generating 3,000-horsepower.
The Aronow Unlimited is the first unlimited of the catamaran design. It is considerably lighter than the traditional unlimiteds and is powered by two engines, supercharged Keith Black Chryslers producing 1,170-horsepower each, and connected to MerCruiser sterndrives. In test runs last year with smaller Cosworth engines, according to Aronow, the 30-foot-long craft reached 175 miles an hour on the straightaway but was sluggish on the turns. Now with the larger engines and the sterndrives, for greater low-end torque, the new craft is expected to roar around the ovals with a lap speed of 140 m.p.h. This would be fast enough to upset the unlimited establishment, because the fastest recorded lap is the 140.6 m.p.h. set by Bill Muncey in Atlas Van Lines last year.
To change from offshore powerboats to the unlimiteds, Aronow said, ''is like changing from Formula One to stockcar racing. And to master both is very difficult.'' Part of the impetus for the shift is that the deep V hull, which Aronow had developed to perfection in offshore competition, has reached its maximum potential.
''You can't grow anymore with the deep V because we're limited to the power we have,'' he explained. Instead, Aronow sees the offshore circuit evolving into two-boat teams, with a deep V craft used in rough water and a catamaran in calm water.
''I love the rough water,'' Aronow said. ''There is a thrill about going out in water as rough as possible and racing. To me that was offshore racing. Now they call the races off if it's rough, and they race in lakes. If they want to go calm-water racing, let's go to unlimiteds. And that's what I'm doing.''
For Aronow, who began racing Jersey speed skiffs as a teen-ager growing up on the New Jersey Shore, the challenge with the unlimiteds is to find new ways of adapting power to hull shape. As he points out, super-charged engines, sterndrives and catamaran designs have been around for quite a while, ''but no one has been able to put them together before and make it work.''
From 188th Street, production versions of the Cigarette race boats are shipped to kings and Presidents. Vice-Presidents, too. George Bush just had his re-powered. Owners include the rich and famous (such as Ringo Starr, Vitas Gerulaitis and H. Ross Perot) as well as drug smugglers. The sale of Cigarette T-shirts and jackets alone is bringing in $100,000 a year.
But for the biggest kid on the block, the fun isn't in the ledgers. It's on the race course. And that's where he's headed once more.