service (Dec 18th 2002)
News & Updates
12/17/2002 Cycle News
Saying Goodbye To Don
The funeral services for land-speed record legend Don Vesco, who died yesterday at the age of 63, will be held on Saturday at 11 a.m. at the El Cajon Mortuary in El Cajon, California.
A viewing will be held on Friday afternoon from 4 to 7 p.m. and again on Saturday from 10 a.m. until the 11 a.m. service.
the service, Vesco will be buried
at the El Cajon Cemetary on Dehesa Road. The El Cajon Mortuary is
at 684 South Mollison Ave. in El Cajon, California.
12/16/2002 Cycle News
The World's Fastest
Don Vesco, the current
wheel-driven land speed record
holder and a former motorcycle land-speed record holder,
Vesco held 18 motorcycle
and six automotive records
at the Bonneville Salt Flats, and he owned
In addition to his speed
records, Vesco was also a
successful road racer and was the founder
From Roadracing World
This just in from Kent Riches of AirTECH:
Land speed legend Don Vesco passed away from cancer 2:20 p.m. today, 12-16-02, in San Diego.
Please let everyone know.
OBITUARIES LATIMES DEC 18, 2002
Don Vesco, 63; Held
Speed Records for Cars, Motorcycles
Don Vesco, a land-speed record-holder for motorcycles and cars, died Monday in Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego of prostate cancer. He was 63.
Long associated with the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, Vesco set 18 motorcycle and six automotive records during a career that began when he was 16. Among his achievements is the current wheel-driven land-speed record of 458.44 mph. The world land-speed record for all cars is 763.085 mph, set in 1997 by Englishman Andy Green in a car powered by two jet engines.
Vesco was 62 when he drove his jet-powered Team Vesco Turbinator to the record Oct. 17, 2001.
Until the time of his death, he was planning to become the first driver to go 500 mph in a wheel-driven vehicle.
"Given the proper salt texture, it could average 500," he said.
Vesco and his brother, Rick, who designed the Turbinator, were instrumental in the "Save the Salt" effort at Bonneville, the longest and straightest such stretch in the country.
Vesco's record has an asterisk, however. His car was powered by a turbine driven by propellers. Fellow Californian Al Teague holds the piston-driven record of 409.986 mph, set in 1991.
In 1970, Vesco was the first person to ride a motorcycle at more than 250 mph, and five years later he broke the 300-mph barrier on his Silver Bird Yamaha, powered by twin Yamaha TZ750 engines. In 1978, he increased the record to 318 mph on a Kawasaki turbo, a standard that stood for 12 years.
Born April 8, 1939, in Loma Linda, Vesco had a passion for speed while growing up in San Diego, watching his father, John, race Model A and Model T Fords on weekends. He was a crewman for his father when John set a class record at Bonneville in 1951.
"Everything we did was a race," Vesco once said. "The first thing I remember is racing tricycles and scooters around the block. You name it, we raced it. From our toys as little kids, racing was always a part of my life."
He was also fascinated by what makes vehicles go faster.
As a third-grader, he was tearing apart model airplane engines and making them faster.
In his first major racing accomplishment, he won the 1963 Motorcycle Grand Prix of the United States, forerunner of the Daytona 200, at Daytona International Speedway. Riding a Yamaha, he averaged 89.405 mph for 124 miles around the 3.1-mile course combining two banks and an infield road.
After breaking all the two-wheel land-speed records, Vesco and his brother decided in the 1980s to tackle four-wheel records in their own custom vehicle. The result was the Turbinator, a car 31 feet long, 3 feet wide and only 2.5 feet tall. It was powered by a turbine engine from a Chinook helicopter.
Vesco said he and his brother once worked for three days without sleep to be ready for Bonneville when the salt was right.
"When you see the sun set and rise and haven't gone anywhere but the shop, and then you see the sun rise again, you know you're in trouble," he said.
Racing against time is also dangerous. Vesco had his share of high-speed spills, but none as bad as one in 1986, when a rear tire blew out while he was traveling about 350 mph.
Witnesses said the car went 30 feet in the air before crashing and rolling over three times. Vesco suffered a broken neck but never lost consciousness.
He made some of his fastest runs after losing an eye when he was hit by a rock while watching a sprint car race in 1996.
Vesco was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1999, and in April he and his brother were named "Car Guy of the Year" by the automotive industry at its eAuto World Conference.
In a 1975 interview, Vesco said he chased speed because "basically, it's my hobby. Some people play golf, some go fishing and some ride bikes in the desert. I get my enjoyment from the challenge on the salt."
Information on survivors was not immediately available.
Funeral services are
scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday
at El Cajon Mortuary in El Cajon.
I consider myself fortunate to have known Don Vesco. As a matter of fact, when this 9 year old first came to America in 1970, I think he was the first person I met. Somehow, my father, Kel, and Don had worked something out so that dad could race one of Don’s Yamahas in the 250cc race at Daytona in 1970. Dad won the race, and Don suggested that we come back to race in the AMA series the following year. We did exactly that in 1971, and we’ve been here ever since.
I guess you could say that Don was the main reason we moved here instead of heading directly from Grand Prix racing in Europe back to our home in Australia. After all, that was our plan – until Vesco got involved. I ultimately have Don to thank for the fact that I now have an American wife and two children.
On Saturday, I had that opportunity - though not under the best of circumstances and without ever uttering the words.
Today, Don Vesco died in Mercy Hospital in San Diego from cancer at a young 63. A man who spent his life risking his life, a man who went 458.44 mph just this year, deserves better than to die of cancer at the age of 63, but cancer doesn’t ask who you are or what you do. And I guess he was fortunate to have put in 63 years of doing everything that he wanted to do – the 63 fastest years anyone could ever imagine living.
I still remember staying in a motel on El Cajon Blvd., just a few blocks from Vesco’s shop. The family stayed there until we found an apartment, my father and Don preparing the Yamahas that would bring many a victory to the Carrruthers/Vesco team. I remember the several trips to the desert with Don and his then-wife, Norma. We’d take our motorcycles and our dune buggies, and we’d head to the Southern California desert by El Centro to ride and drive. Those days of riding in the desert are some of the fondest of my childhood. Again, I guess I owe those times to Don.
And prior to that I’d learned to ride a motorcycle – one of Don’s motorcycles, a Yamaha Mini Enduro - on the salt flats at Bonneville as Don and his streamliner went about the business of setting, or attempting to set, land speed records. That land speed stuff was his passion. Is there a more perfect place to teach a kid to ride a motorcycle than on the wide-open Bonneville Salt Flats? Again, Don gets a big thank you.
As an adult, I didn’t see “Uncle Don” as much as I now wish I had. But I’d see him every once in a while, and he never seemed to change from the man I knew in my youth. I’ll always remember the glasses and the crew cut of the first American man I ever knew. Back then he looked like he just stepped off the set of the movie “The Right Stuff,” though that was long before the movie was ever shot. But Vesco definitely had the right stuff, and he was a true pioneer at the Bonneville Salt Flats – a place that he continued to return to right up until last year, when he set that mark of 458.44 mph.
I’ll miss Don. And I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling indebted to him. One last time, thanks Uncle Don. Rest easy.
AMA SuperBike Web
Kel Carruthers leads Cal
Rayborn on the Vesco Yamaha
TD2 at Daytona, 1971.
If there is a name synonymous with speed in motorcycle racing , it is this one: Vesco. Motorcycle racer Don Vesco died yesterday of prostate cancer, the always enthused and cheerful man from Southern California left an indelible mark on motorcycle racing.
The Vesco family has been a constant force in motor racing in Southern California almost since its birth. Consider this: Vesco was 63 when he passed away yesterday afternoon, yet his father, John, was a racer before him. Vesco grew up in So-Cal—living most of his life in the San Diego area—in that magic 1940-59 period when racetracks dotted the landscape and you could still go riding in the Hollywood hills any time you felt the urge. He did hot-rods, dry lake cars and the like, but was drawn to motorcycles and spent most of his life racing two-wheeled machines.
Vesco went to high school with American racing great and future AMA champion and Daytona winner Cal Rayborn. They were great friendly rivals in a time when you could be friends with a fellow and race against him in the AMA national on Sunday, maybe help him work on his bike a few days later. Vesco went on to back Rayborn on several bikes, and was friends with him until Rayborn died.
Vesco was no sugar-daddy, though, solely backing other men's racing like some; he raced, he built, he drove, he rode. He first roadraced in So-Cal, riding a bunch of different bikes (at AFM races at Willow Springs, Riverside, etc); very early on he is most closely associated with a Matchless G50. Later, he hooked up with then fledgling bike manufacturer Yamaha, riding for them here in the US in the early to mid-1960s. He had a long relationship with Yamaha, assisting them in racing, and they in turn supported him when he ran his own efforts, and through his dealership, Don Vesco Yamaha. Vesco also worked closely with Honda, BSA and Bridgestone. Vesco helped riders like Kel Carruthers, the aforementioned Rayborn, Gene Romero and countless others.
Don Vesco & his
After roadracing, Vesco doggedly went after Bonneville land speed records. He and Rayborn (Rayborn on a Harley powered streamliner) traded the land speed record back and forth before Vesco went head down blasted a Yamaha TZ750 powered machine to over 300 mph. With his brother designing the streamliners, Vesco was still racing 'liners in recent years, blowing past 450 mph, and with one eye, no less. He built sprint car engines in the 1990s, and while sitting in the stands one night, was hit by a rock flung from a spinning tire, losing the sight in his left eye. He actually raced-roadraced-after this mishap, looking really good and still wicked fast at the BMW Legends races at Daytona. Vesco was active on Team Obsolete's AHRMA vintage bikes within the last few years of his life.
He remained, by all accounts, enthusiastic and genial until his dying day. He was super-easy to spot at the track, what with his signature snow-white hair and beard, which was once so yellow-blond when he roadraced in the 1970s it almost matched Yamaha's then racing colors.
Legends: Dave Aldana,
Yvon DuHamel, Jay Springsteen
& Don Vesco at Daytona in the early 1990s.
At the top level, men race for a variety of different rationales: a soul-level competitive desire to be the best, for the money and fame, the women, the speed-high, the travel, or any of the litany of reasons some men take part in a very hazardous activity. It's interesting that after they stop being competitive, many of them never race again. Some spend 30 years racing, then step off and never get back on, turning their back on racing for whatever reason. Vesco was one of the men who raced in one form or another for nearly his entire life. And not for the women or the laurels, Vesco raced because it was in his DNA. Building engines, getting ready, driving to the track with no sleep was an activity that was as natural to him as breathing.
If there is an
afterlife, and there is some form of
transportation in the hereafter, you can bet that right now Don Vesco
working to make his a little faster than the next guy's rig. And
tomorrow, or maybe the next day, after he gets a little sleep, they're
going racing. Because that's what Don Vesco did.
Don, Hos and Gene. Perris Auto Raceway