Oldest living ARCA winner, Iowan Don White still at the wheel
Oldest living ARCA winner, Iowan Don White still at the wheel
(TOLEDO, Ohio – July 2, 2015) – He just turned 87 years young on June 14. He still drives his own car – a 2007 Buick LaCrosse. He’s still married to his bride of 66 years. He still owns one of the pick-up trucks he towed his stock cars around with, and still loves to recollect his racing career, as well he should. He’s Keokuk, Iowa’s Don White, and he’s the second oldest living ARCA winner on planet earth.
“I use a walker to get around, but I still get by. I’m kind of wore out, but I’m still kicking,” said White from his home in Keokuk.
“My wife’s (Verna) in a nursing home now, so I’m living by myself; but the kids come in and help. I’ve got three girls. One’s in Des Moines…the other’s in Cedar Rapids, and the other’s here in Keokuk. I don’t think my wife will ever get out of the nursing home…she’s not doing too well…I go see her all the time.”
The town of Keokuk, located against the Mississippi River in the far southeastern corner of Iowa, has certainly been the home of several great racers over the years – Ramo Stott, Ron & Dick Hutcherson and Ernie Derr to name a few. It’s been White’s home since he was four.
“I moved here when I was just a kid…four years old. We moved over from Monmouth, Illinois. Started racing in ’49 I think it was. My first race was on the dirt at Cedar Rapids…I know it’s paved now. I’ve been at it ever since. Milwaukee was my last race I run…little over 20 years ago.”
Born in the ‘Roaring 20s’, a decade of prosperity, his most fervent childhood memories however were wrapped around the Great Depression. Despite arduous times that affected most American blue-collar working families, White forged ahead, cleared World War II, did a two-year stint in the ARMY and came back into a free country that was again budding with an abundance of possibilities. In that encouraging environment, White turned himself into one of the most successful stock cars racers in the country.
All the while dabbling in NASCAR, White only spent two full seasons on the ARCA tour, in 1959 and 1960, before he sped off for the USAC Stock Car ranks. Despite his brief tenure in ARCA, he won 11 races over two seasons.
“I just remember John Marcum…he really stands out in my mind. John was a good guy…such a pleasant guy, and one hell of a promoter.”
Despite the fact that White was well known for his expertise on paved tracks, seven of his 11 ARCA wins were on dirt, including the big mile-dirts at the Detroit State Fairgrounds and Lakewood Speedway in Atlanta. He also won on the half-mile dirts at Canfield (OH) Speedway, Berlin (MI) Raceway, and Toledo Raceway Park. His ARCA wins on pavement came at Cloverleaf (OH) Speedway, Salem (IN) Speedway and the Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville, a 300-lapper in 1960.
But it was the USAC Stock Car division that brought White the majority of his notoriety, winning national championships in 1963 and 1967. He also finished runner-up in ’62 and ’66, and third in ’64, ’65, ’68 and ’69. Through it all, White earned the overall title of all-time USAC Stock Car winner with 53 victories.
And excelling on the USAC Stock Car tour in those days was no simple thing, considering White competed against the same men who made up the starting grid for the Indianapolis 500…AJ Foyt, Mario Andretti, Parnelli Jones, Roger McCluskey, Tony Bettenhausen, Paul Goldsmith, and Al and Bobby Unser to name several. Throw in the Fred Lorenzen’s, the Jack Bowsher’s, the Norm Nelson’s, the Iggy Katona’s, Dean Roper’s and Butch Hartman’s, and you’ve got one of the toughest leagues ever assembled in American motorsports.
“I raced against the best as far as I’m concerned. I would say that AJ (Foyt) and Parnelli (Jones) were the toughest, but they were all tough…all great men. But they were really nothing special…felt like they were on the same level I was. I remember beating all of them more than they ever beat me. I’m the all-time winner in USAC last time I checked.” With the demise of the USAC Stock Car tour in 1983 - and barring no revival - safe to say his all-time win record will stand for all time.
Of all the tracks White raced at, the Milwaukee Mile was his favorite.
“I think I liked Milwaukee as well as any place…won 14 or 15 there, so I’d say that was my favorite. As far as the money goes, I took a hell of a lot more out of Milwaukee than anywhere else.”
White’s career was fascinating for many reasons, not the least of which would be the fact that it started on the Cedar Rapids, Iowa dirt and expanded to the sand at Daytona Beach well before he aimed for ARCA and USAC.
“I held a speed record on Daytona Beach, but raced there well before the big track ever came around. I ran with NASCAR at Atlanta, Rockingham, Charlotte, Daytona, some other places. My best finish on the big Daytona track was third.”
In fact, White competed in 24 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events from 1954 through 1972, earning seven top-five finishes and 12 top-10s.
White also won three IMCA championships, racing alongside fellow IMCA champ/ARCA winner Ernie Derr.
“Ernie…he was my brother-in-law…I married his sister Verna.”
White recalls his earliest days behind the wheel.
“I remember going to the races and saying to myself, ‘hell it looks like I could do that.’ So I started racing…believe it was ’49…and I never quit. I worked as a mechanic for most of my racing career…had a shop here in Keokuk…Don White Auto…started out in dealerships. Last few years of my racing career, I just raced, but I worked most of the time through my career.
“I raced for Ford, Chevrolet and Chrysler, all three brands. I even raced a Javelin for American Motors so I had pretty-well been around the loop.”
Through it all, White raced against the very best.
“AJ was probably the most hard-headed, but a good guy on top of that. Raced a lot with Tony Bettenhausen…he was alright. I knew Iggy (Katona) real well too. I remember he had two boys that followed him around everywhere. Iggy was a good guy for being a competitor. I stayed at Iggy’s house in Ohio once in a while.
Image: The No. 1 on White's car represents his finishing position in USAC points the year before. Numbers, in USAC, are assigned according to national points.
“Jack Bowsher was a good guy…hard to get along with but a good guy. Ramo Stott was a lot of fun to have around…real good guy…got along with everybody. I still get along with him,” he laughed.
The conversation came back to ARCA founder John Marcum.
“Marcum was real easy to get along with. Marcum didn’t have any enemies that I knew of. Everybody liked John Marcum.”
Everybody liked, and still likes, Don White too.
Don Radebaugh, firstname.lastname@example.org