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The Don Of Thunderboat Row

Mar 21, 2008
As a powerboat racer, Don Aronow was a two time world champion who in his time set 16 speed records. As a designer, he was a bona fide god of the sea whose boats won more than 300 offshore races. Aronows boats were among the most sought-after status symbols of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Prestigious owners included Malcolm Forbes, the shah of Iran, and then-director of CIA George Bush. Unfortunately, many of the richest drug dealers of the world also owned cigarettes, because it was very difficult to catch or monitor. Subsequently, the civic minded Aronow designed a 39 foot catamaran patrol boat, the Blue Thunder, for the U.S. Custom Services.

Cigarette Phenomena
Once you sliced through choppy ocean waters in a Cigarette, you were hooked forever! Aronow and his 32-foot powerboat transformed an extreme sport with a meager following into an industry! This smoking boat, aptly named the Cigarette, was so highly regarded in its heyday that the word cigarette became the generic term for narrow body powerboats.

When the first Cigarette powerboat splashed down and parted the waters, it was en route to making history in offshore racing circles. In 1969, Mr. Aronow, the designer and first racer of the Cigarette Racing Team, won an offshore race that stretched from Long Beach, Calif., to Ensenada, Mexico, with it in its first outing. Although the boat was labeled "Cigarette," the first one was actually a Cary -from Magnum Marine- another Aronow formed venture. The following year he retired from racing and officially formed the Cigarette Racing Team to build deep-V-hull vessels, beginning with the Standard 28 fishing model. Many viewed the 35 Cigarette as the finest of its era.

Making of Thunder Row
When offshore racing began in the early 1960s, many of the drivers also owned companies that designed powerboats. Aronow came to Miami in the early 1960s after amassing a fortune the previous decade in New Jersey's burgeoning construction industry. His modest plan to chase a dream of racing and designing boats resulted in the formation of several epic boat-building companies. Aronow-formed companies include Formula Marine, Donzi Marine, Magnum Marine, the USA Racing Team and the Cigarette Racing Team. Each one headquartered at the dead end of 188th Street in Miami-which was known as "Thunderboat Row."

Tragic End
Lifestyles out of the water for many participants of offshore racing were equally adventurous. Ironically, the famous dead-end street where it all began is also where it ended. On the early evening of February 3, 1987, Mr. Aronow was shot and killed in his car shortly after leaving a business meeting with-as it turned out- one of the men convicted for the crime. Ben Kramer, a reputed drug runner who was under investigation by the federal government, had bought the USA Racing Team from Aronow. However, he had to sell it back due to legal complications involving the U.S. Custom Services. Kramer is serving a life sentence without parole. It was a tragic ending to an extraordinary and exciting life.

Legacy
Aronow is an esteemed member of all halls of fames honoring offshore racing and powerboat design. Several of the companies originated on Thunderboat Row continue to thrive and produce boats inspired by the designs and accomplishments of the legendary Don Aronow.
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