In Memory of Ken Dondero

Another drag racing great has left us. Ken Dondero passed away on Friday. Dave Wallace Jr. offers this information and tribute:

Here’s the obligatory obituary info, courtesy of Ken’s lovely lady, Rozetta Dawes:

“Ken Dondero, 74, passed away last Friday morning, 1/17/14, after a brief illness. He was born 2/26/39 in Brockton Mass. and relocated to California in 1959. He is survived my his son Rick Dondero of Lake Forest, Calif, his daughter Cheryl Dondero of Long Beach, Calif. Two brothers, Wayne Dondero of Adrian, OR and Richard Dondero of Fort Myers, Fl. Two sisters, Audrey Hodges of Charlotte, NC, and Valarie Seymore of Connecticut. His longtime companion, Rozetta Dawes of Tulare, CA.

His service will be this Saturday, 1/25/14, 12:00 p.m., at St. Rita’s Catholic Church in Tulare, Calif.

As far as donations, Ken donated regularly to St. Jude’s Children Hospital and would be happy to know his friends also donated.”

Dave’s Notes:

As a drag racer, Ken Dondero will be remembered as the last winning four-speed driver in a Gas Supercharged car, the Anglia owned by his former B/Gas rival in central California, Bob Panella. Over breakfast summer in Tulare’s Apple Annie’s restaurant, Ken revealed that he acquired his incomparable clutch skill by power-shifting every farm and street vehicle he drove as a kid, practicing literally everywhere he went. Panella rates him as “one of the best two four-speed guys I’ve ever seen; every bit as good as Ronnie Sox, if not even better.”

Ken was also that rare sports figure able to come out of retirement and reach his prior level of success — repeatedly. Ken’s combination of mechanical and physical abilities earned nationwide fame at three different stages of life, in three decades: driving Panella’s Anglia in the 1960s, the Bill Jenkins-owned Pro Stock Vega that won back-to-back AHRA championships in the ’70s, and Panella’s Pro Stockers in the ’80s, after which he turned his full attention to building a successful tire business in Tulare. Of his constant cross-country touring as Jenkins’s one-man AHRA and match-race team, he liked to say, “I’ve changed more motors in motel parking lots than most people have seen motors.”

Last but not least, Ken Dondero was one of the nicest guys this reporter ever encountered. His friendly demeanor never seemed to vary, whether on or off the track. This one hurts.


Obviously, Ken Dondero peppers the Drag Lists with great cars over several decades. Here we remember Ken in photos submitted by our amazing contributors:

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