Many people remember Don Edmunds as the premier builder of open wheel race cars during the 1960s, 1970s, and into the early 1980s, but the Don Edmunds story isn’t just about iconic midgets and sprint cars. Don was a true innovator, whose cars combined art and performance and were always at the forefront of open cockpit safety and design, but few readers realize Don Edmunds touched so many parts of the racing world and beyond. Author, Paul Weisel, Jr., has partnered with Don to tell the Edmunds story in a new 182-page book, complete with more than 200 photos, titled, ‘The Saga of Rotten Red – The Don Edmunds Story’.
From his childhood in Anaheim, CA, his teenage years as a part of the southern California roadster scene, including appearances at El Mirage and Bonneville, his first oval track exposure racing jalopies with the California Jalopy Assn., to his graduation to the midgets of the United Racing Assn., the book chronicles Edmunds’ journey toward his greatest racing triumph, qualifying for the 1957 Indianapolis ‘500’ and subsequently being named ‘Rookie of the Year’ at Indy. Along the way Don learned the ropes from car owner, Doug Caruthers, paid attention to tips by drivers, Billy Cantrell, Edgar Elder, and others, worked with Eddie Kuzma, fabricating race cars for Indy and the championship trail, and had his moniker of ‘Red’ transformed forever to ‘Rotten Red’, a tag he has always embraced. Even today, Don signs all his e-mails with ‘RR’. Don types the letters with a grin and all his friends smile when they read to the end of the message.
After Indianapolis 1959 Don retired from driving championship cars and returned to Anaheim to enjoy married life and to pursue his plans to eventually open his own race car shop. Stints with Bill Devin, Bill Stroppe, and Bill Thomas culminated with Don’s design and fabrication of the prototype of the Cheetah sports car and gave Don the practical experience he needed to open Don Edmunds’ Autoresearch in 1964.
Three separate shots at Indianapolis as a car builder and literally hundreds of midgets, sprint cars, supermodifieds, and super vees later, Don Edmunds replaced Frank Kurtis as the country’s most prolific designer and builder of open wheel race cars. Don Edmunds was on the cutting edge of open wheel race car design and later enjoyed a superb career driving supermodifieds, including a junket to compete with cars of his own design in South Africa. In 1991, Don Edmunds was inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and in 1994, the National Midget Hall of Fame, two awards he holds in the highest regard.
Away from the track Autoresearch designed and built Evel Knievel’s X-1 Skycycle, the prototype vehicle the stuntman would use to jump the Snake River Canyon in Idaho. Don also became involved in the restoration of several significant 1930-era race cars and used his ‘retirement’ to produce dozens of stunning scale model race cars. Author Paul Weisel takes the reader on all of Edmunds’ adventures and provides insight into the thought process of one of the true ‘dreamers of the day’.