EDWARDS, Donald Robert
Donald Robert Edwards passed peacefully, in his sleep, on December 6th, 2022, at his home in Solvang, California. Don was the first son born to James Robert and Wilma Jean Edwards on June 22nd, 1939, at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital. Don grew up in Santa Barbara, with a native’s love for sunshine, beaches, and mechanics. Growing up in Santa Barbara, California, Don loved mechanical things and always toyed around with engines. As a youngster, he started hopping up lawn mowers, then motor scooters, then motorcycles. At a young 16 years of age, while in high school, he had a 1940 Ford coupe with a “full race” flathead engine, which he raced at the Santa Maria drag strip, but, when he first saw a Crackerbox race boat, his life was forever changed. He had to have that boat and sold the Ford to buy it.
After attending Santa Barbara city schools, and San Jose State College, Don enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard, and served his full term as a reservist. Don’s racing career began in 1959 in an 18-foot flat-bottom boat built by Don Beck. He loved the competition, and in 1961 he was able to hit speeds of over 80 miles per hour, which was pretty fast for the day. According to Don, the boat was painted in gold color, and caused a lot of commotion wherever it went. So, it became known as the ‘Golden Komotion’. A few years later, Don worked with the sports legend Rich Hallett, to design and build a 21- foot wooden hydroplane drag boat. Don set a record in 1966 on the Feather River at 136 miles per hour. All in all, Edwards, Hallett, and their engine builder Dave Zeuschel won four National Championships between 1965 and 1967, making this new version of the ‘Golden Komotion’ the “World’s Winningest Gas Hydro” drag boat in 1967.
While in the Coast Guard, Don attended the Seattle Seafair Trophy Race, which featured a class of racing boats called ‘Unlimited Hydroplanes’. He was instantly drawn to these boats and decided to retire from drag boat racing at the end of the 1967 season.
Don was innovative, enterprising, and determined – he commissioned Rich Hallett to build the first ever Unlimited Hydroplane hull specifically to be powered by a turbine engine. No one had ever built a turbine powered hydroplane before. But that effort perfectly defined Don Edwards. At the time, finding one available at any price became problematic. After doing some research they found one, an Allison T40, at T.M. McBride, a WWII surplus company in Los Angeles. Edwards was able to purchase the engine for a mere $1,500, but it came without any documentation, records, manuals or virtually any information at all. The Allison T40 was an experimental engine that had been in development for the Navy, and, to say the least, was an unusual engine. The boat also had some very advanced technology features, too, which in years to follow became standard. ‘Golden Komotion’ was the first attempt at using turbine power in an unlimited hydroplane, something that is the standard today. The history of the ‘Allison T40 Golden Komotion’ can be found in Doug Ford’s book “What Were They Thinking?”.
After boat racing, Don pursued real estate investing. He was also a successful entrepreneur, owner of Golden Komotion Enterprises, dealing in various agricultural equipment and trucks. Together, Don and Lydia purchased and operated a 160-acre cattle ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley. After seven years of ranching, they moved to Solvang. Never one to sit still, Don and Lydia traveled to lakes, harbors and rivers of counties that held their interests – racing! Don, while visiting Bass Lake in the Sierras, one of his favorite lakes, wanted to have a reunion with his racing friends. That year, 2006, was the beginning of the annual Bass Lake Boat Fest, a 4-day celebration and event that takes place at the Pines Resort every June.
While living in Solvang, Don and Lydia pursued their passions as authors. Don wanted to ensure that the history and achievements of the ‘Glory Days’ – along with that of his close friends in the boat racing world – would be well documented. His best-selling book “Drag Boats of the 1960s” was co-authored by Barry McCown, a fellow drag boat racer. Writer/filmmaker Bob Silva was the writer, and famed race boat driver Larry Schwabenland wrote the foreword.
Don is survived by his loving wife Lydia Schwartz Bell Edwards, his brother Richard J. Edwards (Gale), nephew Torey M. Edwards, niece Mandy Edwards Kirschner (Aaron), stepchildren Ryan Bell (Jill) and Jennifer Bell Courcier (Richard), cousins James, Michael and Thomas Brinks, William Brinks’ daughter, Pamela Brinks, and many extended family members, all of whom will miss him dearly.
Don’s legacy can be seen, and appreciated in museums, websites, and books, including:
-Evergreen Museum near Portland, Oregon.
-Antique Aero in Paso Robles, where his last drag boat is located. Locally – in Buellton at Mendenhall’s Museum and Anderson’s Museum. National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nevada.
-Hydroplane & Raceboat Museum in Seattle, Washington. -NHRA Motorsports Museum in Pomona, California.
– Facebook groups:
• Drag Boat Racing’s Golden Years
• Southern California Speedboat Club
• Hydroplane History
• Drag Boat Review
More history can be found in books by:
–What Were They Thinking? by Doug Ford
–Turbine Racing in Seattle
Images of Sports by David D. Williams
–Central Coast Motor Sports by Tony Baker
–Drag Boats of the 1960s
by Don Edwards and Barry McCown
The family expresses their deepest gratitude to the nurses and staff of VNA Health and Serenity House of Santa Barbara for their care and comfort for Donald.
A service and celebration of Donald Edwards will be held in late January 2023.