The adrenaline kicks in the moment he awakens to race day. But the rush gathers speed as the culmination of hours and hours of mental and physical preparation ushers him into the car.
Bolstered by 31 years’ experience and a clear sense of what he and the car can do, he eases the vehicle into position, keenly aware of the risk and the responsibility inherent in a $50 million grid—the street value of the cars in the race. On the pole, the number-one starting position, Don Orosco will control the speed of the pace lap, which means he also will influence the drivers idling in some 35 cars, whose emotions will surge the moment the flagman drops his green flag.
Checking his gauges, glancing in his mirrors, he watches to see that every car in the grid is on the straightaway, so that the race group will start as compactly as possible. Once the flag is dropped, regardless of where you are, you’re racing.
“You’re dealing with a lot of things at the start of the race,” says Orosco. “Anyone who’s raced a long time knows that very few races are won on that first lap. A lot of it is spent coming to grips with your emotions, settling yourself down and not getting baited into an unsafe situation. If you can’t control that adrenaline rush, you can become very erratic in your driving. By the second lap, the rush is still there, but you’re able to reel in your system and start thinking about driving the fast line around the track.”
There was a moment when Orosco had a choice. He could have admired the world of high-performance and vintage automobiles, could have watched car racing from a distance, could have made it a spectator sport, a little weekend distraction, a hobby.
“Or,” he says, “Like a lot of other crazies, I could buy race cars, restore vintage cars and get behind the wheel. Once I did, I fell for it, hard, and haven’t been able to shake it since. Thirtyone years later, it’s still a whole lot of fun.”
Especially since sons Patrick, 31, Chris, 29, and Brian, 24, all share their father’s passion, participation and, increasingly, his success. “Because of my infatuation with cars,” says Don, “I gave each of my kids the opportunity to have whatever old car they wanted, and Dad would foot the bill for its restoration. But that was only the beginning. The guys have been around cars their whole lives, and all three are into racing. Like mine, the practicality of their careers gets in the way of our preoccupation with cars.”
It helps that Patrick and Chris went into business with their father. Brian is in commercial real estate.
DBO Development Company and Orosco Racing both began in 1975 and developed along a parallel track. After building his first shopping center, Orosco took a course at Sears Point Racing School and that, he says, was the beginning of the insanity.
“We could have gone pro in our racing,” he says. “Our constraint is that my sons and I can’t accomplish what we do in our development company and also race at that level. We normally run anywhere from five to nine races a year, but we also have development projects all over central and northern California, so there’s only so much time we can spend in a race car.”
DBO is strictly a commercial firm, which, in the last 31 years, has developed 42 shopping centers, including Sand City, Stone Creek Village Shopping Center in Del Rey Oaks, several offices in Monterey’s Ryan Ranch, and a new Broadway development in Seaside, scheduled for completion this month. In the meantime, Orosco has run hundreds of races and has won “his share” of them, including
30 wins in 30 years at the Monterey Historic Automobile Races at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Having made contact with another car during last year’s race, he will sit out this year, content to focus on other Classic Car Week events while he waits to get back on track next year. (See Calendar for events listings.)
“I know the rules, and I’m committed to playing by them,” he says. “I’ll be back next year; I wouldn’t miss it for all the tea in China. This year, instead, we have five cars entered in various Classic Car events.” The line-up includes a Dick Flint Roadster, which took first place in the Historic Hot Rod class at the 1999 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, and will be on display this year at the premiere Carmel-by-the-Sea Concours on the Avenue. Flint reportedly got the car up to 148 miles per hour at the Bonneville Speedway in 1950.
“At this point,” says Orosco, “I’m primarily a collector. I’m still competitive; I won three out of four races last year. But at 63, you wonder how much longer you can do it. There will be a point when I won’t be comfortable tearing down a straightaway at 177 miles per hour in a 1955 car. I hope I’ll have the presence of mind to stop. I’m fortunate to have other auto interests than racing.
“A main interest is my sons, who have a bright racing career ahead of them. This summer, all four of us will be out there at the same time. It will be tremendous fun to have a dad and three sons going at it.”
To contact Orosco Racing, call 831/649-0220.