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A big, big part in rider selection from my point of view, is personal character, perseverance, and undaunting dedication to the cause. These many attributes made Don a logical candidate to wear the mantle of Don Vesco in the riding of the Vincent streamliner. Don Angel, a close friend of over 45 years, has been participating and helping in any way he could from the Vincent streamliner's first virginal attempts on the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1996, to date.
A dilemma arose in 1998 as to who I was going to put into the cockpit, as Don Vesco had previous commitments with his Turbinator car, and was unable to be the primary rider, but had agreed to a back up position, and here again, my other rider, Stu Rogers, had to get back to England to attend to his Norton business. With the finances as they were, prohibiting the logistics involved in flying him back and forth, I saw that I had a real problem.
As it happened I was on the phone with Sonny Angel one day, telling him about the problem, Sonny suggested I give his younger brother, Don a try. A bit of compassion came to the fore that day, as Sonny said, "Don has lived his life in my racing shadow, give him a chance, I know he'll do quite well." And that, he has.
Don Angel was born in 1945 in Santa Barbara, California USA. He took his first motorcycle ride at the age of six months nestled in Sonny's lap on a Harley Davidson. No tears. Just a big grin.
Sonny gave the 16 year old Don his first motorcycle, a DKW 2 smoke in not that good of mechanical repair. Don wanted to ride that two wheeled piece of mechanical disaster, so to tool box he went, and hasn't left since. Don is a self taught master mechanic, doing all or most of the wrenching at Sonny Angel Motorcycle Sales and Service for over 30 years.
Don has been around many racer greats all of his life. He has known them all, from Burt Monroe to Denis Manning. When Don was 12 years old Burt Monroe came to stay awhile with Sonny. His motive was to tap Sonny's brain for all he knew about salt racing. The ever so helpful Don pitched a tent for Burt in Sonny's back yard, and with wide eyes, took in all of what was soon to be "The World's Fastest Indian".
During those same years many of us met at Sonny's shop on Saturday nights to watch home movies of racing icons doing their thing on the race track. The neat thing about it was that the icons, Don Vesco, Sonny Angel, Rebel, MacMurran, Rod Coleman, and others, were often sitting in the chair next to you. And the teenage Don Angel was there, taking it all in.
Viet Nam was going hot and heavy in 1967, so the U.S. Government decided they also (along with me) needed Don. After he did his bit as a grunt in the Army, he returned home to his love of motorcycles, friends, and racing.
Don then teamed up with Sterling Goin, and they ran an 850 Norton Commando at the drag strip. It was an alcohol burner. Don still has the bike, and as a member of the San Diego Roadster Club, will be running for the points at El Mirage May 16, 2008, under the Roadster banner.
He's always had a soft spot in his heart for Norton's, putting a 44mm Mikuni on his back and forth to work Norton. He also teamed up with another fellow, Larry Lee, and the pair have taken on the monumental task of building a V4 Norton Commando. Commando cylinders and heads will be used. The crank cases have already been cast, and machining is in process. Next will come the crank.
Don's made several go fast bikes out of Ducatis, (another of his favorite two wheelers) and has been involved in the development of a turbo charged Moto Guzzi.
During the last years of the Norton Works, Sonny (as a dealer) saw that something had to be done, as the multi's, coming out of Japan were dominating the market. In an effort to salvage the Norton Works from going under, Sonny's small shop in National City, California, undertook the task of designing and building a multi cylinder Norton. Sonny, Dave Owens, and Don, built the four cylinder Norton, using a hundred horsepower Coventry Climax car engine. The bike was awesome. Sonny presented the prototype to the Norton heirarchy, but although it had great potential, "the powers that be" had little interest.
Along about this time Don, returning from a Norton rally in Northern California on his Norton, was involved in a serious accident. A car hit him, shattering his right leg from the knee cap to the ankle. The leg never fully returned to normal, and as a result Don was forced to abandon his aspirations as a career motorcycle racer.
In 1998, the decision was made to give Don Angel his first ride in the Vincent streamliner. Although I knew he was a rooky, I made him the primary rider that year, with Don Vesco backing up the ride. I was quite impressed the first time Don saddled up preparing for a run, as his demeanor was one that I'd never seen before. His focus on the job at hand was apparent in his eyes. If there ever was a picture of total concentration, in a man of purpose, he was it.
Three successful runs were made, increasing his license requirement to 150 mph. On the fourth run, at over 150 mph, during deceleration, the parachutes malfunctioned, causing the liner to go on it's side, flipping several times before becoming airborne. The crash violently assaulted his already injured leg. As a result of this incident, the SCTA rules have been changed to include leg restraints for streamliners.
Again in 2004 Don assumed the position of primary rider, and has performed in an exemplary manner ever since. In 2005, taking the liner to 212.860 mph, Don gave the Vincent streamliner project the Bub Award for "Fastest Vintage Motorcycle of the Meet". In 2007, under poor track conditions, using high gear only, Don managed to set the AMA Streamliner Vintage Blown Fuel Record at 217.9215 mph. For this accomplishment the American Motorcycle Association honored Don Angel with a trophy engraved, "The Fastest on the Salt", as the Vincent streamliner, Don riding, set the fastest AMA record in 2007.
Although many would say that Don is a quiet, unassuming man of humble personality, nevertheless, Don Angel is casting a huge shadow in his own right in the racing world.