Don Rountree is a great example of how in life, one door opens and another closes. And his journey through life was definitely a series of open doors.
As a kid, Don got involved in drag racing, but got tired of “spending all that money for 12 seconds of racing.”
He joined the army, and after his discharge in 1965, he went to work for a boat maker, learning the fiberglass trade. But shortly after that, “I bought the molds and started making boats myself.” For fun, Don started going to the sand of Pismo Beach, and built a fiberglass car at the urging of Scott McKenzie. Going fast got into his blood and in 1968, he started racing short-couse events at Ascot every Tuesday night and then took up desert racing once a month or so.
“It was all relatively new to me and the desert required a completely different driving style from Ascot,” Don related. He also started a family in his spare time and raised three kids along with his wife, Carole.
Don’s personal car caught the attention of others, and soon “Sandwinder” race cars took off. He was building, selling, and prepping the cars for competition as well as selling VW and Baja bug parts retail. He was so busy that he sold the boat business.
In 1969, Don entered the Riverside, California, river bottom Four Wheel Drive Grand Prix, and took a First in the buggy class, and Second overall to the famous “Baja Boot.” In the 1972 race there, he won First overall, with a purse of over $6,000.
In 1973, things really started coming together for Don, who always tried new things, and was known as a real innovator. With his new mid-engine Sandwinder car, he took Second at the Dam 500 to Malcolm Smith (in another Sandwinder) with Bud Feldkamp as Don’s codriver. A couple months later was the Mint 400, and Don took Second overall, and a class win, driving solo at the Mint 400. His purse there was $8,200!
Don was the first racer to use a Parker Pumper. “He would get sick after a race, like on Mondays,” his son Steve said. “He was diagnosed as having too much dirt in his lungs, so he and Stan Parnell got together and came up with the Parker Pumper. Now everyone uses them.”
In a 1975 interview in Hot VW magazine, Don commented on the quality of races being run, both in the United States and Mexico.
“Without a doubt, the people in [Las] Vegas put on the best races. They have excellent organization and control. I think the radio communication that the local Jeep posse provides is great.”
But in 1978, Don quit his Sandwinder business, due to personal and family reasons. He went to work for a general contractor, but in 1985 Don returned to the sport, and when the Challenger Class (old Class 9 1,200cc cars) started up, Don was there, with his son, now grown, as crew chief. Steve even codrove with his dad at the ’88 Fireworks 250 at Barstow.
After a number of wins in the Sandwinder Challenger Car, Don retired from racing for good. But another door opened for Don, this time to reveal hidden talents—he started making Tonka-sized toy trucks, big rigs, and cement mixers from scratch. He sold them on eBay, and because of their popularity, he started taking orders, selling them for as much as $4,000 each.
Steve Rountree continues the family racing tradition, and drove a Sandwinder car he built and prepped for the 2014 NORRA Baja 1000.
Vaya con Dios
The staff of Dirt Sports