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Is Speed Kills a true story? The real-life speedboat racer and multimillionaire Don Aronow

John Travolta stars as Don Aronow (renamed 'Ben Aronoff' in 'Speed Kills'), the speedboat racer and multimillionaire murdered in 1987.

‘Speed Kills’ the film loosely based on the life of Don Aronow (‘Ben Aronoff’ in the movie) has been released on Netflix US .

American Don Aronow was a designer, builder and racer of speedboats. He launched Magnum Marine in Florida in 1966 and created the Cigarette, Donzi, Formula and Cary speedboats.

His boats went on to win a whopping 350 offshore races and Aronow himself was a two-time world champion and three-time US champion of offshore racing .

His boats, success and wealth also attracted trouble. Drug traffickers used his Cigarette speedboats to move cocaine.

Aronow was murdered in Miami in his car by hitman Robert ‘Bobby’ Young on 3 February 1987. He was 59.

Young was allegedly paid $60,000 to kill Aronow by Benjamin Barry Kramer, an offshore race boat builder and co-defendant who had a dispute with the multimillionaire and racer.

Speed Kills Ben Aronow film

The film, described as ‘Wolf of Wall Street on boats’ was released in 2018 but received a lukewarm reception with eminent film website Rotten Tomatoes giving it an average rating of only 2.6/10 and IMDB 4 out of 10.

Report by Stef Bottinelli

Hit man’s death closes notorious Aronow case

In 1987, hit man Robert ‘Bobby’ Young shot powerboat mogul Don Aronow in his Mercedes sports car. Young, paid $60,000 for the contract murder, achieved such notoriety for the gangland-style killing that he secured a place in the pantheon of South Florida assassins.

Young, 60, died on Tuesday 31 March 2009 at Jackson Memorial Hospital, apparently of natural causes, authorities said.

“He finally got what he deserved from a higher authority, the death sentence,” said retired Miami-Dade police Detective Greg Smith, lead investigator of the Aronow murder.

Miami-Dade police pursued the ambush slaying for six years, interviewing terrified witnesses and investigating a twisting path of coincidences, murders, mistresses, mobsters, dopers, spies, jealous boyfriends and snitches before finally stumbling upon Young.

“Robert was a cold-blooded killer. He was full of bravado, and very much into himself,” said Assistant State Attorney Gary Winston, who put Young away for Aronow’s slaying in 1995.

“He would love to talk and reveal in what he had done. He was cold and heartless.”

Young had been incarcerated at the Federal Detention Centre in downtown Miami before recently falling ill. He served his sentence for the Aronow murder in Oklahoma, at the same time he was incarcerated in federal prison for cocaine trafficking.

He returned to South Florida in 2001, having fled Oklahoma while on parole before being arrested in Broward County in October 2001 after his ex-brother-in-law gave federal agents his address.

Young was found to have a revolver and $75,000 on him.

After being sentenced to ten years for having the handgun, he was recorded on the Federal Detention Centre phone talking to an associate about planting an assault rifle on his former brother-in-law, according to court records.

“I was very upset I was betrayed by my own family,” Young told a federal agent in 2004.

“I was just broken-hearted and figured maybe justice could be done. I could set him up by putting the rifle into his vehicle and having him arrested. ‘Let him feel the same pain, suffering and fate that I was feeling,” he said.

In January, Young was sentenced to a 27-year prison term for owning the assault rifle. It was but the latest felony conviction in the life of a serial criminal, whose brazen violence was part of the so-called Cocaine Cowboy era in Miami. Young boasted of involvement with gun-running, prostitution rings and violence during the 1970s.

Later, he was thrown in a Cuban jail after island authorities found him on an offshore racing boat with 300 pounds of marijuana. In 1984, he was released along with 21 other Americans in a deal engineered by civil rights leader Jesse Jackson.

Back in Miami, Young hooked up with a group of dope peddlers who considered themselves a new version of the 1960s Dixie Mafia crime group. He was convicted for the 1984 murder of Dixie Mafia member John ‘Big Red’ Panzavecchia, in a drug deal gone wrong.

After he shot Big Red dead, Young took the man’s solid gold Rolex, former Miami homicide Detective Nelson Andreu remembered on Tuesday.

“Bobby took it as a prize and was wearing it when we arrested him,” Andreu said. “Looking back, Young was lucky to escape the electric chair.”

In 1995, he pleaded no contest to the contract hit of Aronow, the powerboat king. He had cut a deal with state prosecutors that spared him the electric chair and ensured he would never testify against Benjamin Barry Kramer, offshore race boat builder and co-defendant who allegedly paid Young $60,000 to hit Aronow.

In 1996, Kramer, who once owned a casino and raced powerboats, pleaded no contest to ordering the killing of his rival, Aronow. Kramer, already serving a life sentence on federal drug-smuggling charges, received 19 years in prison – the same time amount of time as Young.

Aronow, 59, a rich and handsome millionaire among the powerboat set, was killed Feb. 3, 1987, outside his USA Racing office in 188th St, Miami – the road dubbed Thunderboat Alley Aronow made famous with his Formula, Donzi, Magnum and Cigarette power boats.

Aronow left his office in his white Mercedes, shortly after visiting a rival boat dealership owned by Kramer. He pulled alongside a Lincoln car with tinted windows. It was from here the hit man opened fire, three bullets striking the powerboat star.

On Tuesday, Smith, the retired detective, called Aronow’s widow, Lillian, to break the news.

“He certainly deserved more than what he got for the death of her husband,” he said.”She was relieved knowing he died in custody.”

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Aronow raced his 8.2-metre Maltese Magnum all over the globe

The mystery behind the death of powerboat racing champion Don Aronow

Don Aronow, powerboat racing champion and founder of Magnum , Cigarette and Donzi , continues to fascinate – as does his mysterious death, discovers Daniel Pembrey .

When Cigarette founder and powerboat racing champion Don Aronow was shot dead on 3 February 1987 in Miami, the boating world was convulsed, but not everybody was surprised.

Emblematic of both the American dream and a particularly magnetic kind of American masculinity, Aronow was a frontiersman, a real-life Marlboro Man and a fearless racer. He was formidably competitive both on and off the water, brutally handsome and adroit at negotiating the line between the legal and the illicit – at least until the very end. A ruthless businessman, he equally relished a challenge in his personal life; “He’d fuck your wife in a second,” said powerboat Hall of Fame racer and boatbuilder Allan “Brownie” Brown, author of Tales from Thunderboat Row . Celebrated yacht designer Michael Peters , who went to work for Aronow the day before he died, said, “He was an asshole, but he was my asshole – a benefactor for whom I’ll always be grateful.”

On 3 February 1987, Peters was aged 34 and among the last people to speak with Aronow at the office of USA Racing Team, the latest of Aronow’s boat firms. “Don and I had had a meeting to discuss my salary. He gave me a spacious office, and I thought, ‘Finally, I’m starting to feel secure in life after a recent divorce.’ I remember taking a call from a guy named Ben Kramer and telling him that Don had already left his office for the day.”

At that time, NE 188th Street was a weed-strewn, low-rise strip. The sun was lowering in the wintery afternoon yet there was still plenty of warmth and light. There was fibreglass dust in the air and the pungent smell of resin and paint. Saws buzzed and machinery hummed at the various boat shops, most of which Aronow had started at one time or another. Radios blared out the hits of the day. Still riding high in the charts was The Bangles’ recent chart-topper Walk Like an Egyptian , originally inspired by the way people struggle to maintain balance aboard boats, apparently.

There was a jumpiness, an electricity in the air, too – not unusual on the street known locally as Thunderboat Row, Performance Street or Gasoline Alley. You never knew who might show up here, from royalty and high-born celebrity clients to drug-dealing low-lifes, by way of government officials, heads of the various boat firms and a diverse population of workers who earned their livings here.

Leaving his office that afternoon, Aronow was making for his North Bay Road residence, a 1929 Spanish-style waterfront mansion undergoing renovations, 30 minutes’ drive away. Members of the Bee Gees were neighbours on both sides. Aronow was now with his second wife, Lillian Crawford – a model, Palm Beach heiress and ex-girlfriend of King Hussein of Jordan. Seemingly he had everything to live for. “Always laughing” and “full of life” were typical depictions of the man. A five-year non-compete agreement with Cigarette Racing, one of the companies he’d sold, dated to 1982 and was about to expire. Nearly 60, he talked of taking up racing again.

His 193cm, still-athletic frame barely fitted inside the sporty white Mercedes-Benz two-seater in which he drove away from USA Racing Team’s office on Thunderboat Row. Peters recalled a sound like firecrackers – “a pop pop pop , eerie and ominous. I knew they were gunshots”. Little could prepare him for the scene two hundred metres up the street. Half out of his car, Aronow lay slumped, crimson blooming across his shirt. Congregating witnesses spoke of a dark Lincoln Continental having pulled up alongside Aronow’s white Mercedes.

“Who is this guy?” asked an arriving first responder. “That’s the king,” came the response, according to The Washington Post . “He built this entire street.” Airlifted to a nearby hospital, Don Aronow was dead within the hour.

The chaotic crime scene confronting police detectives was mysterious, not least because of the geography. The “Row” was island-like, bounded by water on three sides. The narrow street itself dead-ended to the east, requiring visitors to turn around to exit westbound.  It would be easy to become blocked in here.  The murder fell awkwardly between the sort of extravagant “statement killings” orchestrated by Colombian cocaine kingpins and the kind of professional contract hit carried out by killers keen to hide their tracks, or at least ensure a clean escape. Aronow evidently stopped his car willingly; he was found with his foot pressed fully down on the accelerator, the 5.6-litre Mercedes engine racing wildly – he’d put the car in neutral, almost certainly to engage whoever was inside the Lincoln. Furthermore, there were witnesses – plenty of them, if not always consistent in the details they shared with police. Was it even a planned killing, or some crazed crime of passion?

This was not the first mystery to surround Donald Joel Aronow. He was born in 1927, the son of an affluent taxicab owner whose family had emigrated from Russia and been bankrupted by the Great Depression. Don’s origin story moves around according to who’s telling it. Certainly, young Don became wealthy by building and selling tract houses in New Jersey. By various accounts, he then fled to Florida in 1960 to escape the mob. If true, it was a curious place to hide out from them. More plausibly, he was drawn to the Sunshine State by its warmth, excitement and a different form of escapism, as many tend to be.

In Miami, his head was turned by the nascent offshore powerboating scene and in particular the gruelling Miami-Nassau race that ran for  296 kilometres. Innovations such as fibreglass construction techniques and the drag-reducing deep V hull were taking chunks from the record times, and also from crews in rough seas. Dick Bertram was the man to beat both in terms of boat design and the racing itself. His company, Bertram Yacht , drew worldwide attention.

Aronow set out after Bertram, working with designers on NE 188th Street to create deep V fibreglass Formula boats, notably the seven-metre 233. To finance the development, he sold more civilised versions, with teak decks and sleeping quarters, to the general public. But he knew from Bertram’s experience that the way to promote and build his company was by winning races. Barely had he begun to win before he sold Formula to Thunderbird Boats. “You’re never gonna make a lot of money building boats,” he was quoted as saying. “You make a living doing that. You make real money when you sell the company.”

Next, he started Donzi, named after himself, again on NE 188th Street. He’d retained his key designers. The result was the 8.5-metre 007 , named after the gathering cinematic phenomenon. It was in 007 that he beat Bertram in the Miami-Nassau race in 1965. Again, he sold his company and started a new one, Magnum, evidently named after the double-sized bottles of champagne. He raced his 8.2-metre Maltese Magnum all over the world.

These races were filled with tales of derring-do: engine burnouts and explosions, crew members being knocked unconscious or needing airlifting to hospital – some even left marooned and bleeding amid circling sharks, not to forget the high-speed collisions, including one in rough seas under a hovering press helicopter. Audiences grew. Aronow won the World Powerboat Championship in 1967 (he’d go on to win it once more and the US championship three times), and in 1968, he sold Magnum.

Barely into his forties, Aronow was now a famous, feted and very wealthy man. It was the time of the sexual revolution, and his popularity with women was almost as legendary as his boating exploits, although some women were more circumspect. Marchesa Katrin Theodoli and her husband became the owners of Magnum. “I’ve met some extremely charismatic men, including Sean Connery and Roger Moore,” she said. “Those two managed to make you feel like you were the centre of their world. They conveyed a warmth and a feeling of genuinely liking you. Whereas Don Aronow was more brash, assertive – more resolutely a man’s man. He gave the impression that he felt he could take whatever he wanted.”

Like others who bought a boat company from Aronow, the Theodolis had reason to be wary.  A pattern emerged whereby Aronow would sell his companies and then seek to eclipse them. He would build larger premises next door, on what was now known as Thunderboat Row, putting his erstwhile companies and new-found competitors in the shade. He might also try to buy the companies back, for cents on the dollar. It was testimony to the Theodolis’ diplomatic instincts that this would not become their fate.

“Don would compete with people his size,” said Michael Peters. “He didn’t pick on the little guy. He was an alpha male, like the male lion you see on safari. Don’t challenge him, and you were fine. But if you decided to take him on, don’t expect him to give ground.”

His next project was considered to be his masterpiece: the long lean Cigarette boats named after a vessel used to hijack rum-runners during Prohibition days. The idea of bad guys outracing other bad guys and seizing their fortunes appealed to Aronow reasoned The Washington Post five days after his murder. “Don was to offshore speed boats what Ben Franklin was to electricity,” an admiring Customs official told the newspaper. “I don’t want to make him out to be  the greatest boatbuilder in the world,  but in that particular class of boats, he  was unequalled.”

Again, Peters gave a qualifying view: “Don perfected things already invented: hull shapes, construction techniques and engine setups. Certainly, he added sex appeal to it all.” In 1977, Cigarette introduced the “super sexy new 35 Mistress” (as the advertisement read). “When I started designing for Cigarette in 1978, Halter Marine had just acquired the company and they perpetuated the ethos,” said Peters. “The boss’s wife would lean over my drafting table with her ample bosom and say, ‘Remember, think sex.’”

Alongside the sexual revolution came the growth in the drugs trade. A certain nostalgia colours memories of the 1970s as a time of the “gentlemanly” marijuana business. A certain Ben Kramer, who came from a seemingly good home on the Intracoastal Waterway between Miami and Fort Lauderdale, started smoking pot at school and began selling it. Soon enough, he had his own yellow Cigarette boat with which to smuggle. He admired Aronow and acquired a corner of the Row, obtaining an interest in Apache, which in turn supplied the vessels he raced offshore (his fabled Warpath , based on a deep V Cigarette mould, won him a world championship). With his father, he also founded Fort Apache Marina on the Row, comprising a boat storage facility, waterfront restaurant and patio bar.

Rumours concerning Fort Apache continue to circulate, including one about the dock area, positing that camouflaged metal doors opened into large storage compartments, accessible at low tide – at night, say.

Whatever the truth of such rumours, the way South Florida’s drug business metastasised from marijuana to cocaine smuggling, to vast profits and lawlessness, would sustain five seasons of Miami Vice . In the real-life offshore racing seasons, a majority of the contestants might well turn out to be drug runners – say, George Morales, Sal Magluta and Willie Falcón, all convicted of cocaine trafficking. Race officials found themselves in invidious positions. “During the day we’re asked to patrol their race course during events for emergency rescues,” a Coast Guard official told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel . “But at night, we’re chasing many of the same guys for smuggling.”

Events took a turn towards the surreal when Carlos Lehder, the Medellín Cartel kingpin, started buying up Norman’s Cay, an island in the Bahamas some 330 kilometres off the coast of Florida, for his cocaine transport empire. By November 1981, a Time magazine cover feature was declaring that “an epidemic of violent crime, a plague of illicit drugs and a tidal wave of refugees have slammed into South Florida with the destructive power of a hurricane”. Miami claimed the nation’s highest murder rate at 70 per 100,000 residents, “and this year’s pace has been even higher”.  An estimated “70 per cent of all marijuana and cocaine imported into the US passes through South Florida”, the feature reported.  “Drug smuggling could be the region’s major [largest] industry.”

Much was explained by the state’s southern exposure and geography – its thousands of kilometres of coastline, coves and inlets. Revealingly, the Time feature predicted that Miami would remain, “as the late President Jaime Roldós of Ecuador put it, the ‘capital of Latin America’”. It reported Miami’s Federal Reserve branch to have amassed a currency surplus of $5 billion, “mostly in drug-generated $50 and $100 bills, or more than the nation’s 12 Federal Reserve banks combined.”  The associated crime could strike anyone.

Even local residents the Bee Gees were not immune. Their father, Hugh Gibb, was mugged; Barry Gibb’s wife, Linda, had her purse snatched. “No woman should be alone in this city,” Barry Gibb warned Time . “Or man,” his brother Robin added. Around one-third of the region’s murders were believed to be related to drugs.

The drug money was corrupting banking, real estate and law enforcement. It fuelled an uneasy dynamism. “New hotels and office towers are rising in Miami, and once-sleepy towns nearby are growing skylines of their own,” chronicled Time . In these circumstances, it would have been extraordinary if the drug cash hadn’t found its way into Thunderboat Row and its fabled go-fast boats.

Aronow, it seems, would sell anybody a boat, especially for cash, but if you said you were using it to smuggle drugs, “Don wouldn’t have anything to do with you,” asserted Mike Kandrovicz from USA Racing Team.

It was into this volatile, heady mix that vice president George HW Bush – President Reagan’s lieutenant in the White House’s “war on drugs” – unwittingly stepped. Bush had long been an admirer of Aronow’s sleek vessels and had equally been disarmed by the man himself. He’d bought a Formula and a Cigarette from him, describing Aronow as “a joy to be around”. As director of the CIA, he’d also interacted with Aronow, recalling how “Don came and offered to help our country”. It was just one of the unusual clients Aronow had dealings with: oil-rich Arabs, Princess Caroline of Monaco and the Shah of Iran.

At Bush’s instigation, the US Customs Service took the fateful step in 1985 of placing a $1.7 million order for high-speed pursuit boats with Aronow’s USA Racing Team. Still subject to a non-compete agreement with Cigarette – which he’d bought back, then sold again in 1982 – Aronow was forbidden from producing deep V monohulls. So he commissioned a design from Michael Peters that split a V in two to create a catamaran. Given this unpromising start in life, the seven-ton, 11.9-metre Blue Thunder vessels acquitted themselves well. They were fast (more than 112km/h), good for interdiction activities (stable when boarding intercepted boats) and comparatively easy to drive. Yet deep V monohulls were now reaching 160km/h. Also, said Peters, “the Coast Guard drivers were left drowned in the wake of the offshore racers and the cocaine runners, who just had a different mentality come race time.”

The more problematic aspect was that Aronow additionally arranged to sell USA Racing Team, complete with the Blue Thunder contract, to Ben Kramer, who by now had drug smuggling convictions. It did not take the US Customs Service long to learn of this. They could not countenance procuring drug interdiction boats from a firm owned by a convicted smuggler and predictably moved to cancel the procurement contract. Aronow agreed to buy USA Racing Team back from Kramer, equally predictably for less than the consideration he’d received. Accounts of the dealings vary, but perhaps $2 million had been paid under the table in cash by Kramer when he bought the firm, using drug money. This sum, Aronow did not return. Herein lay the alleged motivation for Aronow’s murder.

The official record shows that, via a tip-off, police identified a mercenary street criminal named Bobby Young as the man who’d shot Aronow. Although witnesses failed to identify him in police line-ups, Young pled no contest to the shooting. Meanwhile, Kramer had been convicted of massive marijuana smuggling and money laundering, receiving multiple prison sentences including life without parole. More tips and leads pointed to Kramer as the man who’d ordered and paid for the hit.

The investigating detectives believed that Kramer was seeking to silence Young in jail, paying his legal bills, even possibly seeking to have Young killed. However, this “consciousness of guilt” made for a weak state’s case. Ultimately, Kramer pled no contest to second-degree murder. By this time – the mid 1990s – he was being kept in an isolation cell without, his lawyer claimed, adequate dental or medical care. “They had me in a cage for three years and nine months, with no daylight, no contact with human beings,” Kramer said.

Besides the state’s weak case, there were other, more fundamental doubts over whether Kramer had arranged to have Aronow shot. Kramer was hot tempered, the argument went; had he been sufficiently enraged by the USA Racing Team misfire to kill Aronow, he would have done so in 1985, whereas Kramer reportedly remained respectful towards Aronow until the end.

Separately, there were rumours that Aronow may have been assisting law enforcement, even becoming an informant – or at least that, in early 1987, he was about to be subpoenaed to give evidence about the USA Racing Team transactions. Five days after his murder, The Washington Post reported that a Customs official described Aronow as “co-operative” when Aronow had been approached for information about one of his clients. If the real motive for Aronow’s murder was him turning informant, surely others (on the wrong side of the law) were potential suspects, too?

Over the years, theories have developed to involve the Chicago mob, Colombian drug kingpins, cuckolded husbands or just a random shooter. Back in 1981, Time quoted a legal researcher living in Miami as saying: “I see people walking down the streets openly carrying guns, some in their hands, others in their holsters. You don’t dare honk your horn at anybody; you could end up dead.”

Certainly it is less difficult now to see how, in 1980s Miami, the murder of a man as magnetic as Aronow could garner 140 suspects at the Metro-Dade Police Department, each with the apparent motive, means and opportunity to have the “King of Thunderboat Row” gunned down in broad daylight. Bobby Young, the convicted shooter and the man who might have provided definitive answers, died in jail in 2009. The murder may forever remain a mystery.

Today, Thunderboat Row is a transformed, gentrified enclave. Only Magnum and a marina (not Fort Apache) are still here. The rest of NE 188th Street is covered with blocks of expensive condos promising comfortable waterside living. The boats tend to be smaller, more sedate, more family-oriented. At the east end of the street is now the Aventura Arts & Cultural Center; further east, across Biscayne Bay, on oceanside Sunny Isles Beach, stands the Porsche Design Tower. It lets you transport your luxury car up  to the safety of your own unit, even as crime rates have dropped.

Cigarette, Donzi and other Aronow-conceived brands live on, as do the Miami to Key West race and offshore poker runs. But nothing compares with the go-fast scenes of the 1960s, 1970s and climatic 1980s. Those times can only be likened to the Old West: the Marlboro Man; the weed-strewn strip with its pioneers and settlers; the freebooters from south of the border bringing their lawlessness and loot and the law of the gun.

Michael Peters concludes, “If you want to find anything comparable today, you need to look elsewhere, maybe to the ‘ final frontier’ – Blue Origin, SpaceX, Bezos and Musk.” He pauses.  “In the boating world, we won’t see the likes of Don Aronow again.”

First published in the October 2022 issue of BOAT International. Get this magazine sent straight to your door, or subscribe and never miss an issue. 

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Is Speed Kills a true story? The film’s real-life inspirations explained

  • by Lilyanne Rice
  •  – on Jun 21, 2022
  •  in Film

Speed Kills , starring John Travolta as businessman Ben Aronoff, starts with his murder and ends with his murder. It then chronicles his controversial rise in Miami through flashbacks. Aronoff moves to the Sunshine State planning to win, and he does that over the next few decades. The mogul creates racing boats that dominate the competition and attract the attention of drug dealers. 

The drug dealers want fast boats to smuggle drugs, and they want Ben to provide them. On the other hand, the police want fast machines to catch the drug dealers, and they turn to Ben to provide them. 

Aronoff’s involvement in the dangerous world of drug dealers leads to his assassination. 

Speed Kills  is based on the real-life story of smuggler Donald Aronow

Donald Aronow

Speed Kills  is based on the story of boat racer and businessman Donald Joel Aronow. He grew his wealth in the construction sector, with his company, Aronow Corporation, growing into one of New Jersey’s largest construction companies. 

In 1959, Aronow moved to Miami, where he started racing boats for leisure. He soon turned boating into a business, creating two companies in the early sixties and selling them off. 

In 1966, he founded Magnum Marine, and three years later, Donald won his first World Championship driving two Magnums. 

Aronow built perhaps his greatest invention – and the boat that would lead to his forced move into the drug business – in 1969. Racing his rapid Cigarette boat, he won his second world championship in three years and his third consecutive United States Championship.

Donald’s boats won over 350 offshore races and won him five championships. The speed of the Cigarette boats attracted drug dealers, leading to Aronow’s involvement in illegal dealings. 

Aronow was murdered in February 1987: an assailant drove next to his car and shot him three times. The murder remained unsolved for several years until career criminal Robert Young confessed to the killing. He claimed that fellow racer Ben Kramer paid him to kill Aronow. 

powerboat racer ben aronoff

Speed Kills  focuses on Donald’s rise in Miami rather than his murder. It begins with his move to Miami and his development as a boat builder and racer. Some of his criminal dealings appear in the film, but his dynamic with Ben Kramer doesn’t feature. 

The movie deviates slightly from real life – for instance, it changes Donald Aranow’s name to Ben Aronoff – but stays true to the racer’s life. It follows Arthur J. Harris’ book of the same name. 


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The Cinemaholic

Speed Kills Ending, Explained: Does Ben Aronoff Die?

 of Speed Kills Ending, Explained: Does Ben Aronoff Die?

‘Speed Kills’ is a 2018 action drama that follows the larger-than-life businessman Ben Aronoff ( John Travolta ). With the aim to make a new start, Ben arrives in Miami and builds a speedboat manufacturing empire in the 1960s. Known for his unabashed style and record-breaking boat races, Ben cuts a formidable figure amongst the city’s rich and powerful. Unfortunately, he also catches the eye of the drug smuggling underworld and soon finds himself embroiled in their murky deals.

Set across a multi-decade timeline, the film delves into Ben’s opulent life as well as his tumultuous personal relationships. The end is foreshadowed in the film’s beginning but still comes as a major turning point in the story. Let’s take a look at the final moments of ‘Speed Kills’ and make sure we didn’t miss any details. SPOILERS AHEAD.

Speed Kills Plot Synopsis

The film opens with a man walking into Ben’s boat dealership in Miami, claiming his boss wants to buy a boat but making it quite clear that he’s from the mob. Ben refuses to entertain the man, saying his debts are more than paid. Sometime later, as our hero drives out of his dealership, a car pulls up alongside, and its driver shoots Ben at point-blank range.

powerboat racer ben aronoff

The story then moves twenty-five years in the past, where a younger Ben moves to Florida after his construction business in New Jersey faces problems with labor unions. With a vision to once again build a formidable business empire, Ben quickly gets enamored with speed boats. He begins manufacturing high-end speed boats that quickly become popular for their inherent glamor and sex appeal — an aspect that is heavily touted by Ben as well. He even begins racing his boats, gaining widespread fame for his daring wins and record-breaking speed boats.

Ben’s opulent and rather promiscuous life leads to a rift between him and his wife. After their son, Andrew, loses the use of his legs in a car accident, the couple parts ways. Soon after, Ben is forced to borrow money from the criminal associates he has long tried to avoid. Meyer Lansky is the local mobster who pressures Ben into making his boatyard available for drug smuggling.

Speed Kills Ending: Does Ben Aronoff Die?

As years go by, Ben’s wealth increases, as does the authorities’ interest in his ties to the criminal world. With the DEA cracking down on the local drug trade, Ben finds himself uncomfortably close to being on the wrong side of the law. He is regularly threatened by his criminal associates and is even forced to give up the designs of Blue Thunder, his newest boat, which is also slated to become the vehicle of choice for the American coast guard.

powerboat racer ben aronoff

Back at his offices, Ben is approached by an underling of a crime boss. The film’s opening scene once again plays out as Ben claims to have paid his debt. The man leaves but continues watching Ben from afar. As our hero gets into his car to drive away, another vehicle pulls up to him. The stranger in the second car shoots Ben in the chest and drives away. The film closes with Ben, sharply attired, bleeding out on the street outside his office.

With two shots square in his chest, it seems pretty likely that Ben is dead. When we see the same scene at the film’s start, there is still hope that the protagonist survives the assault. However, at the film’s end, the audience is privy to the moments immediately following the shooting. It becomes clear that the bullet wounds in Ben’s chest are fatal and that he dies.

It is fitting that the film centered on the larger-than-life businessman and speedboat racer closes with his demise. Several subtle hints about Ben’s time being over are also scattered in the scenes surrounding his murder. Notably, his signature watch, an expensive one, no doubt, is seen on a few occasions in the film. Once Ben is shot, the camera lingers on the cracked face of the watch as it ticks a few times before stopping, essentially signifying that its wearer is dead.

Why is Ben Aronoff Shot? Is Robbie Reemer Behind the Shooting?

As the film progresses, Ben gets increasingly entangled with the criminal elements he has tried so hard to avoid. His tendency to retaliate aggressively when they try to push him around makes the target on Ben’s back all the bigger. After a final tussle with Robbie’s thugs, Ben gives in and signs over the rights to his newest speedboat, Blue Thunder.

powerboat racer ben aronoff

Therefore, it comes as a surprise that Ben is shot. The clues to his murder are seemingly hidden in the complexities of his business holdings and quite possibly in his prolific boat racing career. Earlier in the film, Ben is forced to sign away the USA Racing team, which competes in speedboat races. The team goes to Robbie Reemer, the new local mafia head.

However, Ben’s lawyer, Shelly Katz, reminds him that Robbie is a careless businessman and the team will be back in Ben’s hands soon enough. Though the film doesn’t really delve into whether Ben gets the team back, it appears that his business is definitely booming. Additionally, the man that comes to his office during the film’s final moments seemingly works for a boat aficionado.

powerboat racer ben aronoff

Ultimately, it appears that Ben is killed by a rival gang leader who also has a stake in boat racing. Judging by his actions, it is possible that Robbie could be involved in Ben’s murder. However, it could just as easily be another gang with who Ben has a prior connection. While trying to explain the situation to his wife, he says that he has had multiple dealings with various people that are now coming back to haunt him.

Interestingly, the real-life inspiration for Ben’s character, Donald Aronow, who also designed speedboats, was killed in a similar incident. Aronow was murdered by a gunman reportedly hired by Ben Cramer, who owned Apache Powerboats and had had business disputes with Aronow. The former had reportedly bought the latter’s racing team but was forced to give it back to Aronow due to irregularities with the Customs services. The film appears to loosely reflect reality without delving into the details of the deal that went sour between the speedboat mogul and his criminal tormentors.

Read More: Best Crime Movies Ever Made


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An Important Discussion About John Travolta’s Speedboat Movie, ‘Speed Kills’

Brian Grubb

There are two things you need to know about Speed Kills .

The first thing is that Speed Kills is a movie that stars John Travolta as a speedboat mogul who runs drugs for the mafia. It’s important to start there because it is a true statement and also an incredible one. Did you ever think you’d see the day when someone made a speedboat drug movie that stars John Travolta? I did not. To be fair, I didn’t even realize it was something that was on the table. But that’s the thing about movies and art, in general. They expand the range of what’s possible. They make dreams real. And sometimes, well, those dreams are about John Travolta in a speedboat.

This brings us to the second thing you need to know: Speed Kills is not good. I imagine you figured that out already, though, considering it’s a speedboat movie that stars John Travolta — fresh off of Gotti and with Fred Durst’s directorial debut on the way — and went straight to VOD and was at one point released in 10-minute chunks in a format specifically designed for VR headsets. I am not joking about this last part. I am extremely not joking about it. Look at the website . Each segment has its own title, like “Drug Running” and “Fast Money” and “Breaking Hearts.” It’s all very on-the-nose and just flabbergasting on a number of levels and this is the actual poster for the movie.

powerboat racer ben aronoff

It has everything: Helicopters, speedboats, explosions, more helicopters, Travolta holding a gun and looking straight into my eyes with a facial expression that screams “Well, I guess I’m in a speedboat movie now.” Yes, I watched Speed Kills . It was somehow both more and less than what I expected. I’m sure you have questions about all of this. Please, fire away.

What is any of this?

Great place to start. Travolta plays a guy named Ben Aronoff who is loosely based on a real guy named Don Aronow. The movie opens with him on a pay phone in New Jersey in 1962. He’s a real estate guy and things got weird and it’s not important at all because it’s only there to get us to Miami. Actually, wait. I lied. The movie opens with Tom Sizemore walking into John Travolta’s speedboat store to threaten him and then zips back in time to the Jersey thing to explain how we got there.

Tom Sizemore is in this movie?

Kind of! He’s only in that one scene but it bookends the movie. Like, he really walks in at the beginning of the movie to intimidate Travolta with hammy warnings and then we never see his character again until the very end, where he repeats the exact same hammy threats. This fact alone explains the movie better than any of the words I’m about to type.

Here’s the best part, though: In this scene and the flashback that immediately follows it, which, again, takes place 25 years earlier, John Travolta looks exactly the same. The only attempt to age him up or down in the whole thing involves changing hairpieces. I love it so much. Hmm. Okay, tell me about these speedboats.

So Travolta’s character heads to Miami with his family and he sees a speedboat race and falls in love. You can tell he falls in love because there’s a freeze frame and voiceover — one of many in the movie, usually deployed to introduce new characters — where he says “And boom, just like that, I was in love. The speed, the water, the rush: I wanted it, I needed it.” And boom, just like that, he becomes a speedboat racer and builder and there are three separate montages of him collecting trophies in about 15 minutes.

I’m having trouble picturing this. Do you, perhaps, have a screencap or two of him in a speedboat?

I thought you’d never ask.

powerboat racer ben aronoff

Okay, then…

Wait, I have more.

powerboat racer ben aronoff

Okay, that hel-

And here’s one of him telling Meyer Lansky that “everyone and their brother wants a speedboat.”

powerboat racer ben aronoff

The Meyer Lansky? The infamous mafia money man who Hymen Roth was based on in The Godfather II ?

Yup! He’s played by James Remar and he pops up throughout the movie and every scene starts with him being friendly and ends with him growling at Travolta. His nephew, Robbie, is played by Kellen Lutz from Twilight and is the main antagonist. He also growls a lot. You’re naming a lot of actors but you haven’t mentioned Jordi Molla yet. I assume he’s in this movie because it is a drug movie and Jordi Molla is in every drug movie.

powerboat racer ben aronoff

I knew it. And does he, maybe, at one point, turn on Travolta and hold a gun to his head while shouting some variation of “We’re not so different”?

powerboat racer ben aronoff

Yeah, I think I’m starting to understand this movie.

You really are. I’m only hitting the highlights, though. A lot of it is just… not great. Characters appear only as long as it takes for them to teach Travolta’s character a lesson about life and then they disappear. His son injures his spine in a car accident and Travolta yells at him and takes him to the racetrack to bet on horses and gives him a pile of money and then we never see the kid again. Female characters are tossed aside left and right. He leaves his wife and starts dating the King of Jordan’s girlfriend, played by Katheryn Winnick, whose only responsibilities in the movie are staring out into the ocean with a look of concern on her face and crying into a telephone.

Why is she staring into the ocean, though?

Ahhh, I forgot to tell you about the storm.

Yeah. A big boat race takes place in awful weather and Travolta is out there bouncing around in choppy waters. The CGI is not great. It makes The Hurricane Heist look like Avatar . Look at this.

So, like, would you recommend this movie?

Let me put it this way. If you want to watch a good movie, or even an okay one, I cannot in good conscience recommend Speed Kills . But, if you want to watch a bad drug movie filled with John Travolta making perplexing faces in and out of speedboats, complete with thin characters and threats delivered by Tom Sizemore and Matthew Modine showing up as George H.W. Bush for literally 90 seconds, then I guess I c-

Timeout. Matthew Modine shows up as George H.W. Bush in the Travolta speedboat movie?

Yeah, it’s weird.

I think I’m going to have to see this at some point.

powerboat racer ben aronoff

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  • Feb. 4, 1987


Donald Aronow, a boat builder and champion racer who designed the sleek, speedy Cigarette boat, was shot to death today, the authorities said.

Mr. Aronow, 59 years old, was pronounced dead of multiple gunshot wounds at Mount Sinai Medical Center about 4:45 P.M., the hospital reported.

At the time of the shooting, Mr. Aronow was in an automobile leaving the Apache Marine, a boat-building shop north of Miami. A spokesman for the Metro-Dade Police Department, Dick Turner, said he had no other information about the shooting.

Mr. Aronow formed a string of high-performance boat companies: Donzi, Magnum, Cigarette and Squadron XII.

Popular in competitive racing, the powerful, sleek-hulled Cigarette boats also became favored by drug smugglers and were featured on the ''Miami Vice'' television show.

Federal Customs agents started using the craft to keep up with the smugglers, and Mr. Aronow helped design ''Blue Thunder,'' the Customs Service's drug interdiction boat. Early Days on Jersey Shore

Mr. Aronow, who would have been 60 on March 1, was a New York native and grew up racing speed skiffs on the New Jersey shore. After serving in the Merchant Marines in World War II, he married and became a builder in New Jersey.

By the age of 28, he was a millionaire, and in 1964 he moved to Florida where he began his boating career, racing for the first time in the 1964 Miami-Nassau race.

He had little success winning races until he began designing his own boats in the mid-1960's. He went on to win the world championship of powerboat racing in 1967 and 1969.

In 1969, Mr. Aronow also became the first man to win eight offshore races in one season, including the Sam Griffith Trophy for the world championship, and the United States National Champions competition in open class.

In his early victories, Mr. Aronow used the ''V Cigarette'' prototype boat, which later became a famous offshore racing hull.

Mr. Aronow was a friend of Vice President Bush, who owns a 28-foot Cigarette boat designed by Mr. Aronow.

Mr. Aronow's survivors include three children from his first marriage, Claudia, David and Michael, as well as his wife Lillian, and their two young children.

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Speed Kills

Speed Kills

  • Speedboat racing champion and multimillionaire Ben Aronoff leads a double life that lands him in trouble with the law and drug lords.
  • Let's look at the history of the man for the plot summary. Don Aronow was born the youngest son of Russian Jewish immigrants in 1927 in Brooklyn New York, Sheepshead Bay neighborhood of Brooklyn, then leaving New Jersey in 1961 after a successful career in the construction industry from 1953. In 1959 he was to move to South Miami and start as a hobby racing boats in design. He soon became the king of power boats. Of the World's most recognized racing boat companies, Don Aronow established Magnum Marine, Cary, Cigarette, Donzi, and Formula speedboats. In 1964 he started Donzi Marine made the Donzi brand an international success and quickly sold the company to Teleflex Inc. in mid 1965. In 1966, he founded Magnum Marine and in 1967 proceeded to win his first World Championship driving two 27' Magnums, a single engine inboard and a triple engine Mercury powered outboard. He himself became the US and World Powerboat Champion many times which helped establish his racing prowess and his boats. His boats won over 350 offshore races and he was a two time world champion and three time U.S. champion. He had been elected to all power-boating Hall of Fame in existence with him and Gar Wood were the only two Americans to have ever received the UIM Gold Medal of Honor. He got the attention of Presidents, Princes and the privileged. As businessman, Aronow applied a no questions asked policy. If the money was there, a boat would be supplied. His fast life led to a speedy death, that hint to indiscretions, from his early days, to his tragic murder in 1987 in the middle of his reign. Plot Summary is close to the history of the man, Aronow. Starts with him leaving New Jersey with implications that he must move due to the relationship with Meyer Lansky in the construction business. Arronow had become a millionaire by this time and moving to South Miami was a good move as to avoid any prosecutions that may have come his way. He moved with his wife and three children. The movie outlines he has many affairs and paints a poor husband / father type. During this movie he divorces his wife after the catalyst where his oldest son loses his ability to walk in an accident. As far as his romantic life he sees a lovely woman with New Jersey history and was a model who was dating a very substantial Latin mobster and worked his way to meet her. He does end up marrying this woman and having one son with her. During the duration of the movie there is are clashes between him and Meyer Lansky's nephew. Also, throughout the movie there are several incidents where the events of him and ties to the mob are shown. Overall, this movie has weaknesses in establishment of characters. Al characters are shown as lack luster and their build up as well as boring with no excitement of truly interesting people. The director of this film could have made the movie so much more worthy with not only character build up but actual representation of the boats. Where ever the boats are shown have no excitement of what these boats really are. The race in choppy waters where Aronow not only comes in late due to poor weather but wins looks like special effects of the the late 1950's. This is an interesting story although just another mobster, greed and death representation. However, with that said with strong direction and improvement of the poor special effects and an actual representation of boat Racing and these awesome boats could have made this now mediocre movie in to a moderate movie. Jodi Scurfield with absolutely no industry history of any kind, should not have been selected for this project. To have made this a good/great movie would have been a monumental task that I do not feel could have been accomplished. The story is lack luster and my thoughts could not capture any reasonable size of audience. - Martin Snytsheuvel.

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The Captain Magazine


by The Captain | Oct 12, 2021 | Articles | 0 comments

powerboat racer ben aronoff

Reaching out across the Pacific to Miami, Florida, The Captain gets the lowdown on the wild life and times of legendary Cigarette builder Don Aronow.

Don Aronow was a dead set legend. He designed, built and raced the famous Magnum Marine, Cary, Cigarette, Donzi and Formula speedboats. In his spare time, he built speedboats for the Shah of Iran and American presidents George Bush Sr and Lyndon Johnson, among others and he hung out with the Beatles. Don also rubbed quite a few people up the wrong way — and one of them eventually shot Don dead in Miami in 1987. Everyone who knew him has a story to tell. The Captain tracked down a motley crew prepared to spill the beans.

powerboat racer ben aronoff


Michael Aronow is one of Don’s five sons from three wives. (Captain’s note: more about Don’s, er, appetites, later.) Bob Saccenti is the builder of Chief Powerboats and founder of Apache Performance Boats. Phil Lipschutz is a Miami Cigarette dealer and a former contractor to the Don. Allan “Brownie” Brown is a former acquaintance. Michael Peters was a contracted designer to Aronow from 1981 to 1986, and was then hired full-time.


They just don’t make ’em like Don Aronow anymore. During his quarter-century reign as the undisputed king of Thunderboat Row, Aronow was a lot of different things to a lot of different people. He was a hero and a genius, a ballbuster and a bully. A world-champion boat racer who enjoyed wild success in business, he was also an unapologetic playboy and fabled bon vivant. (Captain’s note: this means “party animal”.)

powerboat racer ben aronoff

(ABOVE) HE’S GOT THE LOOK: Aronow looked the part. Guys wanted to be him. Six foot three, real good looking, lots of swagger. He was right out of a Hollywood script.

But Aronow may have possessed a darker side that even he could not outrun and in the end, he wound up as nothing more than a target for an assassin’s bullet. This is his story in the words of some of the men who knew him best. A tough, athletic, Jewish kid from Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn, New York, by the age of 21, Aronow was married and about to start a career in his father-in-law’s New Jersey construction company.

powerboat racer ben aronoff

Allan Brown “Shirley was his first wife. Her father was extremely wealthy and Don once told me he was going to take Shirley to California if the old man didn’t cut him into the business.”

Michael Aronow “After he was working with the family for a few years, he went off on his own and started building homes, then shopping centres and industrial parks all over northern New Jersey. He eventually became aggravated with the business. The weather was cold and he was getting ulcers. He said, ‘I can’t do this anymore. I can retire and let’s go to Florida.’ This was in 1961.”

powerboat racer ben aronoff

Allan Brown “Everybody has their own idea about why he was in Miami. Some people say he was hiding from the mob. I can’t imagine that, though, he was pretty easy to find. He thought he was going to semi-retire to Florida and skindive and fish — but he got bored.”

Michael Peters “Aronow looked the part. Guys wanted to be him. Six foot three, real good-looking, lots of swagger. He was right out of a Hollywood script. He’s the only person I’ve ever known like that. He was larger than life. And he liked to get the best of people.”

Bob Saccenti “When he came to Florida, he got hooked up with the greats and he definitely made his mark. People said whatever Don touched turned to gold.”

powerboat racer ben aronoff

Michael Aronow “Forrest Johnson was originally his fishing buddy. They become friends and Johnson told my father about the Miami-Nassau race, which my father became really interested in. He competed in the race in April 1962 and led until the end. But they [blew] a clutch and had nothing left. The boat coasted in fourth. He became hooked on racing and that’s how it all began.”

Phil Lipschutz “Once racing’s in your blood, you can never get it out.”

powerboat racer ben aronoff


Michael Aronow “After that ’62 race, my father started to work with Jim Wynne and Walt Walters. He went to 188th Street in Miami and decided he wanted to put a plant there. That became the original Formula Marine.”

powerboat racer ben aronoff

(ABOVE) RUM RUNNER: The first boat to wear the Formula name was a 233 called Cigarette after a famous rum running boat.

Allan Brown “He started Formula from scratch and sold it to Thunderbird in about a year. Made quite a lot of money on it in 1964. He did that a few times. He sold Magnum to American Photocopy for a ton. He had plenty of cheese. (Captain’s note: we think he means “money”.) He had a brown Rolls-Royce and [race] horses.”

Bob Saccenti “He used to say you’re never gonna make a lot of money building boats — you make a living doing that. You make real money when you sell the company.”

powerboat racer ben aronoff

Allan Brown “He was also the best boat salesman in the history of the world. A guy would come looking at a boat with a girl, and the guy would ask ‘How much?’ And Don would go, ‘$70,000.’ The guy would say, ‘That’s too much.’ And Don would say, every time, ‘I think you should go get a Bayliner then, this is way too much boat for you.’ And the guys would be ripping their pockets open trying to give him money!”

powerboat racer ben aronoff

Michael Peters “A guy would walk into his shop, all excited to meet [Aronow] and buy a boat. The guy would say, ‘I want a 28.’ And Aronow would say, ‘Oh no, we’re all sold out.’ And the guy would keep pushing, ‘I wanted one all my life.’ And Don would say, ‘We don’t have any 28s, but I’m building a 35 for myself and I could sell that to you.’ That was classic Aronow.”

Allan Brown “Every boat he sold was ‘built for himself’. There are about 70 people out there who think they have a boat Don built for himself!”

powerboat racer ben aronoff

Michael Aronow “By 1966, my dad had sold Donzi to Teleflex. Then he bought a parcel of land immediately west of them and built the Magnum building. It was a big building and obscured the Donzi plant — you couldn’t see [Donzi] from Highway 1 anymore! That was just his personality.”

The secret to happiness is taking risks. Don Aronow understood that motto as well as anyone who ever lived.

Bob Saccenti “The real Don was sitting at a business table negotiating deals. And he never would backpedal later or change things. When you shook his hand, that was the deal. Some people badmouth him, ‘He did this, he robbed that.’ Well, that’s shame on you. You’re a businessman, too. You gotta do your homework. Because he did, that’s for sure.”

powerboat racer ben aronoff


With lots of money and charisma, not to mention NFL starting quarterback good looks, Aronow soon became a ladies’ man of legendary status in Miami circles.

powerboat racer ben aronoff

Phil Lipschu t z “The saying he had [about Cigarette’s famed Mistress model] was, ‘Every man should have a Mistress.’ And that certainly described Don, too.”

Allan Brown “He’d fuck your wife in a second. He was a real successful cocksman — the best I ever saw. I used to work boat shows with him and Holy Christ!”

Michael Aronow “I don’t think any of those guys had ever seen anything quite like it, to be honest.”

Allan Brown “At Cigarette, he had an intercom in his office and he used to boff his secretary there. If you needed him, you just hit him on the intercom!”

powerboat racer ben aronoff

Michael Peters “The upstairs apartment above his office was kind of famous. He would have a succession of ladies that would appear. Just lining up. At his funeral, [eye surgeon and powerboat racer] Doc Magoon gave the eulogy, and at one point he said, ‘Don was a man’s man.’ He paused, and then said, ‘And he was a ladies’ man.’ Everybody looked around the room at all of the known mistresses that were sitting there.”

powerboat racer ben aronoff

Michael Aronow “My father broke up more marriages than anybody. You can talk to anybody [about that]… [But] he was home every night. He was a great dad and a great husband. He came to my basketball games, my football games, he was always around.”

powerboat racer ben aronoff

(ABOVE) TICKET TO RIDE: Don Aronow and his son, Michael, cruising off Miami with the Beatles before their iconic 1964 appearance on The Ed Sullivan show.


Aronow was extremely competitive in most aspects of his life, perhaps even to a fault.

Michael Peters “If you were a coward with him, you were gone. You had to be able to match. And if you had money and you were a coward, he’d take as much as possible. He was about outdoing the other guy, no matter what you were doing.”

powerboat racer ben aronoff

Bob Saccenti “He was a great guy and a great businessman. He was the type of guy that if he liked you, he loved you. But if he didn’t like you, watch out.”

powerboat racer ben aronoff

Allan Brown “Our friend Stu Jackson worked for Thunderbird and he received a gold Rolex when he retired. We were having lunch one day and Don asked if it was a good watch. Jackson said it was the best in the world. Aronow said, ‘Let me see.’ Then he took the watch by the clasp, banged it on the table and threw it in a glass of beer. I don’t think it ever ran again.”

Michael Peters “He didn’t like guys that came in and tried to go toe-to-toe with him. He’d knock you right down.”

Allan Brown “Don was so reckless with shit like that. A kid was going to start a boat company in Florida. He had bought a boat in California and he asked Aronow and me to drive it and see if it was any good. Aronow went down the canal at 65mph (105km/h) and ended up running into the seawall. [He drove it back and] the boat was sinking at the dock. He stepped off and said, ‘The boat’s a piece of shit, kid. I just did you a favour.’”

powerboat racer ben aronoff

Michael Peters [upon hearing Brown’s story] “I’m from California, I hope that story’s not about me!”

Bob Saccenti “I think there were over 100 suspects when they finally killed him.”

powerboat racer ben aronoff

Michael Peters “It could have been anyone, from drug runners to business partners to jealous husbands.”


Aronow famously kept company with people from all walks of life. He hung out with kings, mobsters and the Beatles, and considered future president George HW Bush a close friend.

powerboat racer ben aronoff

(ABOVE) RICH AND FAMOUS: Aronow famously kept company with people from all walks of life.

Michael Peters “One of the first issues I had to deal with when he hired me [in the early 1980s] was [notorious Haitian dictator] ‘Baby Doc’ [Duvalier, who was a client]. That was on my to-do list: Deal with Baby Doc. That was the cast of characters he was involved with. And I can tell you, the day he was murdered there were phone calls to the King of Jordan, the King of Spain, George Bush.

Phil Lipschut z “I never had any inkling that Don was involved in something illegal. Don built boats for good guys and he built them for bad guys. A guy comes in with the money and you build a boat for them — and you never know. Back in those days, [criminal activity involving speedboats] was very prevalent because there was a lot of smuggling going on. Performance boats attract a lot of characters.” One of those characters was a racing boat driver and drug smuggler called Ben Kramer. Aronow had sold USA Racing Team — a company that built high-speed catamarans for the US Customs Service — to Kramer and his father in 1985. However, when the Customs Service found out about the younger Kramer’s criminal reputation, they put the kibosh on the transaction

Allan Brown “Ben Kramer bought USA Racing from Aronow and apparently there was some money under the table. [Then vice president] Bush said, ‘We ain’t gonna buy boats from Ben Kramer. The deal’s off.’ I’m guessing Don kept some of the under-thetable money.”

Michael Peters “I had gone through a divorce and it was terrible times. Don was the only person who gave me more than a platitude — he gave me a job. This was December of ’86. I was a little hesitant to move to Miami because my view of it was straight out of [1980s TV series] Miami Vice. Everything there to me was racing and drug trafficking. I was like, do I really want to move down there? Sure enough, I moved there on a Monday and he was murdered that Tuesday.”

On the afternoon of February 3, 1987, a man claiming to be “Jerry Jacoby” walked into Aronow’s Thunderboat Row office exhibiting strange behaviour. He was inquiring about a 60ft boat and alluding to a mysterious man he worked for — and who he would kill for, if need be. Shortly after the visit, Aronow left his office and drove down the street to Apache Performance Boats to visit with his former protégé, Bob Saccenti. At the time, Saccenti was recovering from a horrific crash on Lake Erie. (Ironically, in the immediate aftermath of the crash, Saccenti’s life was saved by his race partner, none other than Ben Kramer.) After Aronow’s brief visit with Saccenti, he got back in his white Mercedes and began to pull away. But a dark Lincoln Continental rolled up alongside and then shots rang out.

powerboat racer ben aronoff

Bob Saccenti “Don used to come and see me when I was hurt — one of those ‘You need anything, let me know,’ things. That one time, Don said, ‘Alright kid, I’ll see ya,’ and walked out the door. Next thing I know, an employee is banging on my door. He don’t speak too much English, but he’s trying to explain something serious. He’s pointing out the door and there’s Don in his car, the engine screaming and he’s slumped over the steering wheel. I saw it, the blood. And he’s bellowing, trying to say something. I told my secretary to call 911. The EMS [paramedics] showed up and pulled him out. He was pale, he had gone unconscious at some point. We could see all the gunshots.”

Allan Brown “He was murdered right out in front of my office, halfway between Saccenti’s building and my building. I didn’t hear shots, with the air-conditioner and sewing machines going on, but somebody came and got me. I went over there and he had holes all over him. I never thought anybody would actually do that, but by God, they did.”

Michael Peters “[George] Bush’s reaction was that he wanted [Miami] Dade Homicide on it like it was the most important case on their books. Then the investigation got going and they realised who Aronow was involved with. Bush back-pedalled out of there as fast as he could. He was going to run for president and his friend had 140 people who wanted to kill him!”

powerboat racer ben aronoff

Allegations ran wild in the aftermath of Aronow’s death. Speculation about who the killer might be ran from jilted lovers or jealous husbands to [Jewish mobster] Meyer Lansky and the CIA. But in the end, the investigation led to a hired gun. A violent criminal named Bobby Young was fingered as the hitman, whose employer — according to the courts — was Ben Kramer. Young died in prison in 2009 after steadfastly refusing for years to testify against Kramer. Kramer got a 19-year sentence for manslaughter to run concurrently with a life term for marijuana smuggling. To this day, he maintains his innocence. He says the Colombians did it.

powerboat racer ben aronoff

(ABOVE) CRIME SCENE:  A violent criminal named Bobby Young (right) was fingered as the hitman, whose employer — according to the courts — was Ben Kramer (left)

Bob Saccent i “[Kramer and Aronow] were both wealthy, and if it was over money, that’s a shame. Money comes and goes. Nobody really knows [what happened], the only thing for sure is that Don’s gone.”

Phil Lipschut z “[Aronow] lived right on the water on Biscayne Bay. And every new [Cigarette] that I do, I drive right by his house with it, just so he can see. I think he’d really be proud of the boats.”

The Captain salutes you, Don.

powerboat racer ben aronoff

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Power Boat Magazine

The Risk Takers Part 3: Don Aronow

powerboat racer ben aronoff

Don Aronow created an all-conquering, epoch-making race boat resulted in the adoption of a generic name for all boats of that type thereafter.

In this, the third part of our four-part series, Danny Casey examines the life, times and shocking, brutal death of the man who put the gloss, glitz and glamour into the then gritty but nascent sport of offshore powerboat racing – a man whose creation of an all-conquering, epoch-making race boat resulted in the adoption of a generic name for all boats of that type thereafter. The boat was known as “The Cigarette” and the man behind it created a legacy, an empire and maybe even a mystique that still resonates today.

Northeast 188 th Street, North Miami was a bland, seedy industrial area made up of nondescript boatbuilding facilities and allied fabrication and engineering businesses. It was the sort of stark industrial area one would also find in Auckland, Sydney or Los Angeles. However, NE 188 th Street also had an imposing and impressive alternative name that belied its stark environs. It was, and still is, known as Thunderboat Row and was so named because it housed, along both sides of its short length, several companies involved in the building of high-performance offshore powerboats. And nearly all these enterprises were spin-offs of the original company started in 1963, in that very street, by Donald Joel Aronow.

In the drug-fuelled, hedonistic Miami of the mid-late 1980s, the only excitement in this otherwise nondescript street was when the magnificent creations from these factories were craned into the canals that flanked the dead-end road for testing. But other than the start-up barks of powerful engines that then idled and lolled out into open water, the street went about its regular business of constructing very fast boats in purpose-built facilities.

On Tuesday, February 3 rd , 1987, an otherwise unremarkable Miami winter day, a man walked unannounced into the office of Don Aronow’s newest boat company, USA Racing Team, on the premise that he was there on behalf of his boss, who was extremely wealthy and could not therefore be identified. This representative for the mystery buyer was muscular, well-built and very tall, at maybe six feet four inches. He looked sturdier, fitter and heavier than Aronow, who was himself six feet three and 220-plus pounds (in US parlance).

powerboat racer ben aronoff

The visitor said his boss wanted him to talk to Aronow about purchasing a custom-built boat. Aronow said that that would be no problem; he’d gladly take the guy’s boss’s money and build whatever the boss wanted, but it’d be better if he talked with the boss directly. As the conversation progressed and it became apparent that the name of the visitor’s mystery employer would not be forthcoming, Aronow asked the visitor for ID and the guy made a great flourish of reaching round to his rear pocket for his wallet. “Whaddya know,” he said. “Musta left it in the car.”

Aronow then asked him his name, and the guy answered: “Jerry Jacoby.” Aronow knew Jerry Jacoby well, as Jacoby had been the 1981 UIM World Offshore Champion and the 1982 US Offshore Champion – but this visitor was not Jerry Jacoby. Aronow, who had seemed preoccupied and edgy for weeks, rushed to leave and fobbed “Jacoby” off on his sales manager, telling the sales manager to take the visitor out to the yard to show him the boats. But the guy had no interest in seeing any boats and briskly exited the premises.

Some minutes later, seemingly rattled and distracted, Aronow left the office, got into his white Mercedes-Benz 560 SL convertible and drove the short distance up the street to see a friend, Bob Saccenti, who was also a business competitor, at Saccenti’s boatbuilding company, Apache Performance. Saccenti had been injured in a recent powerboat race and Aronow wanted to see how he was doing.

powerboat racer ben aronoff

After some minutes schmoozing and trading friendly – albeit rather forced – banter and jibes, Aronow got back into the Benz to return to his own factory.

As Aronow pulled out of Apache Performance and turned right to return to USA Racing Team, a Lincoln Town Car approached from the opposite direction. The Lincoln (some said it was black while others swore powder blue) slowed and the driver’s window glided down. An arm discreetly signalled Aronow to stop, so he drew alongside the Lincoln and braked – both drivers’ windows side-by-side. A very brief conversation, measured in seconds, ensued, and the driver of the Lincoln extended his arm, in which there was a serious firearm: a semiautomatic .45 calibre Colt. Six shots were fired at Aronow, five of which hit him (one in the groin), with the sixth tearing its way through the passenger door.

Eyewitnesses say the Lincoln pulled away, smoothly and purposefully, but not overly rapidly, and then drove over a patch of waste ground before escaping through a warren of back streets with not a single traffic light before the freeway.

Aronow was slumped in the car with the engine screaming madly, his foot jammed hard on the accelerator and the transmission in neutral. This was strange but, as his wife later posited, would have been because of his background with boats. Whenever he came to a halt in his car, he always slid the automatic transmission lever from “D” to “N” – just as one would do when idling a boat. His wife maintained that if he hadn’t adopted this peculiar, boat-inspired, shift-into-neutral practice, he would have been able to get away rapidly and cheat death – but, as will become clear, that would only have postponed his demise. So badly ripped apart was Aronow’s body that paramedics at the scene said that the fluid from the IV drips was running straight out through the wounds and onto the street.

powerboat racer ben aronoff

Leaving aside, for the present, his gruesome end, Aronow, up until then, had lived a charmed, healthy and wealthy life. He was in the vanguard of the “snow birds” from New York and New Jersey (Aronow was from Brooklyn, NY) who migrated to Miami in the early ‘60s, just as the town was beginning to recover from straitened times in the late ‘50s. The Mob (i.e. the Mafia) had had great plans for Miami, as it was the nearest US city to Batista’s Cuba – Batista, of course, being the dictator who allowed the Mafia to build and run casinos in Havana while palming his share. But then Castro deposed him and that was the end of the Mob’s Vegas of the South.

Aronow had done well in the construction industry in New Jersey in the 1950s. In one of his early deals as a young man, he bought a tatty parcel of land on which he built 10 small “starter” houses. Each house sold for $14,500 and Aronow made a profit of $4,500 per house. Not vast sums of money even then, but it showed an eye for a buck and the ability to make a quick killing before moving on to another deal. However, in the north-eastern states at that time, anybody with any knowledge of the construction industry would have known that there was great power held and wielded by the labour unions, and if one wanted to get ahead, one had to know how to deal with the unions. And backing the unions was another altogether more menacing, dangerous entity: the Mob.

Aronow was barely in his mid-thirties when he decided to decamp to Miami in semi-retirement, and he began to hang out with a powerboating crowd – people like Dick Bertram, Sam Griffith and Dick Genth. He developed an initially mild interest in offshore powerboat racing, participating with moderate success in boats he had bought. Eventually the bug bit and he hooked up with two legendary boatbuilders, Jim Wynne and Walt Walters. Land was cheap in Miami at the time and, in 1963, he built a boat plant on a scrubby piece of waste ground at NE 188 TH Street. He called the company Formula Marine.

powerboat racer ben aronoff

This marked the birth of one of the most successful, venerable and much-copied V-hull powerboats of all time. This boat, the Formula 233, designed by Wynne and made production-ready by Walters (it’s debatable if Aronow himself ever had much creative or design output into any of his boats), became a soaring success in terms of both sales and competition, and Aronow appointed a dealer network but gave them paltry margins so they couldn’t discount the boat – thereby keeping both residuals and brand recognition high.

Aronow realised that whilst there was a living to be made building boats, the real money came from pumping up the product and its brand equity and then selling the company. And this is what he did with Formula after only one year – he sold it to Thunderbird. With the deal done, he bought another parcel of tatty land on NE 188 TH Street, and started his second company, Donzi – another boat brand with a racy and exotic name. By 1966, Donzi had been sold to Teleflex and Aronow went on to buy a further block of land on the Row and start yet another boat company, Magnum.

Magnum was then sold in 1968, to Apeco, but Aronow now found himself, for the first time, having to rigidly adhere to a strict non-compete clause which had been imposed by Apeco. To circumvent this condition, Aronow appropriated the name of a willing friend, Elton Cary, and built a new range of boats under the Cary name. This was when the legendary “Cigarette” branding first appeared, as the first two models, the 28 and 32, were named after a famous rum runner’s launch of that name from the Prohibition era.

powerboat racer ben aronoff

After Cary/Cigarette, there was Squadron Marine and then, finally, USA Racing Team – and each of these moves involved selling the previous company and buying yet more land on the Row to start another one. Aronow could be hard, combative and mean, as the buyer of one of his previous entities discovered. The buyer was loading a boat in the yard with a forklift one day, when Aronow and a bailiff arrived to repossess the machine. “You can’t do this.” The new owner protested. “I bought this company and all its assets, lock, stock and barrel.” Aronow thrust the original inventory list in the guy’s face and said, “But not the forklift – it’s not listed on this sheet.” And he was right. Every piece of plant and equipment was listed – except the forklift (worth maybe a paltry five or six thousand dollars). This indicates a mercenary and unsavoury side to Aronow’s character.

By the early 1980s, the words “Miami” and “narcotics” were intertwined and synonymous, and the TV show Miami Vice explored this fraught symbiosis in every episode. Everyone knew that the days of tramp steamers and fishing boats being used to transport and land drugs were over, and that go-fast boats were being used instead. In fact, the entire Miami-centric world of offshore powerboat always had the taint of drug money hanging over it, and when such superstar drivers as Joey Ippolito and George Morales were arrested and jailed for long stretches, that confirmed the speculation.

It is highly unlikely that Aronow was oblivious to the machinations of the offshore racing scene, as much of his product ended up in the hands of those who ferried narcotics and those legal entities who attempted to apprehend them. By now, Aronow was operating his latest and – although he didn’t know it – final venture, USA Racing Team, which he ostensibly ran alongside a powerboat racer and high school dropout (and, by all accounts, a borderline moron) named Ben Kramer. But it was complicated, as Aronow had supposedly sold USA Team Racing to Kramer (with a sizeable sum of money reputedly passed under the table by Kramer to Aronow), so Aronow was merely the company figurehead. This was a futile attempt to bestow some respect on Kramer, who was a major-league drug smuggler and who was wholly unfit to operate a legitimate enterprise.

powerboat racer ben aronoff

A further complication came in the form of the then vice president of the United States, George H.W. Bush. A personal friend of Aronow, he had always owned Cigarette boats. Whilst Bush was a mainly insipid vice president, Ronald Reagan had appointed him as his personal drugs tsar and it was Aronow to whom Bush turned for assistance with the purchase of high-speed interdiction craft that could chase down the drug runners’ boats. Notwithstanding the fact that Bush and Aronow were friendly, a personal entreaty of this nature was most strange in relation to a high-value government contract, as such purchases are always made at a national level through an official tender process. However, Bush, after a visit to Miami and a day schmoozing on the water with Aronow, tacitly awarded Aronow the contract. But there were two problems.

The first problem was that the tunnel-hulled boat Aronow cobbled up for US Customs – the first of what Bush called the “Blue Thunders” – was a total aberration. It was a monohull cut along the length of the keel and “peeled” open. The open side of each of the two (now extremely narrow) hulls was

glassed in and both hulls were pushed slightly apart so that a deck could be added. This was supposedly a catamaran but the final product was the enlarged equivalent of two side-by-side kayaks with a pantry door strapped lengthwise over them. Consequently, the tunnel was so narrow that there was no aerodynamic lift and the running surfaces of the hulls were so knife-edge narrow that the boat had no hydrodynamic lift either.

powerboat racer ben aronoff

This boat, when fitted with two 440 hp MerCruisers and fast but fragile TRS drives, could manage no more than 56 MPH – compared with drug-running boats that cruised in the high-70s. In fact, the engines had to work so hard to plane and push the boat, and the TRS legs had to withstand so much strain and heat from trying to keep a boat with virtually no flat surface area on the plane, that failures of both items were measured in weeks, not months.

The second problem, however, was much more serious: Ben Kramer. Bush eventually found out that Kramer, a drug baron, was the true owner of USA Racing Team, and yet here he was on the verge of being awarded a contract for drug interception vessels – a sick and ironic joke!

Bush then contacted Aronow, unequivocally telling him that the deal was off unless, or until, Aronow bought Kramer out of the company and took back control. Aronow ostensibly did this, but whether in fact it ever actually happened is still a matter of conjecture today. But regardless of Aronow’s putative repurchasing of the company, he almost certainly never gave Kramer back the reputed under-the-table sum from the initial sale.

The boat company improprieties, bad as they were, were not insurmountable for Aronow – while his reputation and standing with Bush, for one, would have been tarnished, he would have lived to fight another day with myriad other deals. Where Aronow’s life gets murky (and there have been countless books, articles and theses written about it, all of which are plausible but all of which are nonetheless conjecture) is in his dealings with union – and by default Mob – activists, firstly in New Jersey and later in Miami. It is no secret that Aronow was acquainted with the venerable Mob boss, Meyer Lansky, and it is highly likely that, with all the drugs and drug money sluicing through Miami in the late ‘70s to early ‘80s, large sums of that money would have been laundered through Aronow’s businesses – whether for legitimate purchases or not.

Two journalists, Thomas Burdick and Charlene Mitchell, wrote the superb opus, Blue Thunder , a magnificent chronicle of almost 400 pages on Aronow’s life and death (boat talk is a relatively minor part of the book), and it is probably the definitive reference work on this subject. Throughout the book, the Mob are never far from centre stage and reliable reports of dons, capos and “wise guys” litter almost half the page count.

This book states that the Justice Department had prepared a subpoena for Aronow on February 2nd, 1987, in relation to organised crime, and that it was due to be served on him one day later, on February 3rd, the day of the murder. No one can say with certainty what really happened but, allegedly, someone in the Justice Department, with a connection to the Mafia, saw the subpoena on an adjacent desk and called the Mob. Aronow was going to be asked about a lot of deals and associates, and although he could have “taken the Fifth”, his silence would have been a tacit admission of complicity. So the Mob scrambled a hit team at the last minute – the well-built guy who entered Aronow’s office on the pretence of boat-shopping for his rich boss (and whose job it was to destabilise Aronow), plus the shooter who drove the Lincoln.

powerboat racer ben aronoff

A no-account loser and career criminal named Bobby Young eventually pleaded no contest to the manslaughter of Aronow, saying that he acted on behalf of Ben Kramer, who was angry about having to return the business to Aronow and about Aronow retaining the original under-the-table money. Young had nothing to lose, as his plea on the Aronow matter would see him removed to a less harsh prison, and the sentence for Aronow’s manslaughter was concurrent, anyway, so he wouldn’t have to serve any more time. Kramer admitted nothing, but was in prison for life anyway, with no possibility of parole (where he remains, apparently, to this day).

However, it is pretty much accepted that neither man was associated – at least directly – with the murder of Aronow. Young in no way resembles the well-built guy (whose name is known) who appeared out of the blue in Aronow’s office, and neither he nor Kramer matches the description of the driver of the Lincoln (whose name is also known). The man from Aronow’s office is the biggest mystery of all – he went in, supposedly to flush out and destabilise Aronow, but fled and disappeared. And according to eyewitnesses, there was only one person – the shooter – in the Lincoln when Aronow was murdered, yet there were two people in it – the shooter and the big guy from Aronow’s office – when they foolishly stopped to seek directions earlier that day. What happened and why, and who really ordered and carried out the hit, and for what reason, was never, ever known – except to those involved.

As for Aronow’s boatbuilding legacy, he built (but probably had little input in designing) boats that were of, and for, their time. He created waterborne glitz, image and braggadocio and bestowed exciting and hubris-filled names on boats that were otherwise pretty mediocre in most key aspects – long, narrow-beamed, pared-to-the-bone, steep-deadrise hulls with no flattening-off aft to assist lift or maintain plane at lower speeds. His boats were power-hungry and brutal, and were fast purely due to the gargantuan horsepower installed rather than through any innovation or creativity in the rudimentary principles of hydrodynamic design.

And as for his legacy as a human being… probably a good guy to encounter for a back-slap and a faux insult in a boat club bar or for a photo-op at a boat race or on a boat show stand, but he straddled two entirely different worlds. There was a dark undercurrent that would have subsumed those unwise enough to get too close. The legacy and myth are much more appealing than the man.

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Speed Kills Sneak Peek Proves John Travolta Is Still a Badass [Exclusive]


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Twisters Team Talk Making the Film Scientifically Accurate & Addressing Climate Change

Latest superman images finally reveal first look at nicholas hoult as lex luthor, chris pine gives unexpectedly promising update on dungeons & dragons 2.

Come at John Travolta and he's liable to get a little pushy. We learn this about his character Ben Aronoff in our exclusive clip from Speed Kills , which hits theaters on November 16.

John Travolta is a champion speedboat racer turned multimillionaire in Speed Kills . He's caught leading a double life , which lands him in trouble with the law, as drug lords come gunning for him. In our exclusive sneak peek at this exciting release, we see Travolta's Aronoff at the marina. He is confronted by a thug who wants a couple of bullet holes fixed in his boat. Aronoff doesn't have the time or patience for this guy, asking him if he knows how to swim before shoving him off the pier and into the water. It's good old fashion badass John Travolta like we remember him in so many classics.

John Travolta stars in Speed Kills alongside Katheryn Winnick , Jennifer Esposito, Michael Weston, Jordi Mollà, Amaury Nolasco, Matthew Modine, James Remar and Kellan Lutz. The movie is directed by Jodi Scurfield from a script written by David Aaron Cohen & John Luessenhop. The story and characters are based on a book by Arthur J. Harris.

Speed Kills is based on the true story of Don Aronow , a legendary powerboat racer and manufacturer who had alleged deep ties to the mob. He was later murdered in broad daylight on a street he helped build. The movie brings the man's story to life with some changes. Production kicked off in June 2017, with the shoot taking place in San Juan, Puerto Rico. With its accessible beaches and art deco architecture, Puerto Rico was the ideal location to double for Miami Beach. And we get to see this backdrop used gloriously in our exclusive clip.

Speed Kills alters the historic events surrounding Don Aronow's interesting life and tragic death . Some actual individuals are represented in the movie, but most of the characters have been changed, are an amalgamation or otherwise fictionalized.

Jonh Travolta was the only choice to play Ben Aronoff, and he quickly agreed to signing on for the drama. Katheryn Winnick was also their first choice to play Emily Gowen, Aronoff's second wife, and luckily she said yes to the juicy role. The movie takes place over three distinct time periods. And the shoot was long and arduous, but the finished project looks pretty enthralling.

Acclaimed Toronto based DJ Miss Tara wrote the original song Speed Kills for the soundtrack, with Columbian singer Jaycob Duque stepping in to provide vocals. The catchy song gives the finished movie a very Latin-infused vibe with its infectious summertime beats. The song has already gone onto win the Akademia Music Award for Best Latin Song in advance of the film's upcoming release.

if you love Speed Kills when you see it, know that the filmmakers have also collaborated with Top Dog VR to create a virtual reality companion piece to the crime thriller. The Speed Kills VR Cinematic Experience immerses viewers in the world of the film through the use of drones and cameras strapped to speed boats. Fans will get to experience the events of Speed Kills alongside the characters. It has already been called a game changer for cinematic VR experiences. You can also discover some of the movie's feel and tone in our exclusive clip featuring John Travolta. Be sure to check out the movie in theaters this month. It will also get a simultaneous release on VOD.

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He owns a horse farm in Ocala, a home in Miami Beach and a new Long Island estate that just made Toen and Country. His wife appeared on the cover.

He wears khaki slacks to work-tieless and sockless-as he cuts six-figure boat deals with a young Italian count one minute, and talks rpm’s with a greasy race mechanic the next.

Don Aronow is a proud man; proud of the way he’s survived.

It says so right there on the bottom of his resume:

Has survived three motorcycle crashes, totaled five automobiles and 12 boating mishaps. Don Aronow is also quite proud of his lovely wife Lillian.

“I’d never be married to a beautiful woman like Lillian if I hauled garbage for a living,” Aronow adds.

Lillian is Aronow’s second wife — a former Palm Beach socialite, heiress and high fashion model.

Aronow is a former junior high school gym teacher from the Bronx.

“I got bored with it,” he explains. “So I decided to do a little construction on the side.”

He retired and moved to Florida 10 years later — a millionaire in his early 30’s, his fortune spawned by the thousands of tract homes Aronow had built and sold throughout northern New Jersey.

“I got into ocean powerboat racing after I retired to Florida,” he says.

It started out as a hobby.

“It was a pretty informal thing. Most of the guys ran stock boats. We’d race to Nassau and back on the weekends. It was mostly a lot of hell-raising and good times.”

But it bothered Don Aronow that he couldn’t win.

“I’m one of these guys who has to finish first,” Aronow explains. “So I decided to build a powerboat race that would beat these other guys.”

It took him several tries.

His first boat was made of wood and broke apart.

His second hull was fiberglass — its hull shaped in a deep-vee to slash through the waves.

Don Aronow called his new boat the Formula.

“It won big,” Aronow says. “And all of a sudden I was in the powerboat business.”

That was nearly 25 years ago.

Since then, Aronow has designed and built some of the world fastest ocean powerboat racers — including the stubby Maltgese Magnum, the sporty Donzi and the world famous Cigarette.

Mega-priced and obscenely over-powered, Aronow’s sleek craft have set 25 world speed records, won more than 300 major races and earned a dozen world ocean racing champions.

Aronow’s Cigarette has also become the low slung get-away boat of choice for South Florida’s high-rolling drug smugglers.? And then there’s the matter of status by association.

“Sure a lot of older men have bought my race boats to drive up and down the Intracoastal on weekends,” Don Aronow admits.

Aronow doesn’t care if all these retired furniture makers and machine tool executives are little more than middle-aged adolescents flaunting their masculinity on a Sunday afternoon — tooling around the docks of some Intracoastal bar like Shooters, feeling terribly macho-nautical doing 30 knots in a $125,000 Cigarette Aronow built to run all day at 60 knots in hull- hammering six foot seas.

“These guys earned their money,” Aronow says. “And they’re entitled to spend it any damn way thay want.”

Vice President George Bush drives one of Aronow’s Cigarettes.

So does Jordan’s King Hussein — and Haiti’s President Baby Doc, fugitive financer Robert Vesco, British tabloid tycoon Sir Max Aitken, King Juan Carlos of Spain and Evil Kneviel.

Writer: How about a one-word description of the kind of boat you build?

Don Aronow: How about “erotic”?

Writer: “Erotic?”

Lillian Aronow: Winning is an natural aphrodisiac.

We are at the race track.

One of Don Aronow’s race horses has just finished first.

Don Aronow’s pockets are stuffed with fifties and hundreds. He has just cashed in six-figures worth of winning tickets. Make that a very healthy six figures.

His face flushed with excitement, Don Aronow launches into another one of his stories.

Like most, it’s a tale of conquest; Aronow versus the odds:

It was back in 1967. In Italy. The year Aronow won his first world championship as an international powerboat driver, he says. The same year he almost killed himself when his race boat hit a wave off California, shot airborne and slammed into a helicopter hovering overhead.

“Our bow rammed the helicopter’s rubber flotation gear,” he says. “I don’t now why nobody was killed. You should have seen that pilot’s face.”

Anyhow, there was this contessa Don Aronow met while he was racing in the Mediterranean off northern Italy.

“She was gorgous,” Aronow says. “A stunning blonde. From one of Italy’;s best families.”

The race was several days away. Aronow’s mechanic was busy prepping their twin-engined Magnum. Aronow was free to pursue the contessa.

“I took her to all the best places,” Aronow says. “But she didn’t want anything to do with me.”

And then one night Aronow and the contessa were driving back from a candlelit dinner in a tiny restaurant high in the Carrara Mountains.

The contessa was at the wheel of her two-seater Italian sportscar, its tires squealing as she forced the car through the mountain curves.

Far below, the Mediterranean lay shimmering in the moonlight.

The contessa suddenly mashed her brakes and brought the car to a halt at the side of the road, its tires only inches away from a sheer drop into a dark valley.

Startled, Aronow looked at the contessa.

“Now,” the contessa told Aronow.

“Here?” Aronow asked.

“Here,” the contessa nodded.

“That’s what winning is all about,” Aronow grins nearly 20 years later. “It’s being able to deliver when it counts.”

Lillian Aronow: (smiling) My husband is actually a veryshy man, you know.

Writer: (to Aronow) Tell me about your earliest memory.

Don Aronow: (frowning) You mean back when I was a kid?

Writer: Yeah.

Don Aronow: That was a long time ago.

He was a quiet boy, remarkably shy during his early years, with delicate features and soft brown eyes.

Semi-blind, he was forced to wear heavy-rimmed and thick-lensed glasses that were always a worry when he played.

His earliest memory was riding home in the richly leathered back seat of his father’s limosine, listening to the strangely anxious voices of his parents talking in the front of the car.

It was late and night during the depths of America’s great Depression.

Aronow can still remember peering out at the countryside through his thick glasses, watching the tiny lights flickering from the small farm houses of rural New York and the hobo jungle campfires burning in the night.

There’d been a problem with the taxicab company his father owned in upstate New York.

So little Don had driven north to spend the day in Rochester with his parents.

He was very young. But he could tell something terrible had happened. It had to do with his father’s taxicab company. Some men had told his father that he’d lost it. Little Don couldn’t understand how all his father’s taxicabs could get lost at once. His father said it had to do with something called the Depression.

His mother and father sounded very frightened in the front seat of the car as it sped homeward through the night.

Several days later they had to let their

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Speed Kills

Watch Speed Kills

  • 1 hr 42 min
  • 4.3   (3,943)

Speed Kills is a 2018 American crime thriller based on a true story that stars John Travolta as Ben Aronoff, a wealthy powerboat racer and businessman. The movie is directed by John Luessenhop and Jodi Scurfield. Ben Aronoff seems to have it all - he is a wealthy businessman, successful powerboat racer, and has a beautiful wife, played by Katheryn Winnick. However, behind the glamorous facade, Ben is living a dangerous life, taking risks both on and off the water.

As the story unfolds, we learn that Ben is deeply involved in the world of drug trafficking and money laundering, which eventually catches up with him. The DEA, led by Agent Lopez, played by Jennifer Esposito, is hot on his trail, and Ben finds himself caught up in a dangerous game of cat and mouse.

The movie is set against the backdrop of Miami in the 1980s, a time when the city was awash with drugs and money, and the powerboat racing circuit was at its peak. The high-speed races are the perfect cover for Ben's illegal activities, and he uses his connections in the world of powerboating to further his criminal enterprises.

The movie is fast-paced, with plenty of action and suspense to keep the audience on the edge of their seats. John Travolta is excellent in the role of Ben Aronoff, bringing depth and complexity to the character. He portrays Ben as a man who is both ruthless and vulnerable, a man who is driven by his ambition and his desire for success, but who is also haunted by his past.

Katheryn Winnick is also convincing as Ben's wife, Emily, who is initially unaware of her husband's criminal activities. She is a strong and capable woman who provides a stabilizing influence on Ben, but as the story unfolds, we see her struggle to come to terms with the reality of their life together.

Jennifer Esposito is also excellent as Agent Lopez, the DEA agent who is determined to bring Ben to justice. She is smart and tough, but also capable of empathy and understanding, which makes her a complex and compelling character.

The cinematography in the movie is also impressive, with stunning shots of the powerboats racing through the water and the glittering Miami skyline in the background. The soundtrack is equally impressive, with an upbeat 80s feel that perfectly captures the mood of the time.

Overall, Speed Kills is a thrilling and entertaining movie that is sure to appeal to fans of crime thrillers and action movies. With strong performances from the lead actors, a fast-paced plot, and stunning visuals, it is definitely worth checking out.

Speed Kills is a 2018 crime movie with a runtime of 1 hour and 42 minutes. It has received poor reviews from critics and viewers, who have given it an IMDb score of 4.3 and a MetaScore of 19.

Speed Kills

  • Genres Crime Drama Thriller
  • Cast John Travolta Katheryn Winnick Jennifer Esposito
  • Director Jodi Scurfield
  • Release Date 2018
  • MPAA Rating R
  • Runtime 1 hr 42 min
  • Language English
  • IMDB Rating 4.3   (3,943)
  • Metascore 19

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Film Review: ‘Speed Kills’

Hot on the heels of 'Gotti' comes John Travolta in another mob-related bad biopic.

By Dennis Harvey

Dennis Harvey

Film Critic

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Speed Kills

There have been many ups and downs in John Travolta ’s career, which currently rests in a valley equivalent to the one he’d hit just before “Pulp Fiction” a quarter-century ago. You might think anything would be an improvement after “Gotti.” Yet the new “Speed Kills” not only isn’t appreciably better, it’s also bad in much the same way: another cliché-riddled portrait of an underworld-tied figure the movie seems to celebrate as one ballsy SOB, though viewers may find his personality warrants more fumigation than admiration.

Portraying the high-flying times and violent death of the erstwhile “King of Powerboats,” this slick yet hapless concoction offers Travolta an opportunity to swagger humorlessly, clutching babes and trophies for nearly 100 minutes. What’s not to like? Well, everything — unless you’re the star, who seems convinced that this embarrassingly cloddish biopic-slash-thriller actually flatters both him and its subject.

Travolta’s best roles have tapped a slightly goofy sweetness; his worst ones almost invariably aimed to strike a note of cut-the-crap machismo he cannot pull off. As “Ben Aronoff,” he’s a waxwork of Swinging Sixties “big shot”-dom, living out the most garishly material version of the American Dream like Dean Martin minus the wink. We’re meant to find him charismatic and charming, yet he seems like a colossal jerk. “Speed” is the kind of vanity project so tone-deaf that it repeatedly falls into the hoariest sandtraps imaginable — such as beginning with our protagonist’s death, then having him narrate the subsequent feature-length flashback.

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In real life, Don Aronow was a New Jersey construction contractor who moved to Miami and became even more successful as a builder, competitive racer, and seller of high-end speedboats. They were popular with fellow sportsmen, celebrities, royalty, politicians — and drug smugglers. In 1987, he was gunned down in a presumed contract hit that went unsolved for some years. The extent of Aronow’s involvement (even unwittingly or unwillingly) in organized crime remains debated.

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In its press materials, “Speed Kills,” though “based on” a true-crime tome, makes the confusing statement that “For the purpose of this film, the historical events surrounding Don Aronow’s life and tragic death have been definitively researched … [but] it should be noted that many characters are an amalgamation and fictionalized.”

Beyond the obvious legal dodge, what this means is that the movie gets to have it both ways, painting “Ben Aronoff” as cool enough to know famous mobsters personally, without being a “made man” himself. Or is he? The paint-by-numbers screenplay fudges that question by introducing Ben in the early 1960s, having to leave Jersey with his family in a hurry because of some vague “trouble.”

Later on, when he’s built himself a new career, no less than Meyer Lansky (James Remar) insists he doesn’t have the option of being “independent.” What are the roots of Ben’s supposed obligation? Such specifics are avoided here, so the film can give him stock movie-gangster glamour, yet imply he never wants be involved in criminal doings — he’s only forced into them by threats and business debts.

Those debts are apparently Ben’s fault for neglecting the business side of his business, being more interested in winning races and bedding cocktail waitresses. “Speed Kills” seems to agree with him that such tedious details shouldn’t occupy a man born to live large. Ditto the family he neglects, shrugging off a first marriage to Kathy (Jennifer Esposito) when she berates him for showing up only after son Andy (Charlie Gillespie) is left paralyzed by a car accident. Our protagonist guiltily offers some weird words of hospital bedside comfort (“Don’t worry, we’ll get this right”), then takes his now-disabled kid to the racetrack … and that is the last we hear of either son or wife.

Ben appears to quit philandering for much-younger Spouse No. 2 Emily (Katheryn Winnick), one more character here in awe of his purported magnetism. But the most thankless role is played by Michael Weston, whose lawyer “Shelley Katz” keeps popping up just to explain plot points and remind Ben what a fabulous, incorrigible man he is.

None of these side relationships are worked out in any depth sufficient to distract from the gist, which is to portray Aronoff as a bold individualist who can’t sweat small stuff because he’s too busy winning. That last word that has gained a bit of a dunce cap recently, and “Speed Kills” sure does sharpen its point. An inordinate amount of time here is taken up by what you might term “montages of triumph,” in which Travolta smirks as he’s handed gold watches, women, and cocktails in medium shots intercut with archival footage of races won.

While surely exhilarating for the competitor, speedboating is not really the most cinematic sport. Boats going fast while a movie star shakes his fists and shouts “Yeah! Woo-hoo!” constitute the primary “action” here, but an action movie they do not make. There’s one sequence where our hero recklessly pushes through a huge sea storm rather than quit a race. But it’s too obviously CGI-dependent to thrill, and the point seems to be not brave resiliency but the the monumental force of a blowhard’s ego.

This may be unfair to the real Aronow, who did pilot through just such a tempest, and who remains as laureled as anyone in powerboat racing history. But “Speed Kills” doesn’t make his achievements vivid — in fact, it doesn’t address at all to what extent he was involved in designing his trademark boats (most famously “The Cigarette”). Emphasizing personal style over substance, by omission the film makes him appear simply a wealthy thrill-seeker.

A first directorial feature for one Jodi Scurfield (whose bio is nowhere to be found in press notes or anywhere else), “Speed Kills” feels like a movie made by a committee whose sub-committees stopped speaking to each other. There’s a lot of telling rather than showing, with images sometimes freeze-framed so Travolta’s dead voiceover narrator can inform audiences who or what they’re looking at. Dialogue often sounds excavated from some musty trunk of 30-year-old screenplays. The design contributors make much of colorful changes in costume, decor, and music over the story’s quarter-century span, but assume we won’t notice or care about period anachronisms.

There are a lot of familiar faces seen in one-dimensional support roles, from Kellen Lutz as an antagonistic Lansky nephew to a miscast Matthew Modine as then-Vice President George H.W. Bush (an actual friend of Aronow’s). As portrayed here, the Reagan-era “War on Drugs” does appear to have harried the cocaine trade in which Aronow’s boats played a favored courier role. A sharper movie than this one might’ve mined more than a passing “Go figure!” out of the daft fact that its hero was simultaneously selling aquatic transport to both government agents and their criminal quarry. “Speed Kills” could even have worked as a black comedy — but the few laughs it does deliver aren’t the intentional kind.

Reviewed online, San Francisco, Nov. 11, 2018. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 102 MIN.

  • Production: A Saban Films release of an SF, Hannibal Classics presentation of a Speed Kills, Hannibal production, in association with the Fyzz Facility, Blue Rider Pictures, JTP Films, Pimienta Film Co. Producers: Richard Rionda Del Castro, Luillo Ruiz, Oscar Generale. Executive producers: Patricia Eberle, Cam Cannon, Moshe Diamant, Robert A. Ferretti, Wayne Marc Godfrey, Robert Jones, Walter Josten, Luis Riefkohl, Alistair Burlingham, Charlie Dombeck, Lindsey Roth, Farouk Hadef, Joe Lemmon, Anson Downes, Linda Favila, William V. Bromiley Jr., Shanan Becker, Ness Saban, Vladimir Fernandes, Claiton Fernandes, Euzebio Munhoz Jr., Balan Melarkode, Jamal Sannan, Randall Emmett, George Furla, Martin J. Barab, Grace Collins, Guy Griffithe, Silvio Sardi.
  • Crew: Director: Jodi Scurfield. Screenplay: David Aaron Cohen, John Luessenhop; story: Paul Castro, Cohen, Lussenhop, based on the book by Arthur J. Harris. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Andrzej Sekula. Editor: Randy Bricker. Music: Geronimo Mercado.
  • With: John Travolta, Katheryn Winnick, Jennifer Esposito, Michael Weston, Jordi Molla, Amaury Nolasco, Matthew Modine, James Remar, Kellan Lutz, Charlie Gillespie, Moran Alias, Tom Sizemore, Mike Massa, Luis Da Silva Jr., Keith Hudson.

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