TOOELE COUNTY, Utah (ABC4) – Anywhere that an adrenaline rush could be found, chances are you’d find Don Cash Jr. right there as well.
Danielle Cash Cook remembers her father always looking for the next thrill, bouncing from activity to activity at breakneck speeds. A lifelong fan of motorsports, Cash Jr. also took interest in mountain climbing, cliff jumping at Lake Powell, and sailing. For Cook’s 18th birthday, her dad took her skydiving.
“He definitely had a very high work ethic and energy,” Cook recalls to ABC4.com. “He’d always had a plan, always investing, always doing something new or working on new projects and new hobbies.”
The family’s patriarch, Don Cash Sr., remembers his son being relatively mellow – until he was 8-years-old. As he grew up, Don Jr. developed a passion for the exciting and a knack for entrepreneurship. Even though he had earned enough money to buy a Volkswagen, pickup truck, and a motorcycle before he could drive, Don Jr. still chose to ride his unicycle to school most days.
“He did out of the ordinary things all the time,” Don Sr. says of his son. “He was very innovative.”
After quitting his job as a high-ranking software executive, Don Jr. took what he called a “Seven Summits Sabbatical,” and began undergoing an effort to climb the “Seven Summits,” the highest points and mountains on each of the seven continents.
He saved the biggest and best-known summit for last, achieving his dream of joining the Seven Summits Club, by reaching the highest point on earth, the top of Mount Everest on May 22, 2019.
Unfortunately, while making his descent down the Himalayan giant, Don Jr. collapsed, suffering what his family believes was a cardiac arrest, and died, just a few meters off of the Hillary step, near the summit of the mountain.
Although his sudden death at 54 was undoubtedly tragic, Cook believes Don Jr. passed away doing exactly what he would have wanted to be doing at his departure.
“If he had been told when he was alive, ‘Hey, guess what? You’re gonna die on Everest?’ He’d be like, ‘Oh yeah!’” she laughs. Cook also feels he’d take great pride in an unusual achievement her father left on Everest as the highest deceased body on earth, as his climbing team was unable to bring him down after his death.
In the months leading up to his final climb, Don Jr. and Sr. often spoke about what was next, while they worked together on building a legendary racecar, a 1952 Buick Super Riviera named “Bombshell Betty” into one that could exceed 200 miles-per-hour on the Bonneville Salt Flats. Don Jr. frequently referred to this next adventure metaphorically as his ‘Eighth Summit.’
Don Sr. found his son’s metaphor to a perfect message for all, beyond Don Jr.’s dream of setting a new class speed record in Bombshell Betty.
“All of us should have an eighth summit. We do all these things in our life, you know, we get educated, we get a job, we get experiences, we raise a family, those are all seven summit things. And then the question is, what is your eighth summit? Everyone should have an eighth summit.”
While Don Jr.’s physical journey stopped shortly after Everest, the dream of climbing – or driving – to the eighth summit is still being fulfilled by his family and a group of students at Utah Valley University.
After leaving Bombshell Betty in the garage for a few months in the wake of Don Jr.’s death, Don Sr. reached out to a family friend, Jeff Holm, who was involved in the Transportation Technologies Department at UVU, to see if the student race team would be willing to undergo the project.
Holm agreed and arranged to bring the car to Orem and in October, the students at UVU began to turn Bombshell Betty, which had already set several land-speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats with its former owners, into one that could eclipse the never-before-reached 200 miles-per-hour mark.
To Cook, the effort and energy that Holm and the students at UVU have put into her late father’s dream have been moving.
“I think it became a lot more than a class project, it became a passion for them,” she gushes. “And it was so awesome to see their skills. They’re truly amazing.”
Last weekend, Cook, Don Sr., and the team from UVU gathered at the Salt Flats for a tribute lap in Don Jr.’s memory. While the car leveled out just below 100 miles-per-hour – the group says they’re about a year away from going for 200 – the experience was an emotional one for all.
The initial roar of Bombshell Betty’s engine brought Cook, who drove the car and will drive it again for the record-setting attempt when the time comes, to tears.
“The first time I sat in Bombshell Betty, and they started the engine, I cried,” she shares. “It was loud and powerful and amazing. It was just like a giant symbol. And I missed my dad, and I knew he’d be proud of me.”
Although his son wasn’t there to see Bombshell Betty’s run last Friday, Don Sr. was delighted to see so many enjoy the car that Don Jr. left behind. The work that the students had put into the car hadn’t gone unnoticed, neither had their attendance at the drive.
“I can’t begin to tell you how exciting it is to see the car touch other people’s lives in interesting ways,” he says. “It just seems that interesting people are coming out of nowhere, they want to be involved, and there’s a story about each one of them.”
Complete with ‘Eighth Summit’ and UVU Wolverine stickers, as well as both Don Jr. and Cook’s names above the door to represent the drivers, Don Sr. feels that Bombshell Betty has a magical quality of bringing together people in the same way Don Jr. was known to do.
He recalls that Don Jr. believed not just in “doing epic stuff,” but “if you’re going to do epic stuff, bring people with you.”
“That’s what he wanted, that’s what I want, is for the car now to touch the lives of as many people as possible.”