Is Ben Aronoff Based on a Real Racer? Is Speed Kills a True Story?

The 2018 action-drama movie ‘Speed Kills’ follows the prolific speedboat designer and businessman Ben Aronoff (John Travolta) as he builds his empire in the beautiful city of Miami in the Sunshine State. The film opens with Aronoff moving to Miami with plans to “win,’ and he attempts to do precisely that over the next few decades. The larger-than-life speedboat mogul wins many iconic boat races in vessels of his own design and becomes a well-known face amongst Florida’s rich and powerful.

Unfortunately, Aronoff’s boats also attract the attention of drug smugglers, and he soon finds himself embroiled in their murky affairs. Even as he attempts to stand up to his criminal tormentors, he faces danger around every corner. The story, with its multi-decade narrative, seems almost biographical. Let’s examine whether the central character of ‘Speed Kills’ is based on a real person.

Is Ben Aronoff Inspired by a Real Racer?

As it turns out, ‘Speed Kills’ is based on the actual larger-than-life boat builder and racer Donald Joel Aronow, who launched Magnum Marine in 1966 in Florida. His company’s high-speed boats, which he often raced himself, won an astonishing number of races. Some of the popular models included the Cigarette, Donzi, Formula, and Cary speedboats.

Image Credit: Thunder Man: The Don Aronow Story

Aronow’s boats won an astonishing 350 offshore races, and as seen in the film, the boat builder himself won several championships. He held two world championships and was a three-time U.S. offshore racing champion. However, he also faced complications with drug traffickers, who reportedly used his fast boats to smuggle cocaine. Aronow, 59, was murdered on February 3, 1987, when an assailant drove up to his white Mercedes and shot him. The incident occurred in the middle of the street around 4 pm as Aronow was leaving his USA Racing office on 188th Street in Miami.

The boat builder was shot thrice, and the assailant got away at the time. Intriguingly, it was years before those responsible for Aronow’s murder were discovered. Thus, the enigmatic central character of ‘Speed Kills’ has a real-life inspiration. Nevertheless, how much of the film stays true to the story of the actual Don Aronow? Let’s take a look.

Is Speed Kills a True Story?

‘Speed Kills’ remains broadly inspired by the real Aronow’s life, despite slight embellishments to the protagonist’s name and changing many details in the film. The script is based on Arthur J. Harris’ book of the same name and follows much of the same story, exploring the events that led to Aronow’s death. It changes details like character names (Aronow’s widow’s name was actually Lillian) and minor incidents but remains faithful to the names of the man’s iconic boats and the landmark race victories they fetched. The Cigarette, possibly Aronow’s most famous boat model, features prominently in the film.

Image Credit: Thunder Man: The Don Aronow Story

Interestingly, the matter of the central character’s murder and those responsible for it remains relatively untouched in the screen adaptation. It focuses more on Aronow’s time in Miami, starting from him entering the speedboat building business until his murder. Though the boat builder is seen to have some criminal entanglements, details of his real-life dynamic with Benjamin Barry Kramer are not elaborated on in the movie. Additionally, the six-odd years the authorities spent searching for the murderer are not part of the script.

In reality, the Miami-Dade police tracked down Aronow’s killer for nearly six years before finally finding Robert ‘Bobby’ Young guilty of the crime. It was further discovered that Kramer allegedly paid $60,000 to Young to carry out the murder. Both men were imprisoned on multiple charges, including previous crimes like drug trafficking and gun possession. Nonetheless, speculation remains on the exact reason for Aronow’s murder, which is attributed to a deal gone bad.

Thus, ‘Speed Kills’ is undoubtedly based on a true story but delves into only a limited section of the real-life events that inspire it. Through its protagonist Ben Aronoff, the film paints a comprehensive portrait of the real Don Aronow’s public persona. However, it doesn’t delve into the details of his business dealings or the intricacies of his murder.

Read More: Where Was Speed Kills Filmed?