Few people today know the significance of the Ridler name or for that matter, Don's involvement with Autorama. But if you take the time to stroll through the hallway located just outside this room, you will notice it contains the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame. And if you spend time to read through the names of that select group of individuals, you'll find the name of Don Ridler.
Don had always been a very competitive person in high school football, baseball and basketball. He captained one of the most famous MSU football teams of the 30's. After graduation he continued to show this competitive spirit throughout his adult life. His main involvement was with the basketball teams at Lawrence Tech. He coached those teams in the 40's to national prominence. Don, exhibiting his talents as a creative producer, had Lawrence Tech play other nationally ranked teams in the State Fair Coliseum and then, after the game, brought the likes of the Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller bands for a dance. Eventually, Don also came on to produce the State Fair Grandstand shows, and at one time or anoth- er, handled the public relations for all three of the horserace tracks in the Detroit area.
When Michigan Hot Rod Association (MHRA) decided in the mid-50's they needed professional help to take Autorama to the next level, there was no one more qualified in Detroit for this job than Don Ridler. Don not only brought professionalism to the show, which was at that time being produced in the Coliseum at the Michigan State Fairgrounds, he also wanted to add entertainment to broaden the appeal of Autorama to the public. With singing attractions like, Little Anthony and the Imperials, Duane Eddy, the Big Bopper and the Kalen Twins, Don was able to expand the show in five brief years, far beyond the concept originally envisioned by the early hot rod clubs. Don's format and that of the MHRA was the concept for virtually all of the major shows staged across the US, and Canada in the ensuing decade and set the standard that has been expanded upon to this very day, Don was a man greatly loved and admired by all who knew and worked with him.
Don passed away in 1963 at only 54 years of age. It was immediately decided to create an award to honor his memory. Don's forte had always been his creativity and it was therefore decided to honor those individuals who had been equally creative in building their cars. Since we wanted to honor new creations, it was decided that only cars shown for the first time would be eligible for this award. To say we have succeeded in creating a prestigious award would be an understatement as the Ridler Award is now recognized as one of the most prestigious awards in the country and has helped carry the name of Autorama to the very top of the list as "America's Greatest Hot Rod Show."