ST. PETERSBURG — Don Marks didn't do the slow lane. His was the canary yellow Corvette whizzing through a daily commute to the Polk County town of Mulberry, where for a decade he was president and chief executive of W.S. Badcock Corp.
And that was his cautious driving.
After hours, Mr. Marks was a drag racing enthusiast — two cars, side by side, on a quarter-mile strip. He'd brag to his family that he got more "G's" in his Top Dragster than any astronaut in a shuttle launch.
Mr. Marks, who lived in northeastern St. Petersburg, died Saturday at age 62. He had a longtime goal: to race fast enough to finish in "the five-second zone."
"His true passion was his racing. When he was not doing it, he was preparing to do it," said Teena Marks, his wife of 26 years. "He was reading about doing it, or he was working on it, or he was watching it."
Drag racing offered a grownup alternative to the street races that helped to pay for his college education at UCLA. Even as a child, Mr. Marks enjoyed tinkering with mechanical parts — clocks and radios, then car engines.
Racing also tapped the competitive nature that propelled him into a succession of management roles at household-name corporations, including Bank of America, McDonald's, Taco Bell and Rent-A-Center.
He liked to win, even in family pool tournaments. "He got really mad at you if you were on his team and you led to him losing," said his daughter, Jamie Marks.
Yet Mr. Marks was also the family goofball. During a formal birthday dinner, he received a pair of Monopoly boxers from his daughter. He wore them over his dress pants for the rest of the night.
Mr. Marks was the first person outside the Badcock family to run the privately held company. He made sure that employee birthdays were recognized, and each month invited diverse groups to question him.
"Those are the things that leaders of Don Marks' caliber develop and learn, and he brought that experience to Mulberry," said Wogie Badcock, executive vice president of public affairs.
Just over a year ago, Mr. Marks retired. Then doctors found that he had late-stage kidney cancer.
This summer, he set out in his RV on a 8,100-mile trip for a three-race series known as the Western Swing. Family members joined along the way to help with chores that had become painful. A hospital detour midway into the journey could not keep Mr. Marks from finishing the races in Denver, Seattle and California.
His memorial celebration was Friday, followed by a private burial. Mr. Marks' family tucked into his pockets the time sheets from his memorable races, including the 2008 Snowbird Outlaw Nationals.
He was the runnerup that year, but it was his biggest celebration. Going 231 mph, he crossed the finish line in 5.97 seconds.
Letitia Stein can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3322.