Growing up at racetracks around Canada and the USA, Don entertained himself by sketching and refining his artistic gifts. His early adult years were split between auto-racing mechanics, photography and art related pursuits.
Born in Kitchener, Ontario Don spent most of his youth travelling around North America with his father Bert, a legendary drag racer, and now a member of the Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame.
In the late 1980s, he began thinking about a new design for the ice hockey goaltenders’ mask. Don drew design concepts and materials from his experience and involvement in the automotive racing field, and after about a year of development, Straus stepped away from his art and automotive pursuits and put the Armadilla Mask into production.
It was a huge improvement over previous goalie masks; lighter, more comfortable, and with superior impact protection. It was the first product of its kind to be awarded a CSA approval label, for use in minor hockey.
When Straus visited the yearly spring hockey manufacturers’ trade show in Montreal and saw the unveiling of the expansion San Jose Sharks’ team colours, he knew what his next project was. He drew the first design on a cocktail napkin at a downtown Montreal jazz club, and then ‘transferred’ the sketch to an actual mask upon his return home. That mask sat on a shelf for six months before he tracked down Brian Hayward, the Sharks’ goalie, and showed him the Shark mask. Within a week, the mask was cast, built, painted and delivered to Hayward, in time for the start of the season’s training camp in California in 1991.
The Shark mask immediately became a press and fan favourite, and evolved into one of the most replicated mask concepts – perhaps the most popular mask design in the history of the game.
After a fifteen year run with the Armadilla Mask, and the creation and design of some of the most iconic images the sport has seen, including John Vanbiesbrouck’s ‘Panther’, and Kelly Hrudey’s ‘HOLLYWOOD’, manufacturing was halted, and Don shifted back into the automotive racing world to concentrate on the design and painting of helmets for NASCAR drivers including Terry Labonte, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Ron Fellows, and many others, under the banner of Tonto Design.
Don still lives and works in Kitchener, Ontario, with his wife, Krista and their Mini Bull Terrier, Levi.