Hi all - it's great to hear of more experiments going on out there! I've been a bit quiet on this board, as I figured I'd get some more test pizza's under my belt before posting again, and of course 'tis the time of year to be busy!
xsirxx - as Pete said Donatos doesn't par bake the skin. Generally when I've made it, the skin is very thin before getting sauced and topped. In fact, getting spots that are too thin has been my problem. It's also pretty sticky. It should rise some in the oven, but no quite what you've got in your picture. You might want to try picking up any kind of perforated disk at any kind of kitchen store too, as it really helps! I don't know much about kneeding, but 45 minutes seems like a long time as well. Finally, if you have any Vitamin Cottages or Wild Oats nearby, you might be able to find the whey there. I was able to get it at Vitamin Cottage! I think it is a pretty important ingredient.
Also, I made a couple "clones" for some friends that are also from Ohio, and they were amazed at how close it was! At this point I think the biggest obstacle is going to be the toppings. For example, I made one "mariachi chicken" pizza, which has more standard ingredients (chicken, spices, tomato slices, jalapenos, etc) and it tasted almost exactly like Donatos. Whereas the pepperoni pizza still tasted, well, not like Donatos - the smoked-aged provalone and whatever kind of pepperoni they use really make the difference and the flavor.
There's still some fine tuning to do with the crust, but anyone who follows the most recent recipe and procedure should really be happy with the result!
The next thing I plan to do when I have time is try a side-by-side taste test with the latest recipe compared to an older recipe, but both using the latest procedures. My girlfriend swears that the taste/smell of the dough was closer in previous iterations. The attempts she remembers are attempts that gave me problems in dough management and thickness, but I might be able to work those out easier after all the experiments I've done.
At any rate, I just thought I'd chime in again here now that we have some more tests!! Good stuff!!