Dave MacDonald

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For other people named Dave MacDonald, see Dave MacDonald (disambiguation).
MacDonald with 1961 custom Corvette Special he built with Max Balchowsky of Old Yeller fame

David George MacDonald (July 23, 1936 – May 30, 1964) was an American road racing champion noted for his successes driving Corvettes and Shelby Cobras in the early 1960s. At the age of 27 he was killed in the 1964 Indianapolis 500. In his four-year racing career, MacDonald competed in 115 races with 47 victories and 69 top-three finishes.[1]

MacDonald is to be inducted into the 2014 class of the National Corvette Museum's Corvette Hall of Fame.[2]

Sports car and NASCAR racing career[edit]

MacDonald began racing in 1956, running a ’55 Chevrolet Corvette on Southern Californian drag strips. He won over 100 trophies between 1956 and 1959, all in Corvettes.

At the 1958 NHRA Western US Drag Racing Championships at Chandler Air Force Base in Arizona, MacDonald set two standing start speed records in a stock '58 Corvette - 104.68 mph in the ¼ mile and 123.11 mph in the 1/2 mile. Between 1958-1962 he drove Corvettes to six more speed records in the 1/4, 1/2 and one-mile distances at annual US speed trials.

MacDonald moved to the road racing circuit in 1960, and his first race was at Willow Springs Raceway on February 13-14. He ran a ’57 Corvette to a fourth place finish, behind winner Bob Bondurant in Saturday’s preliminary race, and then won Sunday’s feature race to record his first ever victory. At the end of the 1962 season, he had driven Corvettes to 28 victories in 64 races, including 42 top-three finishes. MacDonald’s unique style of drifting through turns at full speed made him a crowd favorite and earned him the nickname "Master of Oversteer".[3]

Dave MacDonald in Riverside Raceway win driving his custom No. 00 Corvette Special - March 1962

In July 1962, Zora Arkus-Duntov selected Dave MacDonald and Dick Thompson to test-drive the new 1963 Corvette Sting Ray at the General Motors Proving Grounds in Milford, Michigan. General Motors used footage of the drivers testing the cars to create a promotional film entitled "Biography of a Sports Car".[4] The film was distributed around the globe as part of GM's marketing campaign promoting the new sports car. The following month, Duntov and other Chevrolet executives presented MacDonald with the first ever 1963 Z06 Sting Ray. MacDonald debuted the Sting Ray at Riverside Raceway in October 1962, in a highly anticipated matchup with Carroll Shelby’s new Ford Cobra roadster. MacDonald and Cobra driver Billy Krause exchanged the lead for the first hour before both cars dropped out with mechanical troubles.

At the start of the 1963 season, Carroll Shelby hired MacDonald away from Chevrolet to drive his Cobra roadster. In his first outing for Shelby American, MacDonald drove Cobra CSX2026 to back-to-back victories at Riverside International Raceway on February 2-3, 1963. These were the Cobra’s first wins. Teammate Ken Miles finished second both days in Cobra CSX2002.[5]

On February 17, 1963, MacDonald finished fourth in Cobra CSX2026 at the Daytona Continental FIA to give the Cobra its first top-five finish in international competition. Shelby retired the 260ci engines after this race and debuted the new Ford 289ci engine at the SCCA sanctioned races at Dodger Stadium on March 3-4, 1963. MacDonald again won both days in Cobra CSX2026 for the 289's first wins.[6]

Dave MacDonald takes wife Sherry on victory lap in Shelby Cobra CSX2128. Pomona July 1963.

In the fall of 1963, MacDonald rose to national prominence after driving Shelby King Cobra CM/1/63 to back-to-back grand prix wins, in the two biggest and richest road races in America - the Los Angeles Times Grand Prix and the Monterey Pacific Grand Prix. These were the first wins for the Shelby King Cobra.[7] In his next three races he finished second at the Hawaiian Grand Prix in Cobra roadster CSX2136, second at NASCAR’s Golden State 400 in the Wood Brothers No. 21 Ford and second in NASCAR’s Augusta 510 behind Holman/Moody teammate and race winner Fireball Roberts.[8] For his efforts, MacDonald was awarded the Helms Athletic Foundation’s "Athlete of the Month" medallion for October 1963. The award was first issued in 1936 and given to the athlete who dominated his or her sport through outstanding performance. MacDonald was only the ninth auto racer to receive this honor and the first during the US football season.[9]

Nineteen sixty-four would be MacDonald’s final year in racing, and while remaining committed to a full Cobra schedule with Shelby American, he signed to run 21 races on the NASCAR circuit for Ford factory member, Bill Stroppe. MacDonald also signed a two-year contract with Mickey Thompson to run the 1964 and ’65 Indianapolis 500s.

On February 23, 1964, MacDonald competed in his first and only Daytona 500, finishing 10th in a Bill Stroppe Mercury. The ’64 driver lineup is considered the greatest field in NASCAR history by NASCAR.com[10] [11] Richard Petty won the '64 race, capturing his first of seven Daytona 500s.

MacDonald wins the 1963 LA Times Grand Prix in Shelby King Cobra CM/1/63 (Allen Kuhn photo)

March 1, 1964, MacDonald won the United States Road Racing Championships at Augusta International Raceway in Shelby King Cobra CM/1/63. His average speed of 97.653 MPH was 11 MPH faster than the previous track record set by Fireball Roberts in the Augusta 510.[12] After this victory, hall of fame motor sports journalist, Chris Economaki, wrote that, "Dave MacDonald just stamped himself as one of today's road racing greats".[13]

On March 21, 1964, MacDonald and Bob Holbert drove Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe CSX2287 to a GT Class win (fourth overall) in the 12 Hours of Sebring international endurance race. It was the highest finish for an American team at Sebring and the first win for the Shelby Cobra Daytona coupe.[14]

On April 19, 1964, MacDonald won the Phoenix FIA National Open at Phoenix International Raceway in Shelby King Cobra-Lang Cooper CM/1/64. This was the debut outing for CM/1/64 and its first win.[15]

On May 10, 1964, MacDonald won the United States Road Racing Championships at Kent, Washington, in King Cobra CM/3/63. The victory put him in a tie atop the United States Drivers' Championship standings with Jim Hall .[16] This would be MacDonald's last race before his death, three weeks later, in the Indy 500.

Indy 500[edit]

Mickey Thompson hired MacDonald to drive one of his radical low profile rear-engine race cars in the 1964 Indy 500. Thompson's Ford-powered racers were specifically designed to run on 12" tires and, after debuting in the 1963 Indy 500, the cars became known as "roller skates". They were far ahead of their time, but badly designed and difficult to drive.[17] Graham Hill tested the car before the '63 Indy race and refused to drive it because of its poor handling, a condition made worse for 1964 when Thompson was forced to completely redesign the cars to accommodate the new USAC-mandated 15-inch (380 mm) minimum tire height. One of the changes Thompson made to improve stability was to fit his cars with full-fendered aerodynamic body kits, unheard of at Indy's open-wheeled speedway. Thompson hired MacDonald, a rookie at Indy, and veteran racer Masten Gregory to drive two of his three cars in 1964, but several of the top drivers declined offers to drive the revolutionary but undeveloped cars. Graham Hill tested Thompson's new ‘64 design and, like the previous year, he declined. Thompson selected Duane Carter to join Gregory and MacDonald, and in the first week of May, all three cars crashed or spun in practice. Gregory quit the team, citing the poor handling of his car, and Thompson found it difficult to find a replacement, as other available drivers took the advice of Gregory and stayed away. Fifteen-time Indy 500 competitor Eddie Johnson did accept Thompson’s offer and joined the team in mid-May. It was reported that while out practicing with MacDonald on Carb Day, 1963 World Champion Jim Clark noticed strange movements from MacDonald's car, followed him into the pits and urged him to "Get out of that car, mate - just walk away." [18] According to journalist Chris Economaki, MacDonald never practiced with a full load of fuel due to Thompson's focus on high speeds. Despite handling woes, MacDonald qualified the Thompson No. 83 car at an average speed of 151.464 mph, placing him in the middle of row five and in 14th position. Johnson qualified Gregory's reconstructed No. 84 car, and placed it on the outside of row eight and in 24th position. On the final day of qualifying, Thompson hired Chuck Arnold (15th in the 1959 Indy 500) to try and qualify the No. 82 car, but after spinning twice in the morning practice, Arnold walked away. With only a few hours left in qualifying, Thompson approached Gregory and asked if he would come back to the team and run the No. 82 car. Gregory, still without a ride for the 500, agreed to attempt to qualify the car for Thompson, but said he would not run it in the race. Gregory made a late day run but was unable to get up to speed and neither he nor the No. 82 car ran the 500. [19]


MacDonald started in the 14th position in the 1964 Indy 500, and after dropping two positions on the first lap, he began passing cars and moving toward the leaders.[20] As he passed Johnny Rutherford and Eddie Sachs, Rutherford noticed that MacDonald's car was very loose. Rutherford later said that, watching the behavior of MacDonald's car, he thought, "Whoa, he's either going to win this thing or crash."[21] MacDonald was in the 10th position as he came out of turn four and on to the front straight to complete lap two. As MacDonald moved left to pass Walt Hansgen, the front end of his car lifted and he lost control. His car slid across the track and hit the inside retaining wall, igniting the 45 gallon fuel load and causing a massive fire. His car then slid back up the track toward the outside wall and six more cars became involved. Eddie Sachs, blinded by flames and smoke, broadsided MacDonald's car, resulting in another fireball. For the first time in its history, the Indianapolis 500 was stopped because of an accident. According to reports, Sachs died instantly due to blunt-force injuries, while MacDonald was transported to Methodist Hospital of Indianapolis and died two hours later. Eddie Johnson retired the other Thompson car after only six laps. The fiery crash led to safety changes at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, including a USAC requirement that cars carry less fuel, a change that led every team to switch from gasoline to methanol prior to the next year's Indy 500.[22] [23] [24]

Carroll Shelby, Mickey Thompson, Bill Stroppe and Don Steves were among the pallbearers serving at MacDonald's funeral.


  • MacDonald drove each of the legendary Shelby Cobras — Cobra roadster, King Cobra, King Cobra-Lang Cooper and Cobra Daytona coupe — to their first victories
  • In 1964, MacDonald was set to make his motion picture debut in the Universal Pictures film, The Lively Set.[25] The movie starred James Darren, Pamela Tiffin and Doug McClure, and was billed as a racing adventure. MacDonald played himself in the movie while also performing driving duties for Darren’s character, “Casey Owens”. Universal was in the final stages of editing when MacDonald was killed in the Indianapolis 500. Citing sensitivity concerns, the studio delayed the release by two months and removed MacDonald’s character from final editing, leaving a cameo appearance.[26] Mickey Thompson, Duane Carter (MacDonald’s Indy teammates) and Billy Krause also had cameos.
  • In 2005, the Augusta International Raceway Preservation Society (AIRPS), in conjunction with city officials and homebuilders, named the main road looping through the new Diamond Lakes housing development as Dave MacDonald Drive. A portion of the community is built on old speedway land. Augusta International Raceway was constructed in 1963, but only three races were ever run there - two USRRC events and one NASCAR race. MacDonald competed in all three; finishing first in King Cobra CM/1/63 and second in a Cobra roadster in the USRRC races, and second in NASCAR's Augusta 510.[27]
  • In 2008, Carroll Shelby told Hot Rod magazine that, "Dave MacDonald had more raw talent probably than any race driver I ever saw."[28]
  • At the 2010 "Legends of Riverside" event honoring Carroll Shelby, the Riverside International Automotive Museum posthumously honored MacDonald for his accomplishments at California's famed race track. Richie Ginther, Phil Hill and Chuck Daigh were also honored at the event.
  • In 2013, The Henry Ford created a Dave MacDonald photo set that is now archived in their image collection[29]
  • In 2014, Dave MacDonald is to be inducted into the Corvette Hall of Fame[30]
  • The MacDonald family actively participate in tributes to Dave, Carroll Shelby, and in other motorsport-related activity. Widow Sherry, along with daughter Vicki and son Rich, also participate.

Sports car, NASCAR and Indy 500 results[edit]

Year Races Wins Top 3 finish
1960 16 3 10
1961 24 15 18
1962 28 10 14
1963 35 16 22
1964 12 3 5
Totals 115 47 69



  1. ^ "Driver results — Dave MacDonald". 
  2. ^ National Corvette Museum Corvette Hall of Fame. 
  3. ^ Shelby Cobra - The Shelby American Original Archives 1962 - 1965 pg 76. 
  4. ^ GM Biography of a Sports Car. 
  5. ^ Cobra's first win - Dave MacDonald at Riverside 1963. 
  6. ^ Shelby American Collection - Racing Archives. 
  7. ^ Shelby Cobra - The Shelby American Original Archives 1962 - 1965 pg 70. 
  8. ^ October 1963 Race Results - Dave MacDonald. 
  9. ^ The Helms Athletic Foundation "Athlete of the Month" award. 
  10. ^ "NASCAR.com - "Greatest Field in NASCAR History"". 
  11. ^ ""Auto Racing Review - Greatest Field in NASCAR History"". 
  12. ^ "1964 USRRC at Augusta International Raceway". 
  13. ^ "Davemacdonald.net - 1964 USRRC at Augusta International Raceway - Chris Economaki on MacDonald". 
  14. ^ "The CarSource.com - Shelby Daytona Cobra Coupes". 
  15. ^ "Phoenix International Raceway Historical Timeline". 
  16. ^ "United States Drivers Championship Standings May 1964". 
  17. ^ "American Driver, Lone Star JR Johnny Rutherford — Columns — Automobile Magazine". 
  18. ^ ""Team Lotus: The Indianapolis Years" by author Andrew Ferguson - 1996". 
  19. ^ ""Black Noon" by author Art Garner - 2014". 
  20. ^ ""Black Noon" by author Art Garner - 2014". 
  21. ^ "Motorsport Memorial". 
  22. ^ Los Angeles Times newspaper. 
  23. ^ Deaths of Fireball Roberts and Dave MacDonald lead to safety changes. 
  24. ^ ""Black Noon" by author Art Garner - 2014". 
  25. ^ "The Lively Set by Universal Pictures - 1964". 
  26. ^ "1964 Chrysler Turbine - George Stecher". 
  27. ^ "Augusta International Raceway Preservation Society Driver Memorial". 
  28. ^ "Hot Rod Magazine". 
  29. ^ The Henry Ford Collections - Dave MacDonald. 
  30. ^ National Corvette Museum Corvette Hall of Fame. 

External links[edit]