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. His promising career ended abruptly after a crash in the 1964 Indianapolis 500 in which he and fellow driver Eddie Sachs were killed. The fiery crash directly led to a change in fuel type from gasoline to methanol. MacDonald was born in El Monte, California and died at the age of 27.
In a brilliant but all too brief career, MacDonald competed in 110 races with 47 victories and 69 top 3 finishes. In a 2008 interview with Hot Rod, Carroll Shelby said, "I think Dave had more raw talent probably than any race driver I ever saw". MacDonald will be inducted into the 2014 class of the National Corvette Museum's Corvette Hall of Fame.
Sports Car and NASCAR racing career
MacDonald began racing in 1956 running his ’55 Chevrolet Corvette on the dragstrips of Southern California. By the end of 1959 he had amassed over 100 trophies and decided to make a go of it on the road racing circuit. His first road race was Saturday Feb 13th 1960 at Willow Springs Raceway against a loaded field of Corvette stars. He finished 4th behind winner Bob Bondurant and then came back the following day to outrun the field and edge Bondurant by a scant 2 seconds to capture his first ever victory. By the end of 1962 MacDonald had driven his Corvettes to victory in 28 of the 63 races he entered, including 42 Top 3 finishes. MacDonald’s style of drifting through turns at full speed made him an instant crowd favorite and the press soon dubbed him the "Master of Oversteer".
Carroll Shelby hired MacDonald away from the Chevrolet camp to drive his new Ford-powered Cobra Roadster in the 1963 season. MacDonald's first race for Shelby American was at Riverside International Raceway on February 2, 1963 and he recorded the Cobra Roadster 260's first-ever victory. MacDonald won the following day as well. Two weeks later MacDonald finished 4th in the Daytona FIA race to score the Cobra's first top 5 finish in international competition. Shelby retired the 260 and debuted the Cobra Roadster 289 at Dodger Stadium on March 3–4, 1963, MacDonald again won both days to give the 289 its first victory.
In the fall of 1963, MacDonald rose to national prominence during a five-week stretch where he dominated both the USRRC and NASCAR racing circuits. During that period he outdueled international fields of world class drivers to put his Shelby King Cobra in the winners circle at the two biggest and richest road races in America, the Los Angeles Times Grand Prix at Riverside and the Monterey Pacific Grand Prix at Laguna Seca Raceway.
He then drove a Cobra Roadster to a 2nd place finish in the Hawaiian Grand Prix and then jumped to the NASCAR circuit where he finished 2nd in the Golden State 400 driving Wood Brothers Racing's famous #21 car, and then 2nd again for Holman Moody in the Augusta 510. MacDonald's accomplishments were recoginized by the Helms Athletic Foundation naming him "Athlete of the Month" for October.
MacDonald's successes kept him busy and in January of '64, while still committed to a full Cobra schedule with Shelby and an Indy 500 run with Mickey Thompson, he signed with Ford factory member Bill Stroppe to run 21 NASCAR races that year. He had only run three however - including a 10th place finish in the '64 Daytona 500 - prior to his death at Indy. NASCAR.com calls the 1964 Daytona 500 lineup the "Greatest Field in NASCAR History". King Richard Petty dominanted that day and was race winner.
Following MacDonald's King Cobra victory in the United States Road Racing Championships at Augusta International Raceway on March 1, 1964, veteran motor sports journalist and editor of National Speed Sport News Chris Economaki wrote "Dave MacDonald of El Monte stamped himself as one of today's road racing greats". Later in the month MacDonald teamed with Bob Holbert to co-pilot the new Shelby Daytona Cobra Coupe to a 1st in GT & 4th OA finish in the 12 Hours of Sebring international endurance race. It was the highest ever finish for an American team.
Then in April of '64 Shelby debuted the King Cobra-Lang Cooper - a collaboration with Olympia Brewery heir Craig Lang - in the inaugural race at newly reconstructed Phoenix International Raceway. MacDonald won the Phoenix race giving the Lang King Cobra its first win and followed that with another King Cobra win at the United States Road Racing Championships at Kent Washington on May 10. This would be MacDonald's last victory before his death three weeks later in the Indy 500.
MacDonald had become one of America's top drivers when Mickey Thompson hired him to drive the radical #83 "Sears-Allstate Special" in the 1964 Indy 500. The car was a Ford-powered rear-engine design specifically built to run on low-profile 12" tires. Thompson debuted two of these revolutionary cars at the '63 Indy 500 and they became known as the "Super Skates". They were far ahead of their time, but badly designed, poorly built and difficult to drive. 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) tires. Several top drivers declined Thompson's offer to drive the cars in the '64 race including Mario Andretti. Andretti though turned it down over concerns of his lack of experience and the fact that the ride was only for Indy. Thompson selected MacDonald, Masten Gregory & 15-time Indy 500 competitor Eddie Johnson. Johnson was assigned the #82 car, MacDonald the #83 car and #84 went to Gregory, all three cars crashed in practice. When Gregory took the #84 car out for its initial test with the larger tires he quickly lost control and crashed into the wall. He told Thompson the larger tires made the car too high, causing it to lift in the turns. Gregory then abruptly quit the team. Thompson found it difficult to find a replacement as other available drivers took the advice of Gregory and stayed away. Days later Eddie Johnson nearly totalled the #82 car when he took it into the wall during a practice session. Jim Clark, the 1963 world driving champion, was out practicing with MacDonald on Carb Day when he noticed strange movement from MacDonald's car. Clark followed him into the pits and urged his friend to "Get out of that car, mate - just walk away." According to long-time motor sports journalist Chris Economaki, MacDonald never practiced with a full load of fuel due to Thompson's focus on high speeds.
MacDonald qualified the Thompson #83 car at an average speed of 151.464 mph, good for the middle of row 5 and in 14th position. Johnson qualified Gregory's rebuilt #84 car and placed it on the outside of row 8 and in 24th position. Ironically, Gregory returned to the Thompson team in the final days of qualifying but was unsuccessful in his attempt to put the #82 car in the field. Neither he nor the #82 car ran the race.
On the first lap of his first Indy 500 race in 1964, MacDonald passed at least 5 other cars. As MacDonald 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 gonna win this thing or crash."
On the second lap, MacDonald spun coming off the fourth turn. As the car began to slide, he came across the track and hit the inside wall, igniting the 45 gallon fuel load which caused a massive fire. His car then slid back across the track and six more cars became involved. Ronnie Duman crashed, spun in flames and hit the pit lane wall. He was burned but survived. Bobby Unser hit Johnny Rutherford's car on its left rear tire and crashed into the outside wall. Chuck Stevenson and Norm Hall also crashed. Popular driver Eddie Sachs, blinded by the smoke, broadsided MacDonald's burning car and died due to blunt-force injuries. Dave MacDonald died two hours later at Methodist Hospital of Indianapolis. Eddie Johnson retired the other Thompson car after only 6 laps.
The crash was well documented on film and still images, and shown worldwide. For the first time in its history, the Indianapolis 500 was stopped because of an accident. Partially in response to media pressure, USAC required that cars carry less fuel, a change that also led every team to switch from gasoline to methanol prior to the next year's Indy 500.
Carroll Shelby, Mickey Thompson, Bill Stroppe and Don Steves served as pallbearers at MacDonald's funeral.
- In 1958 MacDonald set two standing start speed records in his stock '58 Corvette at the NHRA Western US Drag Racing Championships at Chandler Air Force Base in Arizona. Dave ran 104.68 mph in the ¼ mile and then 123.11 mph in the 1/2 mile. From 1958-1962 Dave set six speed records in the 1/4, 1/2 and mile distances at annual speed trials in the US - all in Corvettes
- In 1962 Zora Arkus-Duntov selected Dave MacDonald and Dick Thompson to test-drive the new 1963 Corvette Stingray at the General Motors Proving Grounds in Milford Michigan. GM used footage of the two drivers performing an all out assault on the Milford road course, and speaking with Mr Duntov afterward, to create a promotional film entitled “Biography of a Sports Car”. The film was distributed around the globe as part of a marketing campaign promoting the new coupe.
- In 1963, the Helms Athletic Foundation named MacDonald "Athlete of the Month" for October. The award was first issued in 1936 and was given to the athlete who dominated his or her sport through outstanding performance. MacDonald was only the ninth auto racer to receive the prestigious honor and the first to receive it during the US football season.
- In 1964, MacDonald made a cameo appearance in Universal Pictures', The Lively Set. The movie starred James Darren, Pamela Tiffin and Doug McClure. MacDonald also performed racing scenes in the movie.
- In 2005, the Augusta International Raceway Preservation Society (AIRPS) posthumously honored MacDonald for his successes at the old track by naming a street after him. In conjunction with city officials and homebuilders, AIRPS dedicated the main road running through the new Diamond Lakes housing development as Dave MacDonald Drive. A portion of the community is built on land that was once the pit area and sections of the track. The speedway was constructed in 1963 but only three races were ever run — two USRRC events and one NASCAR. MacDonald competed in all three; finishing 1st in a King Cobra, 2nd in a Cobra Roadster and 2nd to teammate Fireball Roberts in NASCAR's Augusta 510.
- In 2010, the Riverside International Automotive Museum posthumously honored MacDonald as one of the "Legends of Riverside". Carroll Shelby, Richie Ginther and Phil Hill were also honored at this event.
- MacDonald distinguished himself as the man who drove each of the legendary Shelby Cobras — Cobra Roadster, King Cobra, King Cobra-Lang Cooper and Daytona Cobra Coupe — to their first-ever victories.
- The MacDonald family actively participate in tributes to Dave, Carroll Shelby, and other motorsport-related activity. Widow Sherry, along with son Rich, actively participate.
Sports Car and NASCAR results
|Year||Races||Wins||Top 3 Finish|
Indy 500 results
- "Driver results — Dave MacDonald".
- "Hot Rod Magazine".
- Shelby American Collection - Racing Archives.
- "NASCAR.com - "Greatest Field in NASCAR History"".
- "Davemacdonald.net - 1964 USRRC at Augusta International Raceway - Chris Economaki on MacDonald".
- "The CarSource.com - Shelby Daytona Cobra Coupes".
- "Phoenix International Raceway Historical Timeline".
- "American Driver, Lone Star JR Johnny Rutherford — Columns — Automobile Magazine".
- "Motorsport Memorial".
- "General Motors — Biography of a Sports Car".
- "Augusta International Raceway Preservation Society Driver Memorial".