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 4 year racing career MacDonald competed in 115 races with 47 victories and 69 top 3 finishes.[1]

MacDonald will 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 California 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 mile distances at annual speed trials in the US.

MacDonald moved to the road racing circuit in 1960 and his first race was at Willow Springs Raceway on Saturday Feb 13, 1960 where he finished 4th behind winner Bob Bondurant. The following day MacDonald won the feature race to record his first victory. At the end of 1962 race season he had driven Corvettes to 28 victories in 64 races, including 42 Top 3 finishes. His 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 #00 Corvette Special - March 1962

In July ‘62 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. GM 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 race also marking the debut of Carroll Shelby’s new Ford Cobra.

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 Cobra’s first wins. Teammate Ken Miles finished 2nd both days in Cobra CSX2002.[5]

On February 17, 1963 MacDonald finished 4th in Cobra CSX2026 at the Daytona Continental FIA to give the Cobra its first top 5 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 2nd at the Hawaiian Grand Prix in Cobra Roadster CSX2136, 2nd at NASCAR’s Golden State 400 in the Wood Brothers #21 Ford and 2nd 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]

1964 would be MacDonald’s final year in racing and while he remained committed to a full Cobra schedule with Shelby American he signed with Ford factory member Bill Stroppe to run 21 races on the NASCAR circuit. MacDonald also signed a 2-yr contract with Mickey Thompson to run the ’64 & ’65 Indianapolis 500.

On February 23, 1964 MacDonald ran a Bill Stroppe Mercury in his first and only Daytona 500. The ’64 lineup is considered "The Greatest Field in NASCAR History” by NASCAR.com[10] [11] and MacDonald finished 10th. Richard Petty was race winner capturing his first of seven Daytona 500's

MacDonald wins 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 said "Dave MacDonald just stamped himself as one of today's road racing greats".[13]

March 21, 1964, MacDonald and Bob Holbert drove Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe CSX2287 to a GT Class win (4th OA) in the 12 Hours of Sebring international endurance race. It was the highest ever finish for an American team at Sebring and the first win for the Cobra Daytona Coupe.[14]

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 and only win.[15]

May 10, 1964 MacDonald won the United States Road Racing Championships at Kent WA 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 tiny 12" tires and after debuting in the 1963 Indy 500 the cars became known as "Super 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 ’64 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. 15-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 movement 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 #83 car at an average speed of 151.464 mph, placing him in the middle of row 5 and in 14th position. Johnson qualified Gregory's reconstructed #84 car and placed it on the outside of row 8 and in 24th position. Thompson hired Chuck Arnold to run the #82 car on the final day of qualifying but after spinning twice in morning practice Arnold walked away. Thompson then turned to Gregory who agreed to a last minute qualifying attempt in the #82 car but said he would not run it in the race. Gregory was unable to get the car up to speed and neither he nor the #82 car ran the 500. [19]


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."[20] On the second lap, MacDonald spun coming off the fourth turn toward the front straight. The car began to slide across the track and hit the inside wall, igniting the 45 gallon fuel load which caused 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. MacDonald was transported to Methodist Hospital of Indianapolis where he died two hours later. Eddie Johnson retired the other Thompson car after only 6 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.[21] [22] [23]

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-ever victories.
  • In 1964 MacDonald played a cameo role in the Universal Pictures film The Lively Set. [24] The movie's release date of July 1, 1964 was delayed by three months after MacDonald's death at Indy. Additional scenes featuring MacDonald were removed from the movie with the studio citing sensitivity concerns for both.
  • 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. AIR was constructed in 1963 but only three races were ever run - two USRRC events and one NASCAR race. MacDonald competed in all three; finishing 1st in King Cobra CM/1/63 and 2nd in a Cobra Roadster in the USRRC races, and 2nd in NASCAR's Augusta 510.[25]
  • In 2008 Carroll Shelby told Hot Rod magazine that "Dave MacDonald had more raw talent probably than any race driver I ever saw".[26]
  • 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 this event.
  • In 2013, The Henry Ford created a Dave MacDonald photo set that is now archived in their vast image collection.[27]
  • In 2014, Dave MacDonald will be inducted into the Corvette Hall of Fame.[28]
  • The MacDonald family actively participate in tributes to Dave, Carroll Shelby, and other motorsport-related activity. Widow Sherry, along with daughter Vicki and son Rich, actively participate.
  • Granddaughters Brianna (Princeton) and Erikka (Stanford) Moreno both played NCAA Division I softball in the late 2000s, with the two facing off against each other in 2008 and 2009.

Sports Car, NASCAR & 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



External links[edit]