Mark Donohue

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Not to be confused with Mark Donahue, the American football player.
Mark Donohue
Mark Donohue JPGP S 75.jpg
Donohue in July 1975, at the British Grand Prix
Born (1937-03-18)March 18, 1937
Haddon Township, New Jersey
Died August 19, 1975(1975-08-19) (aged 38)
Graz, Austria
Formula One World Championship career
Nationality United States American
Active years 1971, 1974, 1975
Teams Penske and Penske-entered McLaren and March chassis
Entries 16 (14 starts)
Championships 0
Wins 0
Podiums 1
Career points 8
Pole positions 0
Fastest laps 0
First entry 1971 Canadian Grand Prix
Last entry 1975 Austrian Grand Prix

Mark Neary Donohue Jr. (March 18, 1937 – August 19, 1975), nicknamed "Captain Nice,"[1][2] and later "Dark Monohue,"[2] was an American racecar driver known for his ability to set up his own race car as well as driving it to victories.[3][4][5][6]

Donohue is probably best known as the driver of the 1500+ bhp "Can-Am Killer" Porsche 917-30 and as the winner of the Indianapolis 500 in 1972. Cars that Donohue raced include: AMC Javelin, AMC Matador, Chevrolet Camaro, Eagle-Offy, Elva Courier, Ford GT40 MK IV, Ferrari 250LM, Ferrari 512, Lola T70, Lola T330, Lotus 20, McLaren M16, Porsche 911, Porsche 917/10, Porsche 917/30, Shelby Cobra, and Shelby Mustang GT350R.

Early life[edit]

Born in Haddon Township, New Jersey, Donohue grew up in Summit,[7] graduated from the Pingry School in Hillside, and entered Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. At the age of twenty-two,[citation needed] while a senior at Brown, Donohue began racing his 1957 Corvette. He won the first event he entered, a hillclimb[2] in Belknap County, New Hampshire.[citation needed] He graduated from Brown in 1959 with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering.[2][6]

Donohue won the SCCA national championship in an Elva Courier in 1961. An experienced race driver named Walt Hansgen recognized Donohue's ability[2] and befriended him, eventually providing an MGB for Donohue to race at the 1964 Bridgehampton 500-mile (800 km) SCCA endurance event, which he won.[citation needed] Hansgen arranged for Donohue to become his teammate in 1965, co-driving a Ferrari 275 at the 12 Hours of Sebring endurance race,[2] which they finished in 11th place.[8] That year, Donohue also won two divisional championships: in SCCA B Class in a GT350 and in SCCA Formula C in a Lotus 20B.[2]

Donohue was hired on March 29, 1964 by Jack Griffith [Griffith Motors, Syosset, N.Y./Plainview, N.Y.] as design engineer for the Griffith, formerly TVR Grantura Mk III, powered by a Ford 289 cid (4.7l) V8 engine. He went on to assist TVR's David Hives in designing the Series 400 Griffith and then working on the ill-fated Bob Cumberford-designed, Intermeccanica-(Torino, Italy) produced Series 600 Griffith. During its production life, there were 192 Series 200 Griffiths built, 59 of the Series 400 and only 10 of the Series 600. During his stay at Griffith Mark drove the Griffith-owned Shelby 289 Cobra making his mark on the SCCA circuit. In February of '65 Donohue was named as comptroller at Griffith Motors but was soon spirited away from Griffith by Roger Penske early in 1966. The Griffith company closed its doors in November, 1966.[9]

Ford GT40 and joining with Penske[edit]

In 1966, thanks to his friendship with Hansgen, word quickly spread to the Ford Motor Company about the young driver. Ford immediately signed Donohue to drive one of their GT-40 Mk II race cars campaigned at the 24 Hours of Le Mans by the Holman & Moody racing team. Le Mans proved frustrating for Donohue. Hansgen died while testing the GT40 in preparation for Le Mans so Donohue partnered with Australian Paul Hawkins. Donohue and Hawkins only completed twelve laps due to differential failure and finished 47th.[10] Earlier that year, co-driving with Hansgen, Donohue finished third at the 24 Hours of Daytona and second at the 12 Hours of Sebring.[2]

At Hansgen's funeral, Roger Penske spoke to Donohue about driving for him. In his first race for Penske, at Watkins Glen in June 1966, Donohue qualified well but crashed the car at the top of a hill, destroying the car.[2]

Donohue was invited back to Le Mans by Ford in 1967. Ford had developed a new GT, the Mark IV. Donohue co-drove in the No. 4 yellow car with sports car driver and race car builder Bruce McLaren for Shelby American Racing. The two drivers disagreed on many aspects of racing and car setup, but as a team were able to muster a fourth-place finish in the endurance classic.[11]

In 1967, Penske contacted Donohue about driving Penske's brand new Lola T70 spyder in the United States Road Racing Championship. Donohue dominated the 1967 United States Road Racing Championship, driving a Lola T70 MkIII Chevrolet for Roger Penske. Donohue raced in seven of the eight races that year, winning six (at Las Vegas, Riverside, Bridgehampton, Watkins Glen, Pacific Raceways, and Mid-Ohio) and finishing third at the Laguna Seca Raceway round behind Lothar Motschenbacher and Mike Goth.

In 1968, Donohue and Penske returned to defend their USRRC championship with the McLaren M6A Chevrolet. Donohue did not start the first race of the year at Circuit Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City due to problems getting the engine to start. Despite this, Donohue still dominated the series, even though he suffered three DNFs during the season due to mechanical problems with the M6A.


Donohue began his Trans-Am series campaign in 1967, winning three of twelve races in a Roger Penske-owned Chevrolet Camaro. In 1967 and 1968, Trans-Am schedule included two of the most prized endurance races in the world, the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring. Donohue finished fourth at Daytona and won the Trans-Am class at the 12 Hours of Sebring.

1968 would be a banner year for Donohue in the Trans-Am series, as he successfully defended his 12 Hours of Sebring victory by partnering with Craig Fisher and driving his Penske Chevrolet Camaro to victory. Donohue went on to win 10 of 13 races, a Trans-Am series record which would stand until Tommy Kendall went 11 for 13 in the 1997 Trans-Am championship, winning the first 11 races that year in his All-Sport liveried Mustang.

Donohue was considered a leading Trans-Am driver of the late 1960s and early 1970s. His Camaros and Javelins won three Trans-Am championships (his last in 1971) while driving Camaros and AMC Javelins, all for Roger Penske Racing.

During their enormous success in Trans-Am, Roger and Mark would begin to experiment with their Camaros. They discovered that dipping a car in an acid bath would eat away small amounts of metal, which in turn made the car incrementally lighter, and allowed it to be driven faster around the track. The 1967 Z-28 won its last race by lapping the entire field of cars, raising eyebrows throughout the paddock.[citation needed]

During a post-race inspection, race stewards discovered that the car was 250 pounds lighter than the 2800-pound minimum weight requirement. Donohue was about to have his race victory taken away for cheating, but Roger Penske stepped in. Penske warned that any disqualification would have the potential of motivating Chevrolet to pull all support for the Trans-Am series. After considering the potential consequences, the race stewards allowed Donohue's victory to stand, but the rules for the 1968 season incorporated a change whereby all cars would be weighed during the technical inspection before the race.

Penske and Donohue did not stop acid-dipping after this, however. Continuing the practice of reducing weight allowed them to place weights of certain sizes strategically in specific locations within the car, thus helping to balance the car while being driven on the limit. Acid-dipping car bodies was prevalent with competing Trans-Am teams as well.

They continued to use the "lightweight" car in 1968, at the Sebring 12-hour race. They changed the grille and taillight to the 1968 model, and then painted both cars identically. They sent the legal weight car through the technical inspection with the number 15 and again with the number 16 on it. Then they put both cars in the race, number 15 and 16, one car being 250 pounds lighter. They won the race, finished 3rd overall, and went on to win 10 out of 13 races that year.

They also acid-dipped the body on the Camaro and had to caution people not to lean against it, for fear it would dent. The lightweight car was featured on an episode of Dream Car Garage on Speed TV in 2005.

In 1970 new Javelin team owner Roger Penske and driver Mark Donohue would breathe new life into the AMC team. Donohue drove the Javelin to three victories and finished second overall in the manufacturers' championship and missed the drivers' championship by only two points. In 1971 Donohue won the final six races in a row and seven out of nine to become the Trans-Am Champion. In the final race of the season, all three Javelins finished in 1st, 2nd and 3rd places making AMC the season winner among all manufacturers.

Donohue and Penske tackle the Indianapolis 500[edit]

Donohue won the inaugural Pocono 500 in 1971

In 1969, Penske and Donohue raced in their first Indianapolis 500,[12] where Donohue finished seventh, winning the rookie of the year award. Donohue raced at Indianapolis each year following, finishing second in 1970 and 25th in 1971.

Donohue won in 1972, driving for Roger Penske. He finished the race in his McLaren-Offy setting a record speed of over 162 mph (261 km/h),[13] which stood for twelve years. The victory was the first for Penske in the Indy 500.


1972 Aurora AFX HO Scale "flying brick" Penske-Donohue Matador

Donohue raced in several NASCAR Grand American races, a NASCAR pony car division from 1968 until 1971. In the 1972-1973 season, driving an AMC Matador for Penske Racing in NASCAR's top division, the Winston Cup Series, Donohue won the season-opening event at Riverside in 1973.[14]

That race was Penske's first NASCAR win in a long history of NASCAR participation and remains to this day, the last non-regular (non-full schedule) driver (road course ringer) to win a NASCAR Winston Cup road race.

Although photographs of Donohue with the more aerodynamic 1974 Matador coupe exist and are published, he did not drive it in competition.

Can-Am killer[edit]

Between 1971 and 1972, Penske Racing (along with Donohue as the primary test and development driver) was commissioned by Porsche to assist with development of the 917/10. Donohue extensively tested the 917-10, offering up his substantial engineering knowledge to the Porsche engineers in order to design the best possible race car to compete in the Can-Am series. During testing of the 917-10 at Road Atlanta, Donohue had recommended larger brake ducts to the Porsche engineers, in order to provide more efficient cooling, and thus less fade and degradation as a race wears on.

The Porsche engineers obliged, but in doing so, caused the new brake ducts to interfere with the bodywork closure pins, which attach the bodywork to the car. Coming out of turn seven, the rear bodywork flew off the car at approximately 150 mph (240 km/h), causing the car to become extremely unstable. The car lifted off the ground and tumbled multiple times down the track. The front of the car was completely torn away, leaving Donohue, still strapped to his safety seat, with his legs dangling outside the car. Amazingly, Donohue only suffered a broken leg. George Follmer, Donohue's old Trans-Am teammate, resumed testing the 917-10 while Donohue was recuperating. In classic Donohue style, Donohue said of Follmer testing his car:

The Can-Am Killer, Porsche 917-30, on display at the Porsche Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen Museum, Germany

Porsche, Penske, and Donohue quickly started the development of the 917-30, complete with a reworked aerodynamic "Paris" body and a 5.4-liter turbocharged Flat-12 engine whose output could be adjusted between approximately 1100 and 1500 bhp[citation needed] by turning a boost knob located in the cockpit. During the development of this motor, the German Porsche engineers often asked Donohue if the motor finally had enough power. His tongue-in-cheek answer was "it will never have enough power until I can spin the wheels at the end of the straightaway in high gear."

Donohue set the world closed-course speed record driving the Porsche 917-30 at the Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Alabama on August 9, 1975. His average speed around the 2.66-mile (4.28 km) high-banked oval was 221.120 mph (355.858 km/h). Donohue held the world record for eleven years, until it was broken by Rick Mears at Michigan International Speedway.

The 917-30 is referred to as the "Can-Am killer"[citation needed] as it dominated the competition, winning every race but one of the 1973 Can-Am championship, however, the SCCA imposed fuel limitations for all Can-Am races due to the existing Arab oil embargo. Because of this, Porsche and McLaren withdrew from the series. It generally is considered one of the most powerful and most dominant racing machines ever created.

The first IROC Champion[edit]

The Porsche Carrera RSR in which Donohue won the inaugural IROC championship

Donohue raced in the inaugural IROC series in 1973/74, racing identical, specially-prepared Porsche RSRs. Of the four-race series, Donohue won the first and third of three races at Riverside and the final race of the year at Daytona. The only person to beat Donohue was his former Penske Trans-Am teammate, George Follmer. In winning the first IROC championship, Donohue beat the best-of-the-best racing drivers of that era from all of the major championships, such as Denny Hulme, Richard Petty, A.J. Foyt, Emerson Fittipaldi, Bobby Allison, David Pearson, Peter Revson, Bobby Unser, and Gordon Johncock.

Retirement and Formula One[edit]

The pressures of racing and designing the car took their toll on Donohue. By 1973, the "Captain Nice" nickname he had earned earlier in his career was being supplanted by the nickname "Dark Monohue".[2] Donohue announced that he would retire from racing after the 1973 Can-Am season. In addition, the horrific events at the 1973 Indianapolis 500 and the subsequent death of his friend, Swede Savage, pushed him to quit. His retirement was short-lived, however, as he was lured back to full-time competitive driving by Roger Penske when Penske formed a Formula One team, Penske Cars Ltd, to compete in the final two events of the 1974 Formula One World Championship, and to continue competing in 1975 with the new Penske PC1.

Donohue previously had debuted in Formula One on September 19, 1971 with a Penske-sponsored McLaren at the Canadian Grand Prix at Mosport Park, finishing on the podium in third place. After being lured out of retirement by his former boss, Penske, Donohue returned to Formula One, entering into the final two races of the 1974 Formula One season. Donohue finished in 12th place at the Canadian Grand Prix, but failed to finish at the United States Grand Prix.

A full-on assault of the 1975 Formula One season was planned. The 1975 season turned out to be a difficult one for Donohue and Penske. Donohue was able to muster 5th-place finishes at the Swedish Grand Prix and the British Grand Prix, but the new Penske PC1 chassis proved problematic, as evidenced by three retirements in the first six races. At the Austrian Grand Prix, Donohue's career, along with Roger Penske's Formula One aspirations, would take a tragic turn.


Donohue driving a Penske PC1 at the 1975 Race of Champions

Midway through the 1975 F1 season, Penske abandoned the troublesome PC1 and started using the March 751. Donohue recently had arrived in Austria for the Austrian Grand Prix at the Österreichring race track following the successful closed-course speed record attempt at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama just a few days earlier. During a practice session for the race, Donohue lost control of his March after a tire failed, sending him careening into the catch fencing at the fastest corner on the track, Vöest Hügel Kurve. A track marshal was killed by debris from the accident, but Donohue did not appear to be injured significantly. It is said that Donohue's head struck either a catch fencing post or the bottom of the wood frame for an advertising billboard located alongside of the racetrack. A headache resulted, however, and worsened. After going to the hospital of Graz the next day, Donohue lapsed into a coma from a cerebral hemorrhage and died.[4] He was survived by his wife and two sons from his first marriage.[5][15] Donohue is buried at St. Teresa Cemetery in Summit, New Jersey.[16]

Commemorations and legacy[edit]

In 2003, in commemoration of Penske Racing's 50th NASCAR win, Nextel Cup driver Ryan Newman drove a Dodge Intrepid painted to resemble Donohue's 1973 AMC (with a #12 and current Alltel decals) at the fall Rockingham, North Carolina, race. Penske's first NASCAR win came at the hands of Donohue.

Roger Penske's new Penske Racing complex in Mooresville, North Carolina is decorated with various murals of Donohue and his racing cars, most notably the AMC stock car and the various Porsche prototypes that Donohue drove through his career.

Donohue chronicled his entire racing career in the book, The Unfair Advantage (co-written with noted motorsports and engineering journalist Paul Van Valkenburgh). The book documents his career from his first races to his final full season of racing the year before he was killed. This was not merely a celebrity autobiography, but a detailed, step-by-step record of the engineering approach he took to getting the absolutely highest performance from every car he drove, always looking for that elusive "unfair advantage". Donohue (along with Penske) were pioneers in many rights, some as notable as the use of a skidpad as a tool for developing and perfecting race car suspension designs and setups. The book told how Donohue learned to exploit the antilock braking system and the powerful turbocharged engine of several prototype Porsches, as well as how he learned from various mishaps, including a near-fatal crash. Penske and Donohue also improved upon a process called "acid dipping" when racing in the 1967 and 1968 Trans-Am series, as discussed above. The book was published shortly before Donohue's death.

The book was re-released in 2000 by Bentley Publishers (Cambridge, Massachusetts). It includes information and additional photography that was not available before the first edition was published, but understandably had few new events to describe, aside from the author's death.

Donohue's racing tradition is carried on by his son, David Donohue, a successful road racer in his own right. He currently races a Daytona Prototype Porsche Riley for Brumos Racing in the Grand-Am racing series, who won the 2009 Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona.


Motorsports career results[edit]

SCCA National Championship Runoffs[edit]

Year Track Car Engine Class Finish Start Status
1961 Elva Courier MGA E Production 1 1 Running
1965 Daytona International Speedway Lotus 20B Ford Formula C 2 8 Running
Ford Mustang GT350 Ford B Production 10 2 Retired
1966 Riverside Raceway Ford Mustang GT350 Ford B Production Disqualified

Formula One World Championship[edit]


Year Entrant Chassis Engine 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 WDC Points
1971 Penske-White Racing McLaren M19A Ford V8 RSA ESP MON NED FRA GBR GER AUT ITA CAN
16th 4
NC 0
1975 Penske Cars Penske PC1 Ford V8 ARG
15th 4
March 751 GBR

Indy 500 results[edit]

Year Chassis Engine Start Finish Entrant
1969 Lola Offy 4th 7th Penske
1970 Lola Ford 5th 2nd Penske
1971 McLaren Offy 2nd 25th Penske
1972 McLaren Offy 3rd 1st Penske
1973 Eagle Offy 3rd 15th Penske


Winston Cup Series[edit]

Daytona 500[edit]
Year Team Manufacturer Start Finish
1972 Penske Racing AMC Matador 10 35

International Race of Champions[edit]

(key) (Bold – Pole position. * – Most laps led.)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lyons, Pete (1995). Can-Am. Osceola, Wisconsin: Motorbooks International. p. 16. ISBN 0-7603-0017-8. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Posey, Sam (June 1992). Bryant, Thos L., ed. "Magnificent Obsession". Road & Track. Newport Beach, CA USA: Hachette Magazines. 43 (10): 146–157. ISSN 0035-7189. But despite the success, people close to him ceased calling him 'Captain Nice' and referred to him instead as 'Dark Monohue'. 
  3. ^ "Donohue is no angel out there on the track – Parnelli Jones". Sarasota Herald Tribune. (Florida). Associated Press. February 1, 1973. p. 4-E. 
  4. ^ a b "Donohue dies of injuries". Milwaukee Sentinel. Associated Press. August 20, 1975. p. 1, part 2. 
  5. ^ a b "Donohue dies after surgery". Eugene Register-Guard. (Oregon). Associated Press. August 20, 1975. p. 1C. 
  6. ^ a b Murray, Jim (August 22, 1975). "Donohue's death ultimate irony". Lewiston Morning Tribune. (Idaho). (Los Angeles Times). p. 1B. 
  7. ^ Katz, Michael (November 4, 1973). "Donohue, on the Way Out, Views Things From Top; Calendar of Motor Sports". New York Times. p. 258. Retrieved February 18, 2011. In the nineteen fifties, when Dwight Eisenhower was President and Marilyn Monroe was the queen and Elvis Presley was becoming king, Mark Donohue was growing up in Summit, N.J., "when the hot rod phenomenon came East from California and caught me up in it." 
  8. ^ Galanos, Louis. "1965 Sebring 12-Hour Grand Prix of Endurance – Race Profile". Off Camber Group, Inc. Retrieved 25 December 2014. 
  9. ^ Mooney, Mike (2003). The Griffith Years. ISBN 0974130702. 
  10. ^ "1966 24 Hours of Le Mans Results and Competitors". Experience Le Mans. Retrieved 30 January 2016. 
  11. ^ "1967 24 Hours of Le Mans Results and Competitors". Experience Le Mans. Retrieved 30 January 2016. 
  12. ^ Prewitt, Mark (May 27, 1969). "Mark Donohue tops Indy's rookie field". Free Lance-Star. (Fredericksburg, Virginia). Associated Press. p. 8. 
  13. ^ "Mark Donohue set Indy speed record in 1972". Sarasota Herald-Tribune. (Florida). Associated Press. May 28, 1978. p. 11-D. 
  14. ^ "1973 Winston Western 500: Donohue Dominates". MRN. Retrieved 25 December 2014. 
  15. ^ "Donohue racing-death suit begins". The Day. (New London, Connecticut). Associated Press. February 14, 1984. p. 22. 
  16. ^ "Mark Donohue". Find a Grave. Retrieved August 6, 2016. 
  17. ^ Drexel University 1973 Lexerd (Yearbook), pp. 44-45.
  18. ^ "2006 Hall of Fame class announced". November 1, 2005. Retrieved May 28, 2016. 

External links[edit]

Sporting positions
Preceded by
Jerry Titus

1968-69 - Chevrolet Camaro
Succeeded by
Parnelli Jones
Preceded by
Bill Vukovich II
Indianapolis 500
Rookie of the Year

1969 - Lola-Offy
Succeeded by
Donnie Allison
Preceded by
Parnelli Jones

1971 - AMC Javelin
Succeeded by
George Follmer
Preceded by
Al Unser
Indianapolis 500

1972 - McLaren M16-Offy
Succeeded by
Gordon Johncock
Preceded by
George Follmer

1973 - Porsche 917-30
Succeeded by
Jackie Oliver
Preceded by
First Champion
International Race of Champions

1973/74 - Porsche RSR
Succeeded by
Bobby Unser
Preceded by
Helmut Koinigg
Formula One fatal accidents
August 19, 1975
Succeeded by
Tom Pryce