Corvette Legends: The Great, Dave MacDonald, Part 2

Dateline: 4.14.12

Dave MacDonald: Corvette Racer… Corvette Man… Family Man

You can catch Part 1 of this story HERE.

Being hired by Shelby made the MacDonald’s life almost as fast as the cars he drove. In the 17 months between the beginning of ‘63 through to the ‘64 Indy race, MacDonald raced in 44 events. The ‘64 Indy crash was the first time the 500 had ever been stopped because of an accident. The media at the time, would regularly make big headlines over any auto racing mishap, and were all over the crash. While Indy officials quickly concluded that there was no driver error, the race was hotly debated for decades.

“After Indy, I was hurting so, I needed to change my life, so I moved a few miles away, but stayed close to  my in-laws. From Indy on, I didn’t follow racing. My interest in racing was basically ONE RACE DRIVER.” It wouldn’t be until the early ‘90s when Corvette fans started recovering and restoring old Corvette race cars that MacDonald’s all too short racing career began to get attention. “It is so gratifying and nice to meet people that raced with Dave and hear how much they admired him, not only for his skill as a driver, but for being a really nice guy.” Today Sherry MacDonald is retired and as busy as ever with volunteer projects and her large family.

Dave’s Biggest Fan – Doug MacDonald – It’s not easy growing up in the shadow of a big brother that happens to be a very successful race car driver. By the time MacDonald started drag racing, Doug was just a “in the way” little kid. When he was finally old enough to go to the drags, it was anti climatic. Doug explains, “I was too young to get into the pits, so I had to watch from the stands until it was Dave’s turn to make a run. For a little kid, it was really boring. I just wanted to see my brother race.”

That's Rich MacDonals, Dave and Sherry's son, next to Mom and Dad's supercharged '57 Chevy Nomad. Pretty cool!

From Doug’s perspective, things were very interesting around the house when Dave was working on one of his cars or the guys came over to hang out and talk. “I just hung around on the edges, trying not to get in the way, and understand what they were talking about.” One day, Dave asked Doug if he’d like to go to the road race track. “We had to get up at 3 am to load up the car and gear. It was a real adventure! Dave and Sherry had a ‘57 Chevy Nomad tow car with a supercharged 283 engine. My job was to “watch the race car.” It was a blast watching people gawk as we went down the road. Once, Dave passed a Corvette that was showing off. You should have seen the look on their faces when a Chevy station wagon towing a race car rocketed by them when the supercharger kicked in!”

When I was finally old enough to get into the pits, I discovered that from ground level, you can’t see much racing. A track official saw that I was bored and asked if I’d like to come up into the timing tower. It was the PERFECT place to watch because I could see the entire course. The official said to me, “I want you to watch your brother’s car, he tends to crash in every corner! You tell me if he does because that will help me to be able to watch the other cars.” Dave did spinout a lot, but never crashed! Later I realized later that he was perfecting his drifting technique. Dave always felt that the spectators wanted to see exciting racing, so he loved giving them a good show. He really loved the NASCAR fans because they went wild over his driving style. Our Dad went to see Dave race when he could, but Mom didn’t like it. She stayed home and worried.”

MacDonald’s work on the Shelby King Cobra, as well as the MacDonald/Simpson ‘61 Corvette Special contributed to Dave’s desire to use his racing success as a stepping stone to becoming a race car builder, as he’s seen Carroll Shelby, Jim Hall, and others do.

MacDonald was a Corvette man first, but the offer to drive Cobras was an outstanding opportunity. Chevrolet team owner Jim Simpson remembers the day Shelby came to him and asked if he could hire Dave away. “I knew it was best for Davey’s career” said Jim, “so I let him go”. “I told Carroll that that kid was going to be the world’s greatest racing driver, and you could put that in granite” (Many years later in Georgia, that’s exactly what happened.) By the time Doug was finally old enough to get into the pits, Dave soon started working for Shelby and there were lots of crew to take care of everything “I was really in the way then. I met Mr. Shelby a few times, but he always seemed very busy and was very gruff.”

Doug provided a hint as to how Dave was seeing his future in motorsports. While working for Shelby, Dave was very involved in the design and construction of Shelby’s King Cobra. That and experiencing the inside of a racing organization helped MacDonald see what he wanted for his future. Doug explains, “Just before Indy, Dave told me that after he raced at Indy, he wanted to start his own race car company and build his own team cars, with me as his main driver.” This was not an uncommon career path. Shelby had been a champion driver, as was Roger Penske, Colin Chapman, and others. Racing and cars were advancing fast and many drivers recognized that you can’t tempt fate too long.

Bob Bondurant and Sherry MacDonald at the 2010 Legends of Riverside Event.

Doug took his brother’s death so hard that he gathered all of the memorabilia he’d collected from Dave’s racing and burned everything! “I wanted NOTHING to do with cars and didn’t even drive for a car for 2-1/2 years. Finally, my Dad said, “Let’s go for a ride.” We drove 2-1/2 hours out into Death Valley to a little place called Scotty’s Castle. Dad pulled over and said, “DRIVE!” It was a very long walk back, so I reluctantly got behind the wheel and drove. By the time we got out of the desert, it all came back to me and I was feeling good about driving. “

Bob Bondurant was one of Dave’s racer pals and in 1968 opened the Bondurant High Performance Driving School. After Doug signed up and Bondurant realized who Doug was he asked, “Why do you want to do this? Look what it cost your brother.” But Doug was determined. “I sold my ‘69 Z-28 Camaro to pay for the school and right away Bondurant told me, “You drive like your brother! Slow down!” Bob’s driving philosophy was “slower is faster.” He taught students to thread the line and don’t rear wheel drift. After I completed the course, Bob was still on me a little about my MacDonald driving style. To prove his point, he took the car out and did a few laps his way. Then I took the car out and did it my way. When I was done, it turned out that I had the better lap time.”
The King Cobra has been beautifully restored. Oh, to be able to take a few hot laps in this beauty!

But by this time, things had dramatically changed in racing. The days of just being a good shoe were pretty much over and unless you had a big pocket full of money, you were a spectator. Money had taken over the sport. A few years later, Doug connected with one of Dave’s friends from the Shelby days, Louie Unser, older brother to Al and Bobbie Unser. Although Lou had MS, he was a whiz at how to build race cars. Lou helped Doug get into a dirt track car and was “Rookie of the Year.” But the car was stolen and funds were short to replace the car.

Doug raced a little here and there, but never really got a lucky break. But when a disabling inner ear disorder developed, he hung up his helmet. “You can’t be out on a race track never knowing if you might get vertigo.“ After working for a performance carburetor company for 18 years, he landed a job with Northrop Grumman. “It was kind of good to be completely out of the auto business.

In the Fall of ‘62, Dave and Sherry flew to St. Louis to pickup the very first ‘63 Z06 Sting Ray for a break-in drive back to California where the car would be prepared for racing. That's Bob Bondurant on the left.

Doug MacDonald shared one of his favorite memories of his brother. “Dave and Sherry were on their way home from St. Louis with the new Z06 Corvette and my buddies and I were all anxiously waiting at the house for their arrival. About a hour out of home, Dave called to let us know they were on their way. I’ll never forget seeing that white ‘63 Sting Ray Coupe coming around the corner. It looked to me like a Buck Rogers spaceship! But right behind them was about 17 cars that had followed Dave off the freeway! Before we knew it, there were about 40 or 50 people gathered around the Corvette asking, “What kind of car is that?!” It was just amazing and made me forever a Corvette man.” Today Doug is retired and enjoys his significant other, his speed boat, and a Atomic orange ‘07 Z06 Corvette.

Dave MacDonald’s Legacy –  Back in the days when MacDonald was racing, race cars were being developed at breathtaking speed. In some classes, a one year old car was seriously obsolete. Since drivers and team owners are only interested in winning races, used race cars were usually quickly sold off, then resold into obscurity. Of the handful of cars that MacDonald owned or was involved with only three are accounted for – the Shelby Daytona, the King Cobra, and the Don Steves ‘63 Z06 Corvette. The Z06 Corvette was featured in “Legendary Corvettes’” by Randy Leffingwell, with stunning photography by Dave Wendt. Nearly all of MacDonald’s race cars are accounted for and restored.

But one of the most unique legacies of MacDonald can be found on the opposite coast from where Dave made his name in racing – in Augusta, Georgia. On the land that once was the home of the eight-track Augusta International Racing Complex, now stands the Diamond Lakes Regional Park and a new housing community. In honor of MacDonald’s success at the speedway, the main road that runs through the community is named, “Dave MacDonald Drive.” Dave raced at Augusta three times in ‘63 and ‘64, winning the ’64 US Road Racing Championships in the Shelby King Cobra; finishing 2nd in the USRRC-GT race in a 289 Cobra Roadster, and 2nd to NASCAR legend Fireball Roberts at the Augusta 510 NASCAR race in a ’63 Ford Galaxy.

In 2005, Sherry MacDonald, her son Rich, daughter Vicki, and grand daughter Erikka, attended the dedication ceremony for the granite monument honoring the names of the drivers that raced at the eight tracks that were part of the Augusta Racing Complex. One can not help but wonder how many of the residents living in the new community know of the thunder that used to roll through the hills, courtesy of all-out racing machines.

Earlier we told you about Dave and Sherry’s first date in his red ‘55 Corvette. Thanks to VIN numbers and careful records, MacDonald’s Vette and current owners are known. Scott and Marilyn Davis of Apple Valley now own the car and it could not have a better home – The National Corvette Museum, in Bowling Green, Kentucky. The car has been beautifully restored and is part of the Mobil Service Station display. The Gypsy Red ‘55 looks right at home with the old gas station’s white with red trim motif.

In Dave MacDonald’s relatively short racing career, he was featured on the cover of 14 car magazines from 1961 to 1964. The above illustration was used on the cover of the November 1963 issue of “The Wheel” the official magazine for the San Francisco Region of the Sports Car Club of America.

Herald-Examiner Staff Writer, Wilson R. Springer was covering the ‘64 Indy 500 and captured MacDonald’s last comment to the press about his racing career after a day of track testing. In the article titled, “Wrong Writer – There’ll be No Story by El Monet’s Dedicated Young Race Driver,” MacDonald said this about his career, “There are thousands of guys who never do what they want to, and they step off a curb and get killed, or they get so disgusted with their lives that they die with heart trouble or drinking. I am doing what I always wanted to do, and I’m going to qualify for the race.” Dave MacDonald represents a time when an average guy with average means, could achieve his dreams with hard work, family support, and a machine that could deliver. Scott







Related: Special thanks to the MacDonald family for their support and assistance with this article. You can visit the Dave MacDonald tribute website HERE.

What drivers had to say about Dave MacDonald, HERE.

Corvette Legends – The Great, Dave MacDonald – Pt. 1, HERE.

Vette Videos: Watch “The Master of Oversteer” Enjoying a Day’s Work!, HERE.

Corvette Timeline Tales: July 23, 1936 – Happy Birthday to Corvette Racer, Dave MacDonald, HERE.

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