Corvette Timeline Tales: July 23, 1936 – Happy Birthday to Corvette Racer, Dave MacDonald
Dave MacDonald – “The Master of Oversteer”
“I think Dave had more raw talent probably than any race driver I ever saw.” – Carroll Shelby
The original Grand Sport Corvette is considered by many to be the ultimate “could have been” Corvette. Well, when it comes to drivers that raced and loved Corvettes, El Monte, California race car driver, Dave MacDonald is arguably the greatest “could have been” Corvette race car driver. That’s not just my opinion – that’s what I learned from researching Dave MacDonald’s racing career, from his contemporaries. Many drivers and team owners from Dave’s day are on record stating that had Dave’s life not been cut short at the ‘64 Indy 500, he would have likely been one of the greats. MacDonald’s shining star was about to go super nova!
While I was familiar with Dave MacDonald from books in my Corvette library, it wasn’t until I started researching Dave’s background while working on a story for VETTE Magazine that I learned what a terrific guy he was. If you look in your Corvette books that have chapters covering the early ‘60s road racing scene, look for the “00” Corvette with the tail hanging out. That’s Dave “The Master of Oversteer” MacDonald.
Oversteer, or “rear-wheel drifting” isn’t seen very much these days, thanks to wide, sticky tires. But try to imagine the “fun level” of driving a road course as fast as possible, with nearly 400-horsepower, riding on 6.5-inch tires. Actually, it didn’t take much to kick out the back end of those cars. The trick was how to control and maintain the drift to setup the car for the straightway blast. MacDonald used the technique better than anyone of his day and the fans loved him for it.
But MacDonald wasn’t just a wild daredevil-type. He won races. LOTS of races. Dave’s driving career only lasted four years and three months and was tragically cut short at the ‘64 Indy 500. You can catch the details of the ‘64 Indy race in the Wikipedia link below. Dave was just 24 years old when he started racing professionally, but in that short time, he entered 101 races, racked up 44 wins and 65 top-three finishes! In 1961 MacDonald entered 20 races and won 13 events and took three second place finishes. Then, in 1962, Dave won the first seven races of the season.
Here’s Dr. Dick Thompson, Zora Arkus-Duntov, and Dave MacDonald discussing the performance characteristic of the new 1963 Sting Ray. A few months later, Dave and his wife Sherry were given the opportunity to drive ‘63 Z06 Sting Ray #001 from the St. Louis Corvette assembly plant to California to be preped for the LA Times race.
A driver that good, doesn’t go unnoticed. Carroll Shelby and Zora Arkus Duntov were closely following MacDonald’s career. Duntov was so impressed with the young MacDonald that he invited Dave, along with Dr. Dick Thompson, to test drive the new ‘63 Sting Ray in July 1962 for a special promotional film about the revolutionary, upcoming Corvette Sting Ray.
Not only had MacDonald accumulated a very impressive victory record, Dave and his partner, Jim Simpson build the first independent, purpose-built Corvette race car, the 1961 Corvette Special. This was a Max Balchowsky-built tube frame car, powered by a slightly modified 283 Fuelie Corvette engines, and a lightweight, 7/8s scale ‘61 Corvette body. How “light” was the car you ask? How’s 1,750-pounds grab ya?
The whereabouts of this car are not known. Many have looked and researched, but the car is nowhere to be found. The best guess is that it has rusted away in a salvage yard in Hawaii, near Pearl Harbor.
While MacDonald’s first love was the Corvette, he cut his teeth drag racing Vettes, and learned to road race with a Corvette, but when opportunity came knocking with an invitation to drive for Carroll Shelby, MacDonald couldn’t say no. Dave continued his winning ways driving Cobras and along the way was deeply involved in Shelby’s Cobra Daytona Coupe and the King Cobra. He also was loaned out to drive in a few NASCAR stock car races, which he really liked a lot. The stock car fans were thrilled with MacDonald’s “tail out” driving style and Dave loved giving them a good show.
While researching Dave MacDonald’s story, Doug MacDonald, Dave’s 9-year younger brother, shared with me that shortly before Dave was tragically killed at the ‘64 Indy 500 race, he confided with his younger brother that after Indy, he wanted to move his career into the direction of building race cars and becoming a team owner – similar to what he had observed while working for Carroll Shelby. So, where Dave MacDonald’s life stream might have taken him is anyone’s guess. Another things that I found everywhere I looked about Dave was that he was liked, respected, and loved by everyone he worked and raced with.
So, HAPPY 75th BIRTHDAY to Corvette race car driver and overall great guy, Dave MacDonald. – Scott
PS – The MacDonald family has created a delightful tribute website to their beloved family member, Dave. The site is chock full of Dave’s racing record, personal cars, race cars, action shots of Dave racing, and more. This is a FUN website. To stop by for a visit, CLICK HERE.
And, you can check out Dave’s biography on his Wikipedia page, HERE.
Here’s the Chevrolet promotional film made in July 1962 featuring Zora Arkus-Duntov and drivers Dave MacDonald and Dr. Dick Thompson.