Mark Donohue
Titles by the Author
Mark Donohue

Master of the Science of Speed

American auto racing champion Mark Donohue used to joke—was he joking?—about installing an "unfair advantage" in his cars. In fact, he was born with the sharpest edge a racer can enjoy: his mind.

Motorsport is rich in personalities with a natural talent for driving fast. Rarer are those who fully understand how they do it. Donohue was among the first of the modern driver-engineers who seek speed through science. His racing record argues that he may have been the greatest.

Mark was 21 in 1958 and still a student of mechanical engineering at Brown University when he took his everyday street ride, a ’57 Corvette, to victory in his first official speed event, a New Hampshire hill climb. It was characteristic of the thoughtful young man that he regarded the win as a fluke; it was equally characteristic that he resolved to eliminate any fluke from then on. Tearing into his race cars with his own hands, restlessly and relentlessly trying one experiment after another and coolly analyzing the results, Mark learned exactly what made them faster, and what didn’t. He took an equally serious approach to his driving.

While many of his contemporaries relied on their innate ability at the wheel, Donohue the engineer strove to understand the dynamics behind high performance, and then to perfect his skill in extracting it. Where others prepared their cars well, he was obsessive about preparation. All good drivers are dedicated; Donohue was driven. And he never stopped thinking, thinking, thinking.

The results: three Sports Car Club of America amateur national championships, and two years as a pro on Ford’s mighty Le Mans team. Joining Roger Penske in 1966, Donohue helped establish one of the most dominant organizations in racing history. Twice Mark took the United States Road Racing Championship, added the Canadian-American Challenge Cup (Can-Am), and brought Trans-Am series titles to manufacturers Chevrolet and American Motors a total of three times. He also was a winning co-driver of the 24-hour sports car enduro at Daytona, and he set a world"s speed record at Talladega. Oh, and in 1972 the image of this boyish and fun-loving road racer went onto the Indianapolis 500 trophy.

Of course, racing has been called "the cruel sport;" Mark suffered many losses and disappointments too, both public and private. His life ended tragically at the age of 38 after a 1975 Formula One accident in Austria. But his legacy remains timeless.

In fact, every successful driver today owes a debt of knowledge to Mark Donohue"s pioneering work in applying science to speed.

-- by Pete Lyons, author of Can-Am and Can-Am Photo History

List of Mark Donohue Championships

  • USRRC Champion (1967-68)
  • Trans-Am Champion (1968-69-71)
  • Daytona 24-Hour Winner (1969)
  • Indy 500 Winner (1972)
  • Can-Am Champion (1973)

MARK DONOHUE CHRONOLOGY:A life mastering the science of speed

A list of victories and short sentences only begins to do justice to a racing life as rich as Mark"s. The variety of cars and significance of his accomplishments is the story of a man who availed himself of every advantage?fair and unfair.


Mark Neary Donohue, Jr. is born to Hazel and Mark Neary Donohue, Sr. in Summit, NJ on March 18.


First Car to First Win (and getting an education).

? First car at age fifteen.
? BS, Mechanical Engineering-Brown University
? First win at Belknap, New Hampshire hillclimb. 1957 Corvette

In 1952, at age fifteen, Mark finds his first car, ?a cheap 1937 Ford from which someone had cut off the top and the fenders.? Graduates from The Pingry School in 1955 and enters Brown University to study mechanical engineering. His summers are spent on Martha's Vineyard working at a gas station. At 20, with financial help from his father and technical assistance from his life-long friend, Dave Lawton, Mark buys a new 1957 Corvette equipped with two four barrel carbs and 245 horsepower. In the spring of that year, as Dave's guest, Mark enters and wins his first competitive event?a hillclimb at Belknap, NH. Graduation from Brown in 1959 is followed by a job, a few graduate courses and some ice races with the Corvette. He begins to contemplate racing with the Sports Car Club of America. Introduced by a mutual friend, Mark gets advice from someone already find-ing racing success. He is told that if he is going to go racing, he should only go first class. The advice comes from Roger Penske.


Amateur to Professional (to Penske).

? E-Production Championship Elva Courier
? Lime Rock Formula Libre Win Cooper-Offenhauser Midget
? Formula C Championship Lotus 20
? B-Production Championship Mustang Shelby GT350
? 3rd at 24 hours of Daytona, 2nd at 12 Hours of Sebring Ford GT40 MKII

Races an Elva Courier in SCCA F-Production in 1960 and begins the climb upward. The car is reclassified in 1961 to a tougher E-Production. Mark wins the national championship against drivers such as Peter Revson. Throughout 1962 Mark competes in the SCCA with his Elva Formula Jr. In 1963 he tries a Daimler in C-Production. He ?loses? his amateur status after winning the Formula Libre race at Lime Rock, in a Cooper-Offy Midget that same year. A ride in Jack Griffith's Cobra results in Mark's first national victory at Virginia International Raceway in early 1964. Mark does some modifications to a Walt Hansgen hand-me-down MGB and wins the 500 mile race at Bridgehampton. Walt Hansgen mentors Mark and helps him to his debut endurance race in a Ferrari 275 at the 12 Hours of Sebring. By 1965 Mark is driving the proper line in his development as a professional with class championships in both a Formula C Lotus 20 and a B-Production Shelby GT350?the Mustang being the first car he refers to as a ?program.? Hansgen's friendship and recommendation results in a Ford deal and a drive in a GT40 in 1966 that continues into the next year. Invited by Penske to try out his new Lola T70, Mark spends the year juggling the Mustang, the GT40, the T70, and a ?real? job. Races in the USRRC and FIA net only two wins, but he manages to finish second in the Can-Am championship with Penske Lola.


Racing Everything and Everywhere (and winning it all).

? Joins Penske Racing
? Two USRRC Championships Lola T70, McLaren M6B
? Two Trans Am Championships Camaro Z28
? Wins 24 Hours of Daytona Lola T70 coupe
? Indy Rookie of the Year Lola T152

Racing full-time for Penske in 1967, Mark begins a Trans-Am Camaro program. Three wins in the Camaro, six wins and the USRRC championship in the Lola T70, and seven Can-Am races make his first year with Penske a busy one. Still doing development and race driving for Ford, Mark races at his 2nd 24 Hours at Le Mans. He co-drives a Ford GT40MK IV with Bruce McLaren, and the duo finishes 4th. 1968 brings the Trans-Am championship and some beautifully crafted advantages. Vacuum assisted brake pad changes?among others?remain masterpieces in rules interpretation. The USRRC championship is Mark's again and a USAC program is begun. Mark continues the Can-Am effort in the McLaren M6B, finishing 3rd in the championship. 1969 begins with a win in the 24 Hours of Daytona, soon followed by the Rookie of the Year trophy at Indy after Mark qualifies fourth and finishes seventh in his first 500. Led by clues from early data acquisition instrumentation and advan-tages from a quickly banned 20+ foot tall fueling rig, the Camaro takes another Trans-Am championship with six wins. The year ends with Mark finishing 7th in the Lola T190 at his first Formula A event?the Sebring Continental.

Year Starts Wins In top 5
'67 10 3 7
'68 13 10 12
'69 11 6 8
'70 13 3 9
'71 10 7 9
totals: 57 29 45


Trans-Am to Can-Am (with a stop at Indy).

? Wins Trans Am Championship AMC Javelin
? Wins Pocono 500 and Michigan 200 McLaren M16
? Wins Indy 500 McLaren M16B

1970 saw a 2nd at Indy in the Lola-Ford and a new association with American Motors. The AMC Javelin nets three wins from some of Mark's most determined development. ?Donohue? edition Javelins are built for the street. At the wheel of the Lola T192, Mark wins two out of three Formula A starts. Mark dominates Trans-Am in 1971 with seven wins and the championship. In addition, Mark teams up with David Hobbs for four endurances races in the Ferrari 512M; places third in his first Formula One race, at Mosport in the McLaren M19; competes against the European F1 drivers in the Questor Grand Prix; and racks up 2 USAC wins at the Pocono 500 and the Michigan 200 after a heart-breaking DNF at Indy. 1972 is remembered for victory at Indy, but of perhaps greater significance, Mark becomes a formidable contender in the Can-Am series with the Porsche 917- 10. He finishes 4th in the championship despite sitting out four races with a bro-ken leg; it would only be a matter of time before Mark would dominate the series. Also notable this year is Penske Racing's first NASCAR effort, with Mark at the wheel for four of the ten Penske starts in the AMC Matador.

Year Starting Position Finish Position
'69 4 7
'70 5 2
'71 2 dnf
'72 3 1
'73 3 dnf


"Just ran with recalibrated fuel injection . . . please inform Captain of major break thru."?Mark (Getting it perfect).
- from the text sent to penske team during Porsche development work in Germany

? Can Am Championship Porsche 917-30
? Wins NASCAR Western 500 AMC Matador
? Inaugural IROC Champion IROC Porsche 911
? Sets world closed-course speed record Porsche 917-30

The words Can-Am Champion almost seem to be an understatement when remembering 1973. No other driver/car combination have so dominated a series and captured the imagination of the racing world as did Mark and the Porsche 917-30. Mark simply owned Can-Am. Still racing other programs, Mark began the year with a win in a Matador at the NASCAR Western 500. He also started in three USAC races in an Eagle-Offy, three endurance races in a Porsche 911 Carrera, and six Formula 5000 races in a Lola T330. A new series began that year pitting the world's great drivers against one another in equally prepared cars. Mark won three of the four races and the inaugural IROC championship, leaving no doubt about his driving mastery. After a short retirement in 1974 as manager of Penske Racing, Mark returns to the driver's seat for two Formula One starts. In 1975, Mark's autobiography, The Unfair Advantage, is published. This year also begins Penske Racing's participation in a complete F1 schedule. Mark is reunited with the 917-30 on August 9th and sets a new world closed-course speed record of 221.12 mph at Talladega Speedway. One week following, in morning warm-up for the Austrian Grand Prix, an accident results in a cerebral hemorrhage. Mark Donohue dies two days later, on August 19th.