Sports car and NASCAR racing career
MacDonald began racing in 1956, running a ’55 Chevrolet Corvette on Southern Californian drag strips. He won nearly 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 one-mile distances at annual US speed trials.
MacDonald moved to the road racing circuit in 1960, and his first race was at Willow Springs Raceway on February 13–14. He ran a ’57 Corvette to a fourth place finish, behind winner Bob Bondurant in Saturday’s preliminary race, and then won Sunday’s feature race to record his first ever victory. At the end of the 1962 season, he had driven Corvettes to 28 victories in 64 races, including 42 top-three finishes. MacDonald’s unique style of drifting through turns at full speed made him a crowd favorite and earned him the nickname "Master of Oversteer".
Dave MacDonald in Riverside Raceway win driving his custom No. 00 Corvette Special - March 1962
In June 1962, Zora Arkus-Duntov selected Dave MacDonald and Dick Thompson to do the shakedown testing during development of Chevrolet's all new 1963 Corvette Sting Ray. Four days of all-out road testing were performed on a coupe and a convertible at the General Motors Proving Grounds in Milford, Michigan. General Motors used footage from these tests to create a promotional film entitled "Biography of a Sports Car". The film was distributed around the globe as part of GM's marketing campaign promoting the new sports car. In September Duntov and other Chevrolet executives presented MacDonald with the first ever 1963 Z06 Sting Ray that he race debuted at Riverside Raceway on October 13, 1962. The highly anticipated race also marked the debut of Carroll Shelby’s new Ford Cobra Roadster. MacDonald and Cobra driver
Billy Krause exchanged the lead during the first hour before both cars dropped out with mechanical troubles.
At the start of the 1963 season, Carroll Shelby hired MacDonald away from Chevrolet to drive his Cobra Roadster. His first outing for Shelby American was February 2–3 at Riverside International Raceway and he drove Cobra CSX2026 to back-to-back victories. These were the Cobra’s first wins. Teammate Ken Miles finished second both days in Cobra CSX2002.
On February 17, 1963, MacDonald finished fourth in Cobra CSX2026 at the FIA Daytona Continental to give the Cobra its first top-five 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.
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 the world - the Los Angeles Times Grand Prix and the Monterey Pacific Grand Prix. These were the first wins for the Shelby King Cobra. In his next three races he finished second at the Hawaiian Grand Prix in Cobra Roadster CSX2136, second at NASCAR’s Golden State 400 in the Wood Brothers No. 21 Ford and second in NASCAR’s Augusta 510 behind Holman/Moody teammate and race winner Fireball Roberts. 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 most 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.
1964 would be MacDonald’s final year in racing. He remained committed to a full Cobra schedule with Shelby American but also signed to run 20 races on the NASCAR circuit for Ford Mercury factory member, Bill Stroppe. MacDonald also signed a two-year contract with Mickey Thompson to run the 1964 and ’65 Indianapolis 500's.
On February 23, 1964, Dave MacDonald competed in his first and only Daytona 500, he finished 10th against a field NASCAR.com considers the greatest in NASCAR history Richard Petty won the '64 race, capturing his first of seven Daytona 500s.
MacDonald wins the 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. After this victory, hall of fame motor sports journalist, Chris Economaki, wrote that, "Dave MacDonald just stamped himself as one of today's road racing greats".
On March 21, 1964, MacDonald and co-driver Bob Holbert ran Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe CSX2287 to the GT Class win (fourth overall) in the 12 Hours of Sebring international endurance race. This was the first win for the Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupes while also breaking Ferrari's 6-year win streak in the Grand Touring Division.
On 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 win.
On May 3, 1964, MacDonald finished 2nd in the United States Road Racing Championships at Laguna Seca Raceway in Shelby King Cobra CM/1/64. He finished between the Chaparrals of race winner Jim Hall and 3rd-place finisher Roger Penske.
On May 10, 1964, MacDonald won the United States Road Racing Championships at Kent, Washington in King Cobra CM/3/63. The victory put him in a tie atop the USRRC Drivers' Championship standings with Jim Hall, who he invited to share the victory lap. This would be MacDonald's last race before his death three weeks later in the Indy 500.