THE THINKING MAN’S HERO
A quiet, almost shy, unfailingly polite young
man with a college education who didn’t
cuss, carouse or love dirt-track racing
wasn’t just an outsider in the late 1960s
in USAC racing – he was an anomaly.
But Mark Donohue, aka “Captain
Nice,” won over his hard-driving,
hard-assed Indy car racing brethren with
his smarts, ability and good nature.
“Mark didn’t chase girls like some of
us, and he wasn’t out all night drinking
and causing trouble, but I liked the guy
the first time I met him,” says Bobby
Unser, who possibly knows of what he
speaks. “He was very intelligent and a
straight shooter and way too honest to
ever tell a lie. But he sure understood
racecars, and was a very good driver.”
Four-time Indy winner A.J. Foyt liked
Donohue’s demeanor, in and out of a car.
“He didn’t do anything crazy,” says
Super Tex. “He wasn’t a killer, but he was
a good racer and I respected him. Plus,
EARNING THE RESPECT OF HIS PEERS
he was a nice guy, good to people.”
Three-time Indy 500 winner Johnny
Rutherford says he had no pre-conceived
opinion about the sports car veteran.
“I never judged anybody until I raced
against them, and you knew immediately
that you could race wheel-to-wheel with
Mark,” he says. “And I always appreciated
how he could figure out what to do if
his car wasn’t working.”
Mario Andretti first met Donohue
when he beat him in a road race at Lime
Rock – driving a midget! But he admired
how the smooth-driving road racer
adapted to cut-throat oval racing.
“Mark was very clean, very proper and
he was never going to give you some big,
nasty slide job,” he says. “And he wasn’t
really going to fight you for a corner like
A.J. or Bobby or Gordy [Johncock]. But
he was very technical, very versatile. He
was an all-’round good racer and a great
guy who earned everyone’s respect.”
Mark Donohue wasn’t a rough ’n’ tumble oval racer, but his driving and demeanor won over a tough crowd.
Mark Donohue didn’t come with the
larger-than-life swagger of an A.J. Foyt
or a Bobby Unser. But USAC racing’s elite
still respected him as a racer and a man.
(MAIN) Bobby Unser and Mark
Donohue lead the field in the 1971
California 500 at Ontario Motor
Speedway. Donohue’s pace at Indy
and wins at Pocono and Michigan
earlier in the season had already
convinced the USAC regulars that
he was the real deal on fast ovals.