Time Capsule Tuesday - Mark Donohue

February 9, 2016

Team Penske will be celebrating our 50th anniversary in motorsports in 2016. To bring you some of the terrific stories of our five-decade run of excellence Team Penske is running weekly online features. We hope you enjoy this memorable time in our history.

Mark Donohue

While current Team Penske stars – guys like Brad Keselowski, Will Power, Joey Logano and Juan Pablo Montoya – are well known to fans of the team, there are stars of the past that, had they been around in today’s world of social media and 24-7 coverage, would be superstars in their own right.

No person fits that mold more than “Captain Nice” Mark Donohue.

Donohue was Team Penske’s first racing star.  Without Donohue, Team Penske might not be celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2016.

Born in New Jersey, Donohue grew up in the state and eventually attended Brown University in Rhode Island, earning a mechanical engineering degree.  During his time at Brown, Donohue began his racing career in 1957.

After years of success, including an SCCA National Championship in 1961 and countless wins along the way, Donohue and Roger Penske eventually crossed paths.  It would be the start of a fantastic partnership. 

Equally known for his ability to setup a racecar while also driving it to Victory Lane, Donohue made his first start for Team Penske at Watkins Glen in 1966.

Then, the two ramped up their partnership together in 1967, as Donohue drove the Lola T70 in the United States Road Racing Championship (USRRC).  Together, the duo of Donohue and Penske won six of the eight races that season, eventually securing Team Penske’s first championship. 

It would be one of many firsts that Donohue and Team Penske would celebrate together.

In 1968, Donohue would go on to score two more championships for the team – a second-consecutive USRRC title and the team’s first Trans-Am Series championship – which included winning 10 of 13 races and a class win in the 12 Hours of Sebring.  Donohue would win two more Trans-Am championships for team Penske in 1969 and 1971.

Donohue then helped launch Team Penske into the world of the Indianapolis 500 – the most important race in the world to his team owner.  Team Penske made its first Indy 500 start in 1969 and Donohue earned “Rookie of the Year” honors with a seventh-place finish.  

Three years later in 1972, following finishes of second (1970) and 25th (1971), Donohue produced the first of the team’s record 16 Indianapolis 500 victories.

During the 1971 and 1972 seasons, Donohue and Team Penske also teamed up to take part in the Can-Am Series – helping develop and drive the infamous Porsche 917-30, one of the most powerful racing cars ever created.  The car dominated the series and won the championship both seasons (with George Follmer in 1971 after an injury to Donohue and with Donohue in 1972) and became known as “The Can-Am Killer.”

Donohue also posted Team Penske’s first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (then called Winston Cup) victory, winning the season-opening event at Riverside in 1973 in an AMC Matador. 

He remains the last “road course ringer” to win in NASCAR’s top series.

His stock car success did not only come in NASCAR.  In 1973/1974, Donohue won three of the four races in the first IROC (International Race of Champions) Series along with the championship, beating drivers like Richard Petty, David Pearson, AJ Foyt, Bobby Unser and Emerson Fittipaldi.  The only driver to win another race in the series was his former teammate Follmer. 

Donohue retired from full-time racing in 1974, but was lured out of retirement by Team Penske when it started a Formula 1 team at the end of the ‘74 season.  With a full-schedule of Formula 1 races on the docket for 1975, Donohue became the team’s lead driver and earned a pair of fifth-place finishes in the Swedish Grand Prix and the British Grand Prix.

Tragically, Donohue’s racing career came to an end in August of that year, as the driver passed away from injuries suffered during a practice crash at the Austrian Grand Prix.

In his Team Penske career, Donohue produced 59 wins, 50 pole positions and six championships for the organization.  He was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1990 and into the Sports Car Club of America Hall of Fame in 2006.

During this year’s Team Penske 50th Anniversary Celebration, Donohue – along with Roger – were the first inductees into the Team Penske Hall of Fame.  His son – noted road racer David Donohue – accepted the honor for his father.

"This is an incredible tribute to my father and his impact on Team Penske, as well as an honor for my family,” said David Donohue of his father. “Considering all of the accomplishments that Team Penske has achieved over the last 50 years, and all of the amazing drivers and team members that have played a role in these achievements, having my father recognized in this manner is something words just cannot describe. It takes my breath away when I think about it, and makes me even more proud of him, if that is even possible.”

Donahue was the first in a long lineage of championship drivers at Team Penske. He will be remembered as a road racing pioneer and Team Penske’s winningest driver.  But, more importantly, he will be remembered as a better man.