The Unfair Advantage
by Mark Donohue
Selected Quotes from Mark Donohue's The Unfair Advantage
Very early in the book Donohue conveys the joy he experienced racing:
"Suddenly it was all together. That was one of the most exciting times of my life. I had finally put together my first fully sponsored racing program. It had taken months, but now I had a car through Malcolm Starr, a mechanic and garage and tow car courtesy of George Clark and Hicksville Ford, and parts through Ford, Shelby, and Archway Ford, my official sponsors. By then it was late July, but there were still enough National races left to win the championship."
And Donohue's enthusiasm is again contagious as he describes his first professional racing experience driving on the Ford GT team in 1966:
"It's hard to imagine an ordinary amateur guy like me, with very little experience, getting to drive for a major professional team with all those engines, and parts, and engineers, and managers, and caterers, and maids, and butlers. Try to imagine that! It's indescribable how prestigious it was! I was so honored that I didn't even want to talk too loud. And then to get paid for it ... I would have paid them to let me drive! That's exactly how I felt. If they had said, 'Look, we can't pay you next time, but will you come and drive anyhow?' I would have said, 'Gladly!'"
Reading the book with the knowledge that Mark Donohue was killed in a crash during a warm-up session for the 1975 Austrian Formula One Grand Prix is a slightly uncanny experience. For example, here he gives a graphic description of a bad crash he experienced during a warm-up for a Can-Am race in Atlanta right after his 1972 Indy 500 win:
"On lap one I just puttered around. On lap two I warmed it up against the brakes. On lap three I was still keeping the rpms down, but coming out of the turns harder. I accelerated out of turn seven, up the long back straightaway, over the crest of a hill at about 150, and ... crack! ... there was a tremendous noise from the rear. I felt the rear of the car rise up and start rotating around to the left. Because it happened going over a hill, I was sure I had broken a rear half-shaft, as I did in the Lola at Bridgehampton. So when the car had rotated 180 degrees, I lined it up to back into the embankment, It hit very hard, and spun back onto the track. I didn't know whether the wheels and suspension were still connected, but I was thinking I could straighten it out on the track, release the brakes, and roll to a stop. What I didn't know was that I had lost the entire rear bodywork, and the car was dangerously unstable. When I released the brakes it was like someone drop-kicked me into the air. The whole car jumped right off the ground and started cartwheeling end for end.
To me, everything had been relatively serene up to that point. Even sliding backward at over 100 mph, there are a few seconds to analyze the situation. The impact wasn't enough to knock me out, and then I was sliding again. But all that time the car was on its way up. When I released the brakes, all hell broke loose. I remember going into the air, and then looking down at the guardrail. The car came down nose first on it with a tremendous shrieking and crying of metal. Then it flipped over and I was looking up at the rail and posts flying past. Each time the car hit the ground I'd black out, but I recall thinking, 'This is going to be bad.' And then I was thinking, 'This really is bad, because I'm hurting a lot.' And I was trying to pull myself into a ball so that my arms and legs wouldn't fly around so much.
I don't remember seeing much of the front end go away. Suddenly the bodywork was gone and I could see twisted tubes and bars. Then the right front wheel just kind of went away from me. I don't know if it was up, down, or sideways at the time, but it went away like a slow-motion dream. I didn't see the frame, or dash, or steering wheel go, I was trying so hard to pull myself into my seat. And then there was silence."