United States
Walk of life:
Race car driver, won the Indianapolis 500 in 1972, was the first IROC champion, died during a test run for the Austrian Grand Prix
Biographical details:

Motorsport is rich in personalities with a natural talent for driving fast. Rarer are those who fully understand how they do it. Mark 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.

Specific research interests