DON'T REALLY have a favorite circuit. On most of them I can hardly remember where they go," says 29-year-old Mark Donohue, a round-faced six-footer who probably is the world's most modest race driver. Being the New York Times' Driver of the Year for 1965, a member of the Ford factory team and the pilot who brought the Sunaea Special home second in the 1966 Can-Am series hasn't changed the shy squire of Stony Brook, L.I., at all.
Mark was raised in Summit, N.J., where his father, a patent lawyer, attached great importance to his son's education. Mark graduated from Brown University in 1959 with a BS in engineering. While he was always interested in cars, getting passing grades occupied most of his time and Mark was a senior before he entered his 1957 Corvette in a local hillc1imb. Prophetically, he made fastest time of day his first time out but did not get a trophy as he was not a club member.
His first job was with Raybestos in nearby Passaic but he soon shifted to selling industrial dust collectors. In 1960, Jim Haas introduced him to Roger Penske. "Roger got me off on the right foot. He told me to race something I could afford but to always go first class. When I saw that the new Elva Courier had the same engine as the MG but was about 600 lb lighter, I bought one."
In 1961 Peter Revson's Morgan and Mark's Elva had a year-long battle for SCCA National honors in E production. Mark won the championship but had to cut back the following two seasons because of the financial strain. In 1964 he had some rides in Kenny Brenn's Cooper-Offy midget and met Jack Griffith, the Long Island Ford dealer who later hired Mark as chief engineer in his ill-starred Griffin car venture.
Mark won two national championships in 1965; one in Malcom Starr's Mustang and the other in his own Formula C Lotus. Mark Jeft New Jersey to move t9 Long Island to be near the Griffin works and stayed there after that operation closed. "Sue's really great about my racing," Mark says about his wife. "When she married me she knew I wanted to race but neither of us realized I would be doing it full time." Their second son was born last fall.
The late Walt Hansgen's keen interest in Mark was responsible for his introduction to big time professional racing. "Walter had more confidence in me than I had in myself. When he first told me I was going to drive the Mecom Ferrari with him in the '65 Sebring, I didn't believe it until he showed me a picture of the Ferrari with our names painted on it. . . . After Walter was killed, I was lost for a while. He was really able to talk to me. We talked the same language."
Roger Penske and Mark got together when Griffith ran into rough going. "Roger expects your best but you could not drive for a more understanding guy. He's hard but he knows what's going on and he can tell you more from the pits than anyone I've seen."
Mark thinks winning the U.S. Road Racing Championship race at Kent, Wash., last August gave him the most satisfaction. The first Penske Sunoeo Special had been destroyed by fire in tbe July USRRC at Watkins Glen.
Penske has a new Lola with a 359-cu-in. Chevy engine ready for the USRRC and Can-Am series. "The Can-Am is the greatest," Mark says. "The USRRC was fine but it was like playing tennis with your wife. When you run with those international guys and they smoke you off, you really try harder."