When 19-year-old Dave MacDonald first saw his future wife, Sherry Gravett, in the lead role in an El Monte High School play, he went head-over-heels. He didn't meet her there, but instead got her phone number and called her the next day. It was early December 1955, and the two talked for almost two months before their first date. Since MacDonald had just begun drag racing, their first date was supposed to be at the drags, but since it was raining, the two just drove around in his red '55 Corvette. Cupid's arrow hit Sherry right away, and when she got home she told her Mom that she'd just met the man she was going to marry.
8 MacDonald and Mickey Thompson...
8 MacDonald and Mickey Thompson pose with the Ford-powered Sears Allstate Special. The car was built to run on 12-inch-diameter tires to lower the center of gravity and had a full body for aerodynamic purposes. But Indy officials made Thompson switch to 15-inch wheels and cut openings in the tops of the fenders to make the car a quasi-roadster. These changes eliminated the design's aero advantages and made the car unwieldy. All of the name drivers of the day passed on driving it, and several advised MacDonald to do likewise.
For their second date, the weather cooperated, so it was off to the drags, where MacDonald won his class and presented Sherry with her first trophy. He was so taken, he even let Sherry drive his Corvette to school the next day. It seems the thought of his sweetheart driving a '50 Ford to school was just too much.
Six weeks after their first date, MacDonald asked Sherry to be his wife. She accepted, and less than three months after she graduated from high school, on September 8, 1956, the two were married.
The newlyweds were off to a good start. Dave's parents had a large, subdivided lot with two additional houses on it; Dave and Sherry moved into one of them. It wasn't long before a family began, with Richie arriving in September 1957 and Vicki in June 1959. But Dave was a family man, so Sherry and the children almost always went to the races with him.
9 To create the 1,300-pound...
9 To create the 1,300-pound King Cobra, MacDonald and Carroll Shelby purchased a Cooper-Monaco chassis and crammed in the 289ci engine. Here, MacDonald and 1960s trophy queen Marilyn Fox pose in the finished car for a 1963 Shelby American photo op.
Dave had a good job at the local Chevrolet dealership and was such a Corvette fan that he got a new one every year. "I thought the car payments would never end," Sherry recounts. Dave drag-raced whatever Corvette he had at the time and quickly acquired a large collection of trophies, as well as a reputation as the go-to guy for fellow racers looking for a competitive setup.
One day, Dave brought home a new yellow '58 C1 for Sherry to see before he bought it. Unfortunately, a brick wall had been in the wrong location when Dave was testing the Vette's cornering capability. Sherry was greeted with a slightly banged up, but new, Corvette. "Yes, we had to buy that one," she says.
Racing schools were still about 10 years in the future in the late '50s. While drag racing was Dave's first love in motorsports, driving a Corvette, with its built-in cornering capability, inspired him to explore the joys of fast cornering. So Dave made a natural transition from drag racing to road racing, where he showed an immediate talent for the sport. While he was on track to become the youngest service manager at Don Steves Chevrolet, racing took him on a different course.
10 MacDonald charges into...
10 MacDonald charges into Turn 6 at the 1963 NASCAR Motor Trend 500 at Riverside, where he finished 12th. This was to be the only time MacDonald raced a Chevy in NASCAR.
When Dave decided to make a go at road racing, he bought a wrecked '57 Corvette and did the prep work himself. With a little help from his employer, Don Steves, he soon became a serious road racer. To help out with income, Sherry got a temporary job in the office of a major grocery, where she stayed until her retirement in 2005.
Through 1962, the MacDonald family watched Dave get better and better at road racing. Cars came and went, and there was a steady stream of local racing aspirants coming to him for advice. Sherry recalls, "It was amazing, because you never knew who was going to be at the house—locals and even a few celebrities."
Dave was one of the young lions of racing, yet he remained soft spoken and self-effacing. Once, Sherry's boss asked her if Dave would be willing to speak about auto racing at a church function. Afterwards, he told Sherry that everyone had been quite taken with this slightly built, soft spoken, articulate young man who confidently answered all of their questions. Perhaps they were expecting a swaggering daredevil type. Instead, they got a family man and devoted husband.
In the next month's issue, we’ll talk more about Dave MacDonald’s biggest fan--his brother, Doug--and the legacy Dave left behind.