Marion McDonald was raised in a home built in 1887 at McDonald Station, Florida and learned to drive in the family orange groves. "One day I hit the railroad tracks and my car jumped a four-foot gate on the other side. After that I never opened that gate again, " he said.
In 1938 Mac went to work at Bill France's gas station in Daytona Beach, and that same year he entered the time trials for the beach-road race. In a 74-mph dash, he posted a time two mph faster than France. At age 21 he entered the race driving his personal car, a 1937 yellow Ford Phaeton (No. 14). Mac was tied into the car with a rope and carried an open knife taped to the dash to free himself in an emergency.
During one pit stop Mac grabbed a hamburger from one of his pit crew. The fans were amused to see Mac racing into the North Turn and down A1A eating a hamburger. One fan remarked, "Look at that madman eating lunch while driving in a race," and Marion McDonald became "Mad" Marion McDonald.
As he sped down the beach on a later lap, Mac came up on a car stalled across the North Turn. The driver was out of the car and running across the track toward safety. To avoid hitting him, Mac took the high side, climbed the dunes on two wheels, and drove on. He discovered that taking the turn on two wheels improved his speed and began entering the turns more often than not on two wheels. His daredevil style delighted the fans, but Mac describes it as "just Sunday afternoon driving."
Mad Marion raced the beach course in 1938 and 1939. He got married in 1940 and at the request of his bride tried to settle down. But the roar of the engines was too strong, and without his wife's knowledge, Mac raced the Florida short tracks in a 1935 Ford nicknamed the White Ghost. McDonald's last race was in Casselberry in 1946, and he still has vivid memories of the crash that ended his racing career. "A car in front of me hit a guardrail, and the rail came through my windshield and out the back window. It just kept coming and coming." Mac escaped without serious injury, but even today he flashes back to that guardrail. After the Casselberry race, Mad Marion retired from racing and became a gentleman farmer.
Mac's racing skills were unexpectedly revived in 1973. On February 27 he was driving on Florida State Road 15 when a station wagon with two women and two small boys overturned in a ditch. A three-year-old boy was pinned under the crankcase with four inches of clearance. Mac tried to dig under the boy but failed; he tried to flag help, but again failed. He drove his truck through the mud and up the steep canal bank, lowered the power lift tail gate, backed under the car, raised the front, and pulled the child to safety. He received a commendation from the Florida Highway Patrol for his heroic action.
Marion McDonald lives with his wife, Mary, in Port Orange, Florida and is a member of the Living Legends of Auto Racing.