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"Mad Marion" MacDonald...the Reason Behind the Name Will Stir A Chuckle

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Pre-WWII Racing Topics:  Marion MacDonald

"Mad Marion" MacDonald...the Reason Behind the Name Will Stir A Chuckle

Jeremy T. Sellers
Jerm's Joint
February 24, 2008

Out of the corner of my eye, I notice a worn and aged man shuffling across the fresh green grass at the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse. With a "C" curve in his spine, and a stroll resembling that of someone who overdosed on thorazine, his pride could not be tarnished as he finally reached a folding chair at a table with the other legends Russ Truelove, Ray Fox, and Dick Fleck. For a relatively new student to the history of auto racing, the Living Legends of Auto Racing equals to that of Christmas morning and occurs every Friday before the Daytona 500 at the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse just outside of Daytona Beach Shores.

In doing further research for this article, it's apparent that this once racing giant, came from money, yet maintains the most humble demeanor mixed in with a little "rough around the edges" sternness that would scare children, but bring about a smile to a race fan's face. After all, Marion MacDonald lived in a town named after his family where they were successful farmers. Learning to drive by navigating through their orange groves, Marion came upon a set of railroad tracks leading to a gate on the other side. To make a long story short, after hot-dogging over the tracks, Mr. MacDonald never bothered opening the pesky fence again.

Get this, in 1938 at the age of 21, Marion went to work at Big Bill France's gas station in Daytona Beach. In a 1937 Ford Phaeton, he had a qualifying run of 74 mph on the beach/road course. By the way, that was faster than France ran himself! Tied into the car via a rope with a knife to cut it in case of emergency taped to the dash, it's unclear what place he finished in that race. However it's this first race that Marion received his nickname. Not by realizing running the turns on two wheels improved his speed (discovered first by avoiding a stalled car), or by racing at some unbelievable pace, it was on a pit stop that the unintentional legend got his "Mad" on.

Apparently hungry, one of Marion's crew members handed him a hamburger before speeding off again. Charging into the legendary North Turn to run back down the A1A, someone commented, "Look at that madman eating lunch while driving in a race," Hence the man we now know as "Mad Marion" MacDonald. Racing the beach race in 1938 and 39, he married in 1940. It was by the request of his new bride that he try to cool the engines a little. However, the adrenaline produced by racing lured him to Florida's short tracks until 1946 where he ran a 1935 Ford called the "White Ghost". Oh, did I mention, his wife never knew of his racing endeavours post 1940?

However, I digress. After hearing his story, I cautiously approach the grumpy, proud, broken down racer. He gladly signs my Living Legends of Auto Racing brocure and points to Russ Truelove. Mind you, Russ is 83 years old, but as Marion is quick to point out, "Old Russ over there didn't start racin' until 1956, I started racin' in 1938, he's a youngin". Granted, Marion never disclosed his age, but if he was 21 in 1938, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to do the math. Mad Marion even posed for a picture with me, and asked where I was from. Upon telling him I was from Ohio, he explains that he use to run coal up to Ashland back in the day and considers it his "Old stomping grounds" though citing, "I don't know why anyone would wanna live up there in that weather". It's unfortunate that these legends won't be with us much longer. If the opportunity arises, Marion loves to tell the story of how he received his nickname.

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