8/9/1975 – The day Mark Donohue set a new world record, knowing that he could have driven even faster.
Lincoln, Alabama. August 9, 1975. A humid Saturday afternoon. American race-car driver Mark Donohue has an ambitious aim: he wants to set the fastest lap in the world. The current record on a permanent racetrack is 217.854 mph (350.53 km/h). Talladega Superspeedway, the place where he wants to surpass this mark, is the perfect choice. Its steep-banked curves rise five stories into the air at 33-degree angles. Its 2.66-mile circuit (4.28 km) is uncompromising. Donohue (37), a sharp engineer from New Jersey, will be at the controls of a five-liter twelve-cylinder monster with four-digit horsepower—the
“We did a lot of preparation for this,” says Donohue, before stepping into the car. Equipped with two enormous charge-air coolers, the turbo engine now generates more than 1,400 horsepower. Its aerodynamics and chassis have also been modified. Donohue completes the first lap at 195 mph (313 km/h) from a standing start, and the second lap at 217 mph (349 km/h). Thick clouds cover the sky. Then the rain starts up. A light drizzle falls on the backstretch. Unimpressed, Donohue doesn’t let up on the gas. The stopwatches show 221.120 mph (355.860 km/h). A world record. Mission accomplished!
“It wasn’t easy,” remarks Donohue afterward. “It’s one thing to say you’ll do it. But when you drive into a bank at 300 km/h, you automatically ease up on the gas. Because you can’t see where the curve ends.” Donohue didn’t ease up, but needed willpower not to. Actually, he could have driven even faster. “But then I was in fact a little afraid.” Mark Donohue died on August 19, 1975, succumbing to injuries he suffered when he lost control of his March during a practice session two days earlier in Zeltweg, Austria.
Author Gregor Messer
2,66 miles (4.28 km) track length
221,120 mph (355.860 km/h)