Mark Donohue was a true action hero
And so we were away. Mark was patient and detailed. Nothing was too much trouble. When it was time to leave I asked him if he would sign my copy of his recently published autobiography, The Unfair Advantage. “Sure,” he said. “Pass it over.” “To Peter,” he wrote. “Even tho’ it’s all true, don’t believe it... Mark.”
That book remains, in my view, the best ever written about our sport. Paul Van Valkenburgh, Mark’s co-author, should take much of the credit, but there’s no doubt that the words are Mark’s. I love the cover sketch, too – the work of Ellen Griesedieck, Sam Posey’s very talented wife. The Mark I knew that summer was quiet, humble and reserved. There wasn’t much ‘fun’ to his racing but at least he was there, in F1, driving on the world’s greatest circuits. The big discussion was whether they should replace the new Penske with a production March. With Roger in Reading, Pennsylvania, and Mark in Poole, Dorset, the relationship was strained. I remember Mark talking about it at length, confiding in me in a way that scared me a little. He used phrases like “I really don’t know if I can go on with this...” For my part, I could only reply with the obvious: “It’ll come right. Things can change very quickly...” And so they ordered a March. I watched Mark test it at Silverstone, and saw him smile for the first time in weeks. But even then, an eerie loneliness shrouded Penske.
As I drove away from the Silverstone paddock, having filed my copy, I noticed Mark over to my left, by the old petrol pumps there, washing his black Porsche 911 road car. Hose, soap suds, chamois leather – the lot. No one else was around. Mark’s Gucci loafers were drowning in puddles. “Need a hand?” I asked. “Thanks, but no. I love washing the car. Gives me time to think…”