Shirley Mendelson McDonald

Shirley McDonald; Sponsored Six Notre Dame Hydroplanes

Reprinted from The Seattle Times, August 17, 1993.

Les Staudacher and Shirley Mendelson McDonald
Les Staudacher and Shirley Mendelson McDonald

Even with a four-leaf clover on the fantail of her hydroplanes, the Gold Cup and the national championship eluded Shirley Mendelson McDonald.

From 1962 to 1973, Mrs. McDonald privately financed six different hulls called "Notre Dame" in unlimited hydroplane races around the country. She was carrying on the tradition started by her father, Herbert Mendelson, whose Notre Dame won the 1937 Gold Cup in Detroit.

Mrs. McDonald, the only female inductee into the Unlimited Hydroplane Hall of Fame, died Saturday in a Seattle hospital. She was 71.

Her boats won two races, but one, the President's Cup in Washington, D.C. in 1966, claimed the life of three drivers. The Notre Dame, piloted by Rex Manchester, and the Miss Budweiser, with Don Wilson at the controls, collided in the final heat, killing both drivers. In an earlier heat, Ron Musson, driving the Miss Bardahl, was killed.

It was boat racing's Black Sunday, said Fred Farley, a historian for the Unlimited division of the American Powerboat Association. The Notre Dame later was declared the winner based on the preliminary heats.

Mrs. McDonald was born in Detroit to a very wealthy family. Her father and grandfather, Aaron Mendelson, were the original financial backers of the Fisher Body Corp., which later became General Motors, said a family friend in Los Angeles. She was one of the largest shareholders in General Motors at the time of her death, the friend said. Mrs. McDonald inherited her love of powerboat racing from her father, who started the Notre Dame name in the unlimiteds and raced a boat with that name in the 1930s and '40s. He died in 1952.

She was married to the late Dr. Fraser McDonald. They moved to Seattle from Honolulu in about 1970.