PERRIS – Perris Auto Speedway promoter Don Kazarian and the entire PAS staff mourned the deaths of the “World’s No. 1 Sprint Car Fan,” Shawn McDonald and past PASSCAR driver Bryan McWilliams.
McDonald was a longtime fan who sat upfront in his wheelchair just to the Turn 4 side of the start-finish line. McWilliams had a brief career racing PASSCAR Factory Stocks. Afterward, he was a fixture at the track cheering on his nephew Ken McWilliams and niece Alyssa Smith from the grandstands or helping them in the pits.
“We lost one of the world’s greatest sprint car fans today,” Kazarian said Monday, June 29. “Everybody at the track knew and loved Shawn. Fans came by to greet him at every sprint car race in the section of the grandstand that is named after him. It was a yearly tradition for fans to serenade him on his birthday. Once the races were over, he would visit the pits and win or lose, the drivers would stop what they were doing to go over and talk to him. They loved him and likewise, he loved them back.”
A video of the Perris Auto Speedway fans singing “Happy Birthday” to Shawn McDonald in 2008 can be seen on the Facebook page for the track.
In 2013, Kazarian named McDonald as grand marshal for the Oval Nationals, which is the most prestigious traditional sprint car race in the nation. Normally, the selection process for that honor takes some time and some arguing. That process was not the case the season McDonald was honored.
“Every year we sit around a table in the meeting room in the office and everyone throws out names on who they think the grand marshal should be,” Kazarian said. “We go back and forth explaining why this person or that person should be the choice. It usually takes a couple of weeks before the final decision is made. In 2013, we were having the discussion, and somebody threw Shawn’s name into the mix. The decision-making process ended right there and then. Everyone agreed that he would be the grand marshal that year.”
On May 30, 1996, McDonald had surgery to insert a pacemaker. During the surgery, his heart stopped beating and it took doctors 45 minutes to get it restarted. The lack of oxygen caused a brain injury that left him unable to walk, talk or eat. And doctors initially said he would not last the night. He not only made it through the night, but he tacked on another amazing 24 years.
Chris Kearns, the director of the United States Auto Club’s West Coast Competition and a friend of McDonald’s, perhaps summed it up best when talking about him on Facebook recently.
“Before anyone complains about anything, think of this guy,” Kearns said in his Facebook post. “He is an absolute inspiration, and honestly I feel he is the true meaning of a hero. I have never in my life seen someone that has endured and lost so much yet have such an incredible spirit. He has a better attitude, personality and sense of humor than anyone I’ve ever met. I’m sure Rickie Gaunt and everyone else would admit, Shawn McDonald is the real Superman. I must confess, when I saw him at the races, the first thing I thought is, ‘Oh man, Shawn has his computer screen.” For those that don’t know, he is also the best mess talker I have ever encountered.”
“Bryan McWilliams did not race a lot,” Kazarian said of the PASSCAR racer. “However, before he started and after he quit racing, he was always there to support his family in any way he could. We would see him in the pits helping with their cars. At other times in the press box, we would look down and he would be cheering them on from the stands. He was easy to find as he always had a big smile on his face and was always laughing. Just a really good guy.”
“Nothing ever seemed to get Bryan down,” Scott Daloisio, longtime Perris Auto Speedway announcer, said. “He was always very upbeat and loved being at the track. He always had a friendly hello and a big handshake. After you got past the greetings the laughs would start. It was fun seeing him before the races because he was always so happy. Racing was a natural thing for him to try with the racing heritage of his family. Whether it was competing, helping or watching, he always had a good time. A lot of people on both sides of the crashwall are going to miss Bryan in a big way.”
Once racing resumes, tickets for all PAS events will be available 24-hours a day by calling 800-595-4849 or online at www.pas.tix.com. For fans who do not wish to buy tickets in advance, they can be purchased on-site.
Perris Auto Speedway is located on the SoCal Fair and Event Center, home of October’s Southern California Fair. For directions on MapQuest, the address to enter is: 18700 Lake Perris Drive and the ZIP code is 92571.
For more information, visit Perris Auto Speedway on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram or at www.perrisautospeedway.com.
Submitted by Perris Auto Speedway.