Perris Auto Speedway promoter Don Kazarian and the entire PAS staff is mourning the deaths of the “World’s #1 Sprint Car Fan,” Shawn McDonald, and past PASSCAR driver Bryan McWilliams. McDonald passed away early Monday morning and McWilliams passed away late last week.
McDonald was a longtime fan who sat upfront in his wheelchair just to the turn four 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,” a somber Don Kazarian said on Monday. “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.”
Here is a video of the Perris Auto Speedway fans singing “Happy Birthday” to Shawn McDonald in 2008. https://bit.ly/3ge0RJ5
In 2013, Kazarian named McDonald “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 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 USAC West Coast Competition Director and a friend of McDonald’s, perhaps summed it up best when talking about him on Facebook last week.
“Before anyone complains about ANYTHING, think of this guy,” Kearns posted. “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 have to confess, when I saw him at the races, the first thing I thought is, ‘Oh shit, Shawn has his computer screen’. For those that don't know, he is also the best shit 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,” longtime Perris Auto Speedway announcer Scott Daloisio 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.”