Wednesday, May 18, 2016

5/20/90: An interview with Philip Duffie, last-place finisher of the 1990 Winston Open

SOURCE: Historical Stock Car Racing Forum
On May 20, 1990, Philip Duffie finished last in the Winston Open at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when his unsponsored #96 Duffie Racing Buick fell out with a blown head gasket after 22 of 134 laps.

A 36-year-old owner-driver from Augusta, Georgia, Duffie grew up a fan of NASCAR and wanted to try his hand at driving.  He saved up some money from his family’s sand and gravel business and bought a Buick.  Buicks were the only car he could get his hands on, but he would end up running them in all twelve of his Winston Cup starts.  Like other independents of his era, Duffie worked on the cars himself and hired volunteers at the track to help pit his car.

Duffie raced only a partial schedule, favoring the big tracks at Daytona, Talladega, Darlington, Atlanta, and Charlotte.  The reason was simple economics.  “Well, the main thing was the big tracks paid so much more money,” said Duffie in an interview on Wednesday.  “We were just running out of the back pocket for the most part.  We kind of stood with them and a lot of them were actually cheaper to run, the big tracks like Daytona and Talladega.  You could run them maybe on two or three sets of tires and shorter tracks it might take fifteen or twenty, so that was the main thing, they paid so much better money.”

Duffie made his Cup debut at Talladega on May 2, 1982, finishing 17th behind race winner Darrell Waltrip, and improved to a career-best 16th in that year’s Atlanta finale.  Atlanta also saw his career-best ARCA finish of 5th in 1985.  Though he enjoyed his best runs at his home track, he was disappointed that the purse didn’t pay as much as the other superspeedways.

“Atlanta paid just about half what the other tracks paid, believe it or not.  Back then we finished 16th in Atlanta and it only paid about $1500.  Times have changed a bit, now it probably pays $50,000 just to start a race.  We ran the whole race and finished 16th and got about $1,500 for it - even though the tracks that paid better only paid maybe $3,500 or $4,000, in that range.”

One of Duffie’s most brilliant performances came at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1983, when he was fastest in second-round qualifying for the Coca-Cola 600.  Duffie’s speed of 161.252mph put him 31st, but if it had come in the first round, he would have started 11th.  “I just quit being so cheap and bought a new set of tires, that’s all I did,” he said.  “I was hoping I didn’t have to buy them, but I felt I had to in order to make the race.  If I had a sponsor, maybe I wouldn’t have to worry about tires.”

Duffie took a couple years off and returned to the series in late 1987.  The next year, he signed with Bob Beard (no relation), the owner of a Ford dealership in Duffie’s home town.  As Beard looked to buy a Buick dealership, he approached Duffie about sponsoring his team and running Buicks once more.  Beard didn’t offer much money - in fact, the sponsorship was split between Duffie and fellow Georgia native Ken Ragan, father of current Cup driver David Ragan - but it was enough to build a new car.

Duffie made the field with Bob Beard’s logo only once, in the 1988 Southern 500 at Darlington, where he came home 29th.  The next year at Daytona, the car was heavily damaged in a multi-car pileup during his Twin 125, where his #32 vaulted into the air exiting the tri-oval before landing on all four tires.  He had yet to make the Daytona 500 in four attempts, but finished 4th and 8th in two runnings of the “Consolation Race,” 30-lap sprints among those who missed the 500 field.

In May of 1990, Duffie hadn’t made a Cup points race since the Darlington race two years earlier.  Money was tight, and the Winston Open offered an opportunity to get some much-needed funds.  “To be honest with you, a lot of times we ran that when we didn’t really have the money to go back and run the big race.  We could run the Winton Open, that’s just a short race and, you know, you got paid a little bit for it but then, let’s see, if I remember correctly, a time or two we didn’t even go back for the 600.  We didn’t really have the money to go run a 600-mile race at the time.”

Duffie started last in the 30-car field for the 1990 Winston Open, and looked to improve on his 25th-place finish in his only other start in the race in 1988.  On the 19th circuit, he had just gone down a lap to Ernie Irvan when he slowed in Turn 4 and came down pit road.  He returned to the track on Lap 21, but two laps later pulled behind the wall, ending his day.  Ironically, his last-place share of the purse was the same as his mid-pack run at Atlanta: $1,500.

Finishing 29th was three-time Bathurst 1000 winner Dick Johnson.  The Australian made his NASCAR debut in the inaugural Winston Cup race at Sears Point a year earlier, but found the tire barriers in Turn 2.  This time, Johnson brought out the first caution when his No. 38 Redkote Ford lost a right-rear tire and spun in Turn 4, then later spun and backed into the Turn 1 wall.  Next was 1980 Daytona 500 winner Buddy Baker, whose unsponsored #90 Junie Donlavey Racing Ford broke a valve.  27th went to 3rd-place starter Greg Sacks, who crashed his #18 Ultra Slim-Fast Chevrolet after he blew a right-front tire in Turn 4.  Rounding out the Bottom Five in 26th was ARCA regular Bob Schacht, who busted the clutch on his white #54 Oldsmobile.

Dick Trickle won the Open in a photo finish with rookie driver Rob Moroso and transferred into his first and only All-Star appearance.  Trickle came home a strong 6th in a race dominated by polesitter Dale Earnhardt.

Duffie made two more starts in the 1990 season.  In July’s Pepsi 400, starting last in the 40-car field turned out to be a blessing in disguise.  At the start of Lap 2, another 23-car pileup triggered by a three-wide battle for 7th eliminated most of the contenders.  Duffie slowed, drove through the infield grass, and came out the other side in 17th.  He finished 21st.  Duffie then made his final Cup start in the Southern 500 that September, finishing 37th after handling issues.  Duffie attempted to make the 1991 Daytona 500 for Bobby Fulcher, but missed the show a fifth time.  The 1990 Winston Open marked the only time Duffie finished last in NASCAR.

Duffie returned to stock car racing in 1998 and 1999, making four starts in what is now the K&N Pro Series East.  Again, his best finish was 16th, his time at the Lanier National Speedway in Braselton, Georgia.  Running those asphalt bullrings were some of Duffie’s fondest memories.  Today, he still attends races at the Atlanta Motor Speedway and continues to operate Philip Duffie Sand and Gravel, Inc. in Grovetown, Georgia.

*This has been the only time that the #96 has finished last in either the Sprint Showdown or the All-Star Race.  At the time, the #96 had not finished last in a Cup points race since May 1, 1983, when the late Rick Baldwin lost the engine on his White Crown Engineering Buick 7 laps into the Winston 500 at Talladega, and wouldn’t again until David April 20, 1998, when David Green’s Caterpillar Chevrolet crashed after 71 lap of the Goody’s Headache Powder 500 at Martinsville.
*It was also the second and final time Buick trailed the qualifying race, following Patty Moise’s Lap 19 crash that stopped her #45 Amway Buick in 1989.

30) #96-Philip Duffie / 22 laps / head gasket
29) #38-Dick Johnson / 49 laps / crash
28) #90-Buddy Baker / 68 laps / valve
27) #18-Greg Sacks / 75 laps / crash
26) #54-Bob Schacht / 85 laps / clutch

1 comment:

Buttermilkjug said...

Nice post~ I wish NASCAR didn't price people like Duffie out of the sport~ It was much better off back then~ After 2004, it just got worse~ I was always a big Brad Teague and Dave Marcis fan growing up~ I miss guys like that~