|O'Neil's Oldsmobile in 1992|
PHOTO: Source Unknown
The finish, which came in O’Neil’s 15th series start, was his first of the season and his first in a Cup Series points race since June 17, 1990, when his #53 Aroneck Racing Oldsmobile broke a crank after 22 laps of the Miller Genuine Draft 500 at Pocono.
Born in Auburn, New York, O’Neil started out in the Super Modified ranks and Top Fuel drags before he eyed a move to stock cars. His first Cup attempt came on March 5, 1989, when he entered a red-and-black Chevrolet Monte Carlo. The car was owned by Alan Aroneck, O’Neil’s crew chief from his drag racing days, who would go on to become the Chairman of the Board for Material Recovery Services, Inc. Driving car #53, O’Neil qualified 33rd in the 42-car field and finished 28th, 16 laps down to race winner Rusty Wallace.
O’Neil and Aroneck attempted another six races that year, qualifying for both Charlotte races and the fall return to Rockingham, and also ran 28th out of 30 in his first Winston Open All-Star qualifying race at Charlotte. His best run of the year came a week later in the Coca-Cola 600, where he ran 26th.
Late in the 1989 season, O’Neil upgraded to an all-white Oldsmobile Cutlass, and the following year brought it to Florida for his first attempt at the Daytona 500. Despite a 21st-place finish in his Twin 125-mile qualifier, he made the cut for the 500, securing the 39th spot in the 42-car field. At the start, his was one of the first cars to be passed by polesitter Ken Schrader, whose #25 Kodiak Chevrolet had been sent to the back after a last-lap wreck in his 125 sent him to a backup car. In the end, Schrader lost an engine and finished 40th while O’Neil grabbed 31st.
It was during the 1990 season that O’Neil made his first Cup start at his home track, Watkins Glen International. Driving the #2 Nice ‘n Easy Pontiac for longtime owner-driver D.K. Ulrich, O’Neil started 35th and worked his way up to 26th, tying his career-best run at Charlotte the year before. After missing the cut at The Glen in his own car in 1991, O’Neil then gave Ulrich a ride in a second Arnoeck Oldsmobile at Dover in 1992. Ulrich parked the #85 after 21 laps in what turned out to be the Californian’s 273rd and final Cup start.
It was in 1992 that O’Neil made his most starts of any season, qualifying for six of his nine attempts. He improved his career-best finish at Pocono on June 14, where he ran 21st, 12 laps down, in what became Alan Kulwicki’s final Cup Series win. The #65 picked up sponsorship from Wheels Discount Auto that summer, and he carried the brand to a 25th-place finish in the rain-shortened Watkins Glen event, then 29th that fall at Charlotte. His best run of the year came in the first night running of the Winston Open, where he ran 14th in the 25-car field.
That same ’92 season, O’Neil branched out into ARCA, running double-duty at both Pocono races, the season finale at Atlanta, and the stand-alone race at Texas World Speedway. He finished a strong 5th in the Texas event, his first race in a Chevrolet, and followed Mickey Gibbs, Roy Payne, polesitter Loy Allen, Jr., and West Series regular John Krebs to the finish line. He also earned a lead-lap finish at Pocono in July, besting Frank Kimmel and Bobby Bowsher, among others. A career-best 3rd came in O’Neil’s next ARCA appearance at Pocono, where this time he trailed only race winner Bob Schacht and runner-up Jimmy Horton.
Heading into the summer of 1993, O’Neil had yet to make a single Cup race. He was the second-slowest of nine DNQs for the Winston 500 at Talladega, the third slowest of seven for the Coca-Cola 600, and the 13th slowest of an incredible 20 for the Pepsi 400 at Daytona. Fortunately, just 41 drivers were set to attempt the 40-car grid for the following week’s Slick 50 300, the first Cup Series race at the New Hampshire International Speedway. In qualifying, O’Neil secured the 36th starting spot, more than enough to bump the Henley Gray / Jimmy Means effort of Clay Young in the #62 Ford. This time, O’Neil’s white Chevrolet was painted black, similar to his old Top Fuel dragster “Down and Dirty.”
Means himself started last in the 40-car field in the black #52 Hurley Limo Ford. Ahead of him inside the Top 20 were two Busch Series regulars making their Cup debuts, each with experience on the Loudon track since it joined their circuit in 1990. Joe Nemechek entered his own #87 Chevrolet with sponsorship from Dentyne and started 15th. And starting 6th in the #0 TIC Financial Ford, Jeff Burton gave car owner Fil Martocci (of FILMAR Racing) his own first Cup start in a Ford that Mark Martin raced earlier that year at North Wilkesboro.
Heading into Turn 1 on Lap 2, Burton was trying to clear Ken Schrader for 4th when the two made contact, sending both cars into a lazy spin. While Schrader managed to escape into the grass, Burton crossed the path of Ernie Irvan’s #4 Kodak Chevrolet. The two collided, causing damage to Burton’s left-front and Irvan’s right-front. Morgan Shepherd also suffered damage to the nose of the Wood Brothers’ #21 Citgo Ford. Schrader was still on pit road for the Lap 6 restart, the crew working on the right-front of his car. He returned to the track one lap down, only to be involved in the second caution of the day.
On Lap 10, a multi-car wreck unfolded off Turn 4, pinning Phil Parsons’ #41 Manheim Auto Auctions Chevrolet in the outside wall and sending Schrader’s #25 spinning down the track. Through the cloud of smoke, O’Neil was collected by Michael Waltrip’s #30 Pennzoil Pontiac, and both cars slammed into the inside wall. Waltrip managed to drive back to pit road, and Schrader crossed the line before abandoning his car in the infield. But Parsons and O’Neil were done for the day. O’Neil, who was running behind Parsons before the crash, was thus credited with the last-place finish. Schrader lost an engine and secured 38th. Burton crashed a second time on Lap 90, putting his #0 behind the wall. Rounding out the Bottom Five was Nemechek, who broke a rocker arm on his #87.
O’Neil ran 18th in his final ARCA start during the following week’s return to Pocono, a weekend whose events were overshadowed by the death of Davey Allison. His final Cup start came three months later on October 10, during the Mello Yello 500 at Charlotte. This time, he qualified 32nd in the 42-car field, well ahead of eight drivers sent home after time trials. Among the DNQs were Dave Marcis and current Truck Series competitor Norm Benning. O’Neil finished 34th in the race out with a drop in oil pressure just 23 laps short of the finish.
With sponsorship from the X-1R Corporation and another team alliance, this time with Phil Barkdoll, O’Neil attempted three more Cup fields into the first part of the 1994 season, including the inaugural Brickyard 400, but made none of those races. His only green flag that year came in his fifth and final Winston Open appearance, where his Chevrolet finished on the lead lap, 20th out of 36 starters. With that, his final points race in 1993 marked the 97th and most recent Cup Series start for car #65, the least-used number currently available to Cup teams.
But the story doesn’t end there. When the O’Neil family moved from New York to Mooresville, North Carolina to pursue their Cup effort, Jerry’s son Brandon looked to get into racing himself. He started racing quarter midgets and dirt go-karts, then worked on his father’s Hooters Pro Cup team when Jerry made a pair of starts in 1998 and 1999. Brandon has since racked up victories in both New York and North Carolina, and can now be seen driving his father’s #65 on his Dirt Late Model. For more on Brandon and the O’Neil team, check out his website here.
*This remains the fourth and most recent last-place finish for car #65 in a Cup Series points race. The only other instances were Tommie Crozier’s run at Pocono in 1989, and two finishes by Allan Harley in 1962 (one each at Bristol and Asheville-Weaverville Speedway).
THE BOTTOM FIVE
40) #65-Jerry O’Neil / 9 laps / crash
39) #41-Phil Parsons / 9 laps / crash
38) #25-Ken Schrader / 14 laps / engine
37) #0-Jeff Burton / 86 laps / crash
36) #87-Joe Nemechek / 119 laps / rocker arm
*1993 Slick 50 300 at New Hampshire, TNN (posted on YouTube by BigTNASCAR)
*Brandon O’Neil Official Website, oneilmotorsports.com