Wednesday, March 28, 2018

#JD70: J.D. McDuffie's Career at North Wilkesboro

"Old Blue" brings #70 to North Wilkesboro for the final time,
April 1991.
PHOTO: Mike and Lesley Demers
Second to Rockingham, the North Wilkesboro Speedway was one of McDuffie’s shortest drives, just over two hours north-west of Sanford. 36 times, that drive was followed by another 400 laps on Sunday in the twice-yearly events on the 0.625-mile oval.

McDuffie’s first North Wilkesboro start on April 17, 1966 was also his first of eight top-ten finishes at the track. Driving a 1964 Ford, McDuffie started 29th in the 37-car field and drove all the way to 7th at the finish. The race, which saw Jim Paschal win from the pole, leading 308 of the 400 laps, saw several other owner-drivers also turn in strong runs. Henley Gray picked up his second top-five finish with a 5th. Hall of Fame inductee Wendell Scott finished 4th, one of the last of his 20 career Top Fives. And, finishing 2nd for the first of seven times in his winless career, came G.C. Spencer.

McDuffie actually drove for Spencer three years later, driving a second 1967 Plymouth #8 alongside Spencer’s #49. In that running of the Wilkes 400, held October 5, 1969, McDuffie finished 12th, 20 laps but just three positions behind Spencer. Spencer’s small operation actually fielded three cars in that race, giving him one-tenth of the 30-car grid. Driving the third Plymouth was fellow North Carolina native E.J. Trivette, who lost an engine and finished 22nd.

McDuffie saw his own share of bad luck at the track, failing to finish just over half of his North Wilkesboro starts (19 of 36). Of those, he finished last four times, tied with Richmond for his most at a Cup Series track. His first last-place run was in his second start on September 29, 1968, when his 1967 Buick lost an engine after just one lap. The second didn’t come until October 3, 1982, a race where Darrell Waltrip led 329 of 400 laps for Junior Johnson. That day, his Mack's Stores Pontiac lost an engine after 9 laps. Number three came October 14, 1984, during another drumming by Waltrip, where McDuffie broke an axle after 21 laps. The fourth on April 5, 1987 turned out to be his final start at the track. As Dale Earnhardt this time did the dominating, leading 319 of 400 laps, another engine let go on the Rumple Furniture Pontiac, this time just 29 laps in.

But there were several good times as well. In the 11 races run from the fall of 1975 through the spring of 1979, McDuffie scored six Top Tens. The trend began with a streak of three in a row, including a track-best 5th in the Gwyn Staley 400 on April 4, 1976. That day, where Cale Yarborough led 364 of 400 laps, McDuffie finished four laps behind Benny Parsons and Bobby Allison, and six behind Richard Petty. Among those in his rear view mirror were Richard Childress, Darrell Waltrip, and Buddy Baker. McDuffie’s final Top Ten, a 6th on March 25, 1979, saw him lead his only laps at the track – the 67th and 68th – lifting him from 13th to 11th in the standings.

The following year, McDuffie gave his son Jeff his first taste of Winston Cup racing at North Wilkesboro. Driving a Buick renumbered #07, the younger McDuffie started 20th in the field and finished 18th. His father broke a cam and nearly finished last, edged for the position by Tommy Houston. Jeff McDuffie made two more starts at the track in the fall of both 1980 and 1982, and each time improved, running 17th in the former and 16th in the latter.

Following his final North Wilkesboro start in 1987, McDuffie attempted six more races at the track through the first part of 1991. His final attempt for the First Union 400 scheduled for April 21, 1991 saw him use the same burgundy Pontiac that he would race in his final start four months later.

Reserve your copy of "J.D.: The Life and Death of a Forgotten NASCAR Legend" at Waldorf Publishing, coming July 15, 2018. Click here for more details.

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