Wednesday, May 23, 2018

#JD70: J.D. McDuffie's Career at the Charlotte Motor Speedway

McDuffie's Ford at Charlotte, circa 1969
J.D. McDuffie made 30 starts in Cup points races at Charlotte – 16 in the Coca-Cola 600, and 14 in the fall's 500-miler, to be replaced this September with the track’s new “Roval.”

Although he started running Cup races in 1963 and lived within a two-hour drive of the speedway, McDuffie didn’t qualify for a race at Charlotte until the 10th annual World 600 on May 25, 1969. Even then, it was by the skin of his teeth - his 1967 Buick rolled out next-to-last in the 44-car field. But in the four-and-a-half-hour marathon, McDuffie climbed his way up to the 15th position, one spot behind last-place starter (and fellow owner-driver) Roy Tyner. LeeRoy Yarbrough took the win.

Three times at Charlotte, McDuffie drove for other teams, each time for other independents. His second-ever start there on October 12, 1969 came driving in a second car prepared by future pace car driver Elmo Langley. McDuffie ran 24th in the #84, out with a burned clutch, while Langley came home 13th. On October 10, 1971, during the National 500, McDuffie climbed aboard the 1971 Ford fielded by second-year driver Raymond Williams. This time, McDuffie finished 22nd in a rain-shortened event won by Bobby Allison. The third occasion was the 1980 renewal of the 600 on May 25 of that year, where this time he drove Californian D.K Ulrich’s #40 Chevrolet 145 laps before the engine let go, leaving him 30th.

McDuffie before the 1976 Coca-Cola 600
PHOTO: source unknown
McDuffie failed to finish nine of his Charlotte starts, but never finished last. His average finish of 20.9 was buoyed by a pair of top-ten runs in the mid-1970s. The first came in the 1974 World 600, where he charged his Chevrolet from 32nd to 10th at the finish. David Pearson edged Richard Petty by less than a second in one of their famous battles. The following year, in the National 500 on October 5, 1975, McDuffie earned a track-best 9th, again working his way from 35th on the grid. Petty and Pearson settled the score once again, this time with the STP Dodge coming out on top.

The Sanford driver very nearly finished in the Top Ten once more on October 8, 1978, during the NAPA National 500 won by Bobby Allison. McDuffie earned a better starting spot, rolling off 22nd in the Bailey Excavating Chevrolet, and finished 11th. The 10th-place finisher, Dick Brooks, broke a fuel pump in on Junie Donlavey’s Mercury, and came within just two laps of losing the spot to the closing McDuffie. From there, Car #70 remained consistent at the 1.5-mile oval, turning in Top 20 performances in five of his next eight starts.

McDuffie pits during his final Cup start at Charlotte, 1986
PHOTO: Original JPS Broadcast
As speeds increased and, with it, the depth of the starting fields, McDuffie began to struggle to make the starting grid in 1983, when he joined four other drivers on the early ride home from the October race. After that, he made just two more Charlotte starts. First was his final Coca-Cola World 600 on May 26, 1985. Carrying the Rumple Furniture colors, McDuffie bested 10 drivers for the 38th starting spot, then finished 39th, out with an early ignition problem. His final Charlotte start came the following fall on October 5, 1986, in the Oakwood Homes 500. As it happened, he closed out his career at the track in much the same way he started it, charging from 42nd and last on the grid to finish 20th, 12 laps down to a victorious Dale Earnhardt.

McDuffie attempted 8 of the following 9 Charlotte races, and while he didn’t make any of them, the DNQ for the 1988 Coca-Cola 600 was particularly significant. It was there that the driver made his first qualifying attempt since his serious burns suffered in the Twin 125s at Daytona, just three months earlier.

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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