Wednesday, May 2, 2018

#JD70: J.D. McDuffie's Career at Dover

J.D. McDuffie at Dover, 1990
PHOTO: Mike and Lesley Demers
“The Monster Mile” stands second only to Rockingham for the most starts J.D. McDuffie made at any Cup Series track. He took the green flag there 41 times, missing just two of the races held there through his final start at the track in 1991 (the two missed were consecutive races in September 1988 and June 1989). Only Richard Petty, who started all 43 run in that span, had a longer streak. Petty won the first Cup race held at Dover on July 6, 1969, back when it was only 300 laps. McDuffie finished 12th that day, 35 laps down, in his 1967 Buick.

None of those 41 starts was more significant to the man from Sanford than September 17, 1978, when McDuffie claimed his lone pole position on McCreary tires. Making his 404th series start, McDuffie put up a lap of 135.480mph, putting him alongside Bobby Allison in Bud Moore’s Ford. Allison ended up winning that day, splitting the race lead with Cale Yarborough for much of the afternoon. McDuffie, meanwhile, led the first ten laps before the McCrearys started to crumble on a long 109-lap green-flag run. The engine blew on Lap 80, leaving the #70 a disappointing 33rd of 37. The pole earned McDuffie a spot in the inaugural Busch Clash, held the following February.

The three Top Tens and single Top Five that McDuffie scored at Dover all came before the 1978 race. Like the pole position, all three of these runs came in the fall race. His best finish at the track was a 5th on September 16, 1973, when he was running a 1972 Chevrolet. Finishing 16 laps down to David Pearson’s Mercury, McDuffie followed Bobby Allison, Buddy Baker, and Benny Pearsons to the finish line. Among those trailing him were Richard Petty, Donnie Allison, Darrell Waltrip, and Cale Yarborough. His other Top Tens were a 7th on September 19, 1976 and an 8th on September 14, 1975.

McDuffie failed to finish 27 of his 41 Dover starts, including 22 of his final 25, but he only finished last there twice. The first was on September 18, 1983, when his McDuffie Racing Pontiac blew another engine after 79 laps. Dale Earnhardt blew a head gasket just 11 circuits later, leaving him next-to-last. The other occurred on September 16, 1990, when this time the transmission gave out on his #70 Run-A-Bout Pontiac after just 18 laps. That finish was the 31st of McDuffie’s career – his last before his final start at Watkins Glen the following year.

McDuffie’s final Dover start occurred on June 2, 1991. He brought his short track car to the track, a cherry red Pontiac that had just run the Winston Open and attempted the Coca-Cola 600. The driver managed to make the show, squeezing into the 35th and final spot ahead of four DNQs, including current ARCA competitor Bobby Gerhart. One row in front of McDuffie was Bobby Labonte, making his Cup debut in his family’s #14 Slim Jim Oldsmobile. Labonte lost an engine after 88 laps while McDuffie tried to stay out of trouble as he went down laps to the leaders. On Lap 273, contact from a closing Kenny Wallace sent McDuffie into the inside wall on the backstretch. Unfortunately, McDuffie never got the chance to fully repair the car.

For all his struggles at Dover, the track also saw the veteran’s persistence pay off. In 1982, he finished 13th – his best run since 1979 – and he ran 16th in the fall of 1984. Four years later in 1988, Dover was the scene of McDuffie’s return to action following his serious burns suffered in the Twin 125s at Daytona. Driving an old Pontiac 2+2, McDuffie bested fellow owner-driver Buddy Arrington for a spot in the Budweiser 500. He finished 25th that day – the final time he came home at the track under power – and led during a competition caution on Lap 28. It was McDuffie’s 14th and final lap led at the track.

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.

McDuffie leads his final lap at Dover, 1988
PHOTO: Mike and Lesley Demers
McDuffie returns to action for the first time since his Daytona crash, 1988
PHOTO: Mike and Lesley Demers
The red Pontiac at Dover, June 1991
PHOTO: Mike and Lesley Demers
J.D. McDuffie with cigar at the ready at Dover, 1991
PHOTO: Mike and Lesley Demers
After the Dover accident, 1991
PHOTO: Mike and Lesley Demers
Loaded up and headed back to Sanford, 1991
PHOTO: Mike and Lesley Demers

1 comment:

Brian Sprayson said...

He was a great guy and a great racer!