Wednesday, May 9, 2018

#JD70: J.D. McDuffie's Career at the Nashville Fairgrounds

McDuffie in 1968
PHOTO: Fred Marchman / Tommy Marchman
While Rockingham was J.D. McDuffie’s favorite track, the Nashville Fairgrounds was his best. Nowhere else in his NASCAR Cup Series career did he score more Top Fives or Top Tens. Nowhere did he lead more laps in a single race. And, in 29 starts, not once did he finish last.

McDuffie’s first Cup start on the Tennessee track came on July 30, 1966, a race Richard Petty led flag-to-flag from the pole. McDuffie started 24th in the field of 28 and ended up 23rd following an overheating issue on his 1964 Ford. Two years later, McDuffie finished 11th in his Buick, and for the next five starts ran no worse than 10th.

The driver’s performance remained consistent, even when the banking was lowered from 35 to 18 degrees, and the length changed from a perfect half-mile to a shade over it. In 1970 and 1971, the first two races on the new configuration, McDuffie scored back-to-back 5th-place runs driving a Mercury. When McDuffie made the switch to Chevrolet, he ran 9th in 1973, 7th in 1974, 9th in 1975, and 8th in 1977. In the races between, he finished outside the Top 20 only twice.

When Bailey Excavating sponsored the #70 in the late 1970s, McDuffie was a clear threat for the victory. On July 15, 1978, during the Nashville 420, McDuffie led his first lap at the track – the 39th of the day – quite the accomplishment since Cale Yarborough dominated to lead 411 of the 420 laps.

When the series returned on May 12, 1979, it was McDuffie who now dominated, starting 9th and leading 111 laps, his most ever in a single Cup race. Months after his first pole at Dover and his invite to the inaugural Busch Clash at Daytona, McDuffie looked to be on his way to his first Cup Series victory. He led as late as Lap 276 before a pit stop, then a rain delay, dropped him to 5th at the finish. It was McDuffie’s 12th and final Top Five. Only Richard Petty led more laps than McDuffie that night. Yarborough took the win. That summer, McDuffie picked up his 11th and final Nashville Top Ten, running 8th in a race dominated by Darrell Waltrip and DiGard Racing.

From 1981 onward, when NASCAR downsized its cars, McDuffie finished no better than 16th at Nashville, though finished no worse than 26th. That finish came on May 12, 1984, the next-to-last Cup race ever held at the track. As controversy reigned over which Junior Johnson teammate took the victory, McDuffie finished 26th of 30 starters, the last car under power. He failed to qualify for the final Cup race held there in July, one of six DNQs. It was only the second Nashville race he missed. The other came in 1967.

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 in 1969
PHOTO: source unknown
McDuffie in 1975
PHOTO: Fred Marchman / Tommy Marchman
McDuffie racing with Cale Yarborough in 1979
PHOTO: David Allio


toomuchcountry said...

Good read. FWIW I'm guessing pics from 1968 and 1975 were snapped by Fred or Tommy Marchman. Russ Thompson (Calhoun98) will likely know. The pic of JD racing Cale looks spot-on like a David Allio pic. You could run by him at @davidallio or @racingphotoarchives on Twitter.

Brock Beard said...

Thank you