Wednesday, May 30, 2018

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

J.D. McDuffie at Pocono, June 1991
PHOTO: Sally Berch Daggett
J.D. McDuffie made 22 starts at the “Tricky Triangle” in Pocono, Pennsylvania, starting with the first-ever Cup race held at the track. On Sunday, August 4, 1974, his #70 Chevrolet started 27th in the 35-car field, but lost an engine after 70 laps. His 25th-place finish that day came during a particularly difficult season, and was his fourth of five consecutive DNFs that summer.

Better runs weren’t far away. On July 31, 1977, during the Coca-Cola 500, McDuffie finished 14th, eight laps down to race winner Benny Parsons. He improved the following year with his first top-ten finish – a 10th – this time within six circuits of Darrell Waltrip. It turned out to be McDuffie’s best-ever finish at the track.

Still, in his next six Pocono starts, McDuffie finished inside the Top 20 four times with just a single DNF. He managed to maintain this level of consistency despite NASCAR’s downsizing of its stock cars, forcing the Sanford native to shift from a large Chevrolet Monte Carlo to a much smaller Pontiac Grand Prix or Le Mans. 16th was his best finish after the downsizing, which he accomplished in both 1982 and 1986.

The first of McDuffie’s two last-place finishes at Pocono came on June 10, 1984, during the Van Scoy Diamond Mine 500. Running outside the Top 30, he was caught up in a Lap 6 accident with Jerry Bowman, whose #58 J.B. Racing Ford lost an engine in the first corner. The aftermath of this accident was featured midway through Ken Squier’s feature on McDuffie, aired on CBS during the following year’s Daytona 500.

McDuffie in the Wayne Beahr car, 1985
PHOTO: Janine Pestel Collection
The other last-place finish occurred on July 21, 1985, during the Summer 500. It was McDuffie’s second of three starts driving a beige Ford Thunderbird provided by car owner Wayne Beahr. Sponsorship came from Lockhart Ford and Hanover Printing. Despite the car’s obscurity, running just 10 laps that afternoon before the engine let go, this particular #70 was mass-produced in 1:64 scale by Racing Collectibles, Inc.

In 1991, Pocono was the only track where McDuffie made both its scheduled races. Both times, he ran the burgundy-and-black Pontiac that he would drive at Watkins Glen in August. The quarter-panels carried logos for Classic Trophies, which was based not far from the track. White lettering on each side of the rear bumper read “Tim Patty & Cliff” for the June 16th Champion Spark Plug 500, then “H & M Trucking” for the return on July 21, the Miller Genuine Draft 500 (The story of those sponsors will be in the book).

In the first race, handling issues left McDuffie 34th in the field of 37. In the July return, he finished under power, 27 laps behind Rusty Wallace in 25th. Around Lap 130 of 200, ESPN showed McDuffie on the Long Pond Straight and followed him to the start / finish line. As they did, announcers Bob Jenkins and Ned Jarrett commented on the driver’s run:

BOB JENKINS: “Every person out there has a favorite driver. And for those of you who are J.D. McDuffie fans, here he is. He’s running in 27th position, about 21 laps behind. But you’ve gotta give this guy an ‘A’ for effort and perseverance.”

NED JARRETT: “I tell you, the car looks good, so he has dodged most of the wrecks here today. So, it’s good to see J.D. in a race. He’s had some trouble making some races. He’s from Sanford, North Carolina. But he started 40th, so he has picked up 13 positions so far. He’s still out there circling this race track.”

BOB JENKINS: “The guy comes to just about every Winston Cup race and gives it everything he’s got every time he shows up at the track.”

This footage, without Jenkins and Jarrett’s audio, was used in Benny Parsons’ tribute to McDuffie, aired the following month at Michigan.

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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