Wednesday, May 16, 2018

#JD70: J.D. McDuffie's Career on All-Star Weekend

(Above and below)
An original 1986 Atlanta Invitational ballot.
PHOTO: James Oldham Collection
Despite his modest statistics, J.D. McDuffie competed in the inaugural runnings of two different NASCAR exhibition races that were invite only. In 1979, he qualified for the first Busch Clash at Daytona due to his only career pole at Dover the year before. And, in 1986, he also participated in the first running of what is now the Monster Energy Open.

The Open, then known as the Atlanta Invitational, was the first new addition to “The Winston,” NASCAR’s all-star event, then in its second year. Ironically, it debuted at the only running of the All-Star Race to not be held at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. As the Invitational’s name implies, it was run at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. What’s more, the race winner didn’t transfer into the main event – the Invitational would be separate 100-lap race held the same day.

Unlike today, where drivers and teams not qualified for the All-Star could compete so long as they made a certain number of attempts in the previous year, the “Invitational” was quite literally that. Just 26 drivers were made eligible, of which only 14 would be allowed to compete. Which 14 drivers made the cut was determined entirely on a fan vote. Ballots like the one seen here (provided by J.D. McDuffie Fan Club president James Oldham), invited fans to select their 14 favorites, and also receive an autographed picture of their favorite driver.

It’s interesting to note the names on the list. The 1986 running of “The Winston” was specifically for winners from the 1985 season only. Thus, past champions like Richard Petty, David Pearson, Bobby Allison, and Benny Parsons (who helped broadcast ESPN’s coverage of “The Winston” that day) made the list. Joining them were Kyle Petty, Rusty Wallace, and Morgan Shepherd – drivers who would’ve been in the 1986 race under today’s rules since they won in the first part of the ’86 season. But all three were still on the list, joined by owner-drivers like Buddy Arrington, Jimmy Means, Dave Marcis, and J.D. McDuffie.

A push by McDuffie’s fan club got the #70 into the Invitational, which was no small accomplishment. The 12 eligible drivers who missed the cut were Mike Alexander, Eddie Bierschwale, Ron Bouchard, Clark Dwyer, Tommy Ellis, Lennie Pond, Bobby Wawak, “The Silver Fox” himself, David Pearson, current broadcaster Phil Parsons, short track veteran Ken Schrader, as well as 1986 race winners Rusty Wallace and Morgan Shepherd.

A busted valve knocked McDuffie out of the Invitational after 37 laps, leaving him next-to-last in the finishing order. Benny Parsons took the win. The following week, when the series resumed at Dover, McDuffie made his 600th career Cup Series start.

McDuffie competed in three of the next five runnings of the event, which became the Winston Open, a qualifier for the main event. His best of those three races came in the race’s return to Charlotte in 1987, where he finished 16th of 34 starters, three laps down to race winner Buddy Baker. He then crashed out of the 1989 race, leaving him 26th of 30, and in 1991 lost an engine after 15 laps, leaving him 28th of 30. That final start on May 19, 1991 came driving the same bright red Pontiac Grand Prix that was wrecked at Dover later that month.

McDuffie falls off the pace in the inaugural Atlanta
Invitational, 1986
PHOTO: ESPN, YouTube cubs604
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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