Wednesday, June 20, 2018

#JD70: J.D. McDuffie had a long road course career before his final race

McDuffie at Riverside in the mid-1970s
PHOTO: source unknown
Though he was active during the first three Cup Series races run there, J.D. McDuffie never competed at the Sonoma Raceway, scene of this weekend’s 30th Annual Toyota / Save Mart 350. He did, however, race in a combined 40 road course events.

The first of these took place on July 10, 1966, in the fourth and final Cup Series race at the Bridgehampton Raceway. Located near the very tip of Long Island in New York state, this 13-turn, 2.85-mile course weaved through soft sandy run-offs and heavy woods. Constructed in 1957, it first hosted NASCAR the following year, when Jack Smith won a 35-lap race by more than 12 seconds. Richard Petty won the next race in 1963 followed by Billy Wade in 1964.

In the 1966 race at Bridgehampton, McDuffie lined up 13th in a 28-car field driving his #70 1964 Ford. After 52 laps, McDuffie finished 17th, seven circuits behind polesitter David Pearson. The track continued to host road racing events for SCCA Trans-Am and Can-Am until 1970, and fell into disrepair. The track was turned into a golf course in 1997. As of 2016, a few elements remain, including its iconic Chevron Bridge across a stretch of pavement.

One of McDuffie's final starts at Riverside, circa 1986
PHOTO: source unknown
The bulk of McDuffie’s road course experience occurred at another track no longer in existence, the Riverside International Raceway in southern California. Like Bridgehampton, Riverside opened in 1957 and first hosted NASCAR in 1958, this time with Eddie Gray taking the checkered flag. Of the 48 races hosted there on configurations between 2.62 and 2.7 miles, McDuffie competed in 33 of them.

McDuffie’s first Riverside race was the February 1, 1969 running of the Motor Trend 500. He made the long trip west, qualified 35th in the 44-car field in his Buick, and finished 29th after engine trouble. It was the first of his 16 DNFs at the track, nearly one for every two starts at the demanding road course. Only once – the final race for NASCAR’s 115-inch wheelbase cars on January 11, 1981 – did he crash out of a race there, finishing 23rd.

McDuffie in a Junior Johnson car at Riverside, 1982
PHOTO: Richard Mackson, USA Today Sports
McDuffie’s first of three top-ten finishes at Riverside was a track-best 6th on June 8, 1975. The #70 lined up 28th on the grid and was the second-highest-finishing Chevrolet behind 3rd-place Benny Parsons. McDuffie found most of his success in the summer’s 400-mile races, finishing 7th on June 10, 1979 and 9th the following year on June 8, 1980. The lone exception was his only Riverside last-place finish on June 2, 1985, when he dropped a valve after 3 laps.

His best finish in a 500-mile race at Riverside (once the season opener and later the season finale) came on November 22, 1981 when he came home 11th. He led one of his two laps at the track that day. The other came the following year, when Junior Johnson tabbed him to drive a second Buick alongside series champion Darrell Waltrip. The full story of this car will be in my book.

McDuffie (left) racing Dale Earnhardt (right) at Watkins Glen, 1986
PHOTO: source unknown
Unfortunately, McDuffie did not start the final Cup race at Riverside in 1988. His final green flag there was the previous year’s running of the Budweiser 400 on June 21, 1987, when his Rumple Furniture Pontiac lined up 35th of 41 starters and retired early with an oil leak, leaving him 37th. Unlike Bridgehampton, no trace of the Riverside track currently exists other than a museum located off the former grounds.

This, of course, leads to McDuffie’s career at Watkins Glen International. The current site of The Glen first hosted Cup races in 1957, one year before Bridgehampton and Riverside, and six years before McDuffie’s first Cup race. Although McDuffie started racing in 1963, he was briefly off the Cup tour in 1964 and 1965, when The Glen hosted its last two starts there until 1986. Once the track returned to the circuit in 1986, McDuffie made the race every year, achieving a track-best finish of 22nd in 1990.

Then came 1991.

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.

*Rudow, Martin. “Lost Road Courses,” CarTech, 2016.

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