Wednesday, June 27, 2018

#JD70: J.D. McDuffie's Career at the Columbia Speedway

J.D.'s Buick headed home with damage, late 1960s
PHOTO: Wilbur Thomas Collection
J.D. McDuffie began his racing career on local dirt tracks, winning races and championships on clay ovals across the south-east. When he made his first NASCAR start in 1963, similar tracks still made up a large part of the schedule. Four of his first six starts came on unpaved tracks, including the half-mile Columbia Speedway in South Carolina.

McDuffie would make ten starts on this track, starting on August 8, 1963. He started 6th and finished 14th of 22 starters in the Sandlapper 200, a race Richard Petty won from the pole. Curiously, Petty made his first stock car start on the track on July 12, 1958, finishing 6th in a Convertible Series race on the speedway. Petty’s first of his 1,184 Cup Series starts wouldn’t come until six days later in Toronto.

During our research for “J.D.: The Life and Death of a Forgotten NASCAR Legend,” we had the opportunity to talk with Wilbur Thomas (nicknamed “Bad Eye”) and Jimmy Byrd (aka “Byrdie”), two of McDuffie’s longtime friends and crew members. Byrd remembered the Columbia track and the unique challenges it presented.

“I went with him some to the dirt tracks that he raced other cars, but not in NASCAR – well now I take that back, in NASCAR we run Columbia, South Carolina, Raleigh Fairgrounds. We run the Buick at Raleigh, that thing was running up there, and that big old hole come in that race track, every car that went through there, they’d go down in that hole and come off the ground. And finally run the driveshaft out of it, the track just come all to pieces.”

“Went to Columbia, South Carolina, me and Bad Eye went down there one night, dirt track. Where’d we finish – 5th, 6th, 7th? It was up toward the front. We’ve been to so many races, it’s hard to remember them all. A lot of it you want to forget, the hard times.”

McDuffie failed to finish seven of his ten Columbia starts, but never once finished last there. He also finished 15th or better seven times (out of 22 to 30 starters, depending on the year) and earned a track-best 7th on September 18, 1969, a race won by Bobby Isaac. The following spring on April 30, 1970, McDuffie charged from 22nd to finish 8th, 8 laps down to “The King.” An engine failure left him just 23rd at the finish in August, the final dirt track event at the speedway.

Columbia was paved for the 1971 season, when the track hosted its final two Cup Series races. McDuffie finished 15th in the first due to engine trouble, then crashed out in August for a 19th-place showing. With the arrival of Winston as title sponsor, the track was removed from the Cup schedule, and like other ousted facilities, briefly hosted the Grand National East Series for the next two seasons. Bobby Allison took the final two checkered flags there and, while McDuffie raced in three other GN East events, he didn’t race in the Columbia events.

The Columbia track no longer hosts races, but the bumpy paved oval still sits among the trees outside the town of Cayce. The track still hosts several events a year, including racer’s reunions. More details can be found at the track’s website.

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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