Wednesday, June 6, 2018

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

Based in nearby Jackson, Michigan, Bailey Excavating supported
McDuffie's #70 for much of his career.
PHOTO: source unknown
J.D. McDuffie made 33 starts at the Michigan International Speedway and, like Pocono, was there for the inaugural event. What’s more, he enjoyed a strong run. The date was June 15, 1969, and the race length was 500 miles. Driving his two-year-old Buick, McDuffie qualified 20th in the 38-car field and climbed to 13th by the finish. Heavy attrition that day meant that only 17 cars finished under power. Most of those DNFs were due to engine failure, and included polesitter Donnie Allison, brother Bobby Allison, and 1970 Cup Series champion Bobby Isaac.

McDuffie himself didn’t fail to finish a Michigan race until June 16, 1974, when his own engine let go after 135 of 180 laps. Even then, he had outlasted much of the competition, climbing from 34th on the grid to 17th.

With the exception of a second engine failure on August 24, 1975 that left him 28th, McDuffie finished inside the Top 20 in 14 of 15 consecutive Michigan races without a single DNF. The streak began with his first of four career Top Tens on June 24, 1973, when he rallied from 26th to finish 10th, 8 laps down to David Pearson. It also included his track-best 7th-place run on August 20, 1978. That particular running of the Champion Spark Plug 400 was one of his best overall weekends. He qualified 9th that day – his only starting spot there better than 15th – led his first three circuits from Laps 39 to 41, and was this time within three laps of Pearson’s winning Mercury. The streak ended on June 21, 1981, the first Michigan race after NASCAR downsized from full-sized race cars. McDuffie’s his Pontiac Grand Prix ran 22nd.

McDuffie finished last at Michigan only once, during the following year’s Gabriel 400 on June 20, 1982. The #70 Bailey Excavating Pontiac lined up 32nd in the 37-car field, but drew the first caution after the engine let go on Lap 10. The driver then struggled to qualify in 1984, missing both races that year, but made both rounds there in 1985 and 1986. On June 15, 1986, he led Lap 22 – his fourth and final lap led at the track – but dropped a valve for a 35th-place finish. The year after, he ended a streak of six consecutive DNFs at Michigan with a 22nd-place finish on August 16, 1987.

McDuffie’s final start at Michigan came on June 24, 1990, during the Miller Genuine Draft 400. The entry list saw 44 drivers entered for 40 spots, and the Sanford native earned 37th on the grid. Missing the field were David Ragan’s father Ken Ragan, series veteran Charlie Glotzbach, Mickey Gibbs, and Rich Vogler, who one month later would lose his life in a USAC race at the Salem Speedway. The #70 ended up finishing in 37th, out with a broken rocker arm after 57 laps.

It was also at Michigan, one week after the tragedy at Watkins Glen, where fans and drivers alike paid tribute to the fallen driver. This tribute aired on ESPN during the third caution of the Champion Spark Plug 400, scene of Dale Jarrett’s first Cup victory.

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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