Wednesday, July 4, 2018

#JD70: J.D. McDuffie enjoyed several strong runs in the Firecracker 400

McDuffie helping out Dave Marcis at Daytona, July 1990
PHOTO: Dave Chobat
Back in February, we looked at J.D. McDuffie’s career in the Daytona 500 and what is now the Can-Am Duels. On this Independence Day, the traditional date of what is now the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona, we look at McDuffie's career in the 400-miler.

It’s interesting to note that, while he didn’t participate in SpeedWeeks until 1969, he’d already made two Daytona starts before that, both of which in the Firecracker 400.

McDuffie’s first green flag at Daytona came on the Fourth of July, 1966 – the same race which saw Sam McQuagg pick up the only victory of his Cup Series career. McDuffie started 37th in the field of 40, his #70 a 1964 Ford. Midway through his second season at the time, the Sanford driver finished under power in 21st, though 27 laps behind McQuagg. He finished ahead of both front-row starters LeeRoy Yarbrough, 24th after suspension issues, and Richard Petty, who wrecked before halfway.

Out of a total 17 starts in the Firecracker 400 – two more than his number of Daytona 500s – McDuffie finished last three times. His first came on July 4, 1968, when his Buick’s engine let go after 1 lap in a race Cale Yarborough won for the Wood Brothers.

The following year, he was driving for team owner E.C. Reid in a #09 1969 Chevrolet that had an oil leak after 6 laps. Curiously, both Wendell Scott and Cecil Gordon, two of his other fellow owner-drivers, were also driving for other teams and fell out in the first 21 laps.

The third occurred on July 4, 1973, where he qualified a strong 17th out of 40 starters, but the engine let go after 2 laps. This time, he was joined in the Bottom Five by champions Bobby Isaac and Cale Yarborough, Indy 500 legend A.J. Foyt, and Sterling Marlin’s father Coo Coo. David Pearson won the race in a classic one-two finish with “The King.”

But it wasn’t all bad – far from it. While some tracks saw McDuffie struggle with the transition from 115-inch to 110-inch wheelbase cars in 1981, the Sanford driver actually ran as good or better when the Fourth rolled around. His best finish in the event was 11th, which he achieved both well before the transition in 1974 and a year after it in 1982. He also finished 12th in 1978 and 1981. The ’81 race saw him lead his only laps in a Cup race at Daytona, taking the lead twice from Laps 37-39 and 56-59 before Yarborough took the win.

Out of 35 total Daytona starts, 7 of his 10 top-ten finishes came in July. The last of these came during Greg Sacks’ upset victory on July 4, 1985, when he started 40th in the 41-car field and outlasted the competition to finish 20th. Trailing him that afternoon were Ken Schrader (21st), Harry Gant (24th), Tim Richmond (28th), Richard Petty (29th), A.J. Foyt (30th), Cale Yarborough (36th), and Rusty Wallace (41st, his first last-place finish).

Technically, the record books indicate that 1985 was McDuffie’s final start in the 400. However, he did race in one more. On July 7, 1990, McDuffie worked out a deal with fellow independent Dave Marcis, who was injured in a serious practice crash with Darrell Waltrip. The deal was for Marcis to start the race in McDuffie’s car, then hand over the wheel at the first caution. Fortunately for them – and only a few others – that caution came out on the first lap, when a massive pileup broke out up front. Marcis steered clear of the danger, and made the change. McDuffie drove the renumbered #71 until the final 20 laps, when he spun in his own oil from a blown engine.

Still, the result was another solid 20th place.

It's now just 11 days until the release of "J.D.: The Life and Death of a Forgotten NASCAR Legend," from Waldorf Publishing. Click here for more details.

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