Wednesday, July 11, 2018

#JD70: A track-by-track look at J.D. McDuffie's early NASCAR career

Several of J.D.' McDuffie's first Cup cars were painted blue.
PHOTO: Wilbur and Jimmy Thomas Collection
Today, we close out our J.D. McDuffie track-by-track series with speedways where the driver made eight or fewer starts in his Cup career (with the exclusion of Bridgehampton, New York and Houston, Texas, mentioned in earlier articles). Many of these tracks were taken off the Cup Series circuit when Winston became title sponsor in 1972. Some are still in operation today. One hosted exactly one Cup race.

Among these 30 tracks – many of them paved and unpaved bullrings – McDuffie made his first Cup start, ran the last Cup event on a dirt track, and competed where he first watched a race as a child. Though these tracks made up just 99 of McDuffie’s 653 career Cup starts, they also account for 2 of his 12 Top Fives (including his career-best finish), 37 of his 106 Top Tens, and only 4 of his 32 last-place finishes – including his first of each.

Malta, New York
McDuffie’s second and final start on this 0.362-mile paved track came on July 14, 1971, when he finished a career-best 3rd, six laps behind winner Richard Petty and four behind 2nd-place Dave Marcis. The Sanford driver also led 5 laps that day, his Mercury pacing the field from Laps 59 to 63 of 250.

Weaverville, North Carolina
This longtime track proved one of McDuffie’s most challenging. In six starts, he only finished under power twice. His track-best was a 9th on May 4, 1969, when he finished 23 laps behind Bobby Isaac in the Fireball 300.

Augusta, Georgia
Similar to Asheville-Weaverville, McDuffie finished under power in only one of his five starts here, coming home 9th in his Buick on October 5, 1968. His final start here came on October 19, 1969, when an engine failure caused the 11th last-place finish of his career.

Beltsville, Maryland
In seven of his eight starts, McDuffie finished no worse than 15th (in starting fields that ranged from 22 to 31 cars). His track-best finish came in the Maryland 300 on September 13, 1968, a race Bobby Isaac won by more than two laps. McDuffie ran 8th that day, 17 laps behind.

Winston-Salem, North Carolina
The “madhouse” of today held special significance to McDuffie, who once attended races there as a fan. In the Cup Series, he made seven starts at Bowman Gray, finishing inside the Top 10 four times and failing to finish just once. His track-best was a 7th on August 28, 1970, the Myers Brothers 250 which Richard Petty won from the pole.

Moyock, North Carolina
This quarter-mile dirt track saw McDuffie make his second career Cup start on July 11, 1963, where he finished 12th – third-from-last – in a race won by Jimmy Pardue. He finished 12th again that September, then improved to 8th in the final Cup race held there on May 29, 1966. Official results indicate that 1966 race was extended by a lap due to a scoring error. David Pearson took the victory from outside-pole, leading 217 of those laps.

Fonda, New York
One of the stops on NASCAR’s “Northern Tour,” McDuffie made two starts on the half-mile clay oval. His best was in his track debut July 14, 1966, when he ran 7th. He finished 15th in his second race there two years later, eliminated in a crash.

Greenville, South Carolina
Another historic track in NASCAR saw McDuffie make eight starts there. It also witnessed his first Cup Series last-place finish. The day was July 30, 1963, and McDuffie started last in the 21-car field in his 1961 Ford. A crash on Lap 2 ended his afternoon. Richard Petty took the win from a dominant Ned Jarrett. McDuffie rebounded nicely, finishing a track-best 6th three times in 1966, 1968, and 1969.

Jefferson, Georgia
The same track that hosted the K&N Pro Series East into 2012 saw McDuffie make a pair of Cup Series starts. Both times he finished 13th, under power at the checkered flag.

Hickory, North Carolina
Well before its former place in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, historic Hickory Speedway saw McDuffie make seven Cup starts from 1963 through 1970. Again, he failed to finish just one time and earned a trio of top-ten runs with a best of 7th on April 3, 1966. David Pearson prevailed that day in a two-car battle with Curtis Turner.

Islip, New York
The tiny Islip Speedway was just two-tenths of a mile around on July 16, 1966, and McDuffie worked his way to a 21st-place finish in a crowded 29-car field before the transmission let go. He improved in his other two starts there, running 19th in 1968 and 16th in 1971, but failed to finish all three.

Kingsport, Tennessee
Three starts for the #70 on the four-tenths oval with dramatically different results. He finished 7th on June 26, 1970, during the Kingsport 100 won by Richard Petty. His other two finishes were a 15th and a 24th, the latter next-to-last in the 25-car field. Trailing that afternoon was Bill Hollar, who burned the clutch after the opening lap.

Hampton, Virginia
Stronger performances for McDuffie on this paved short track. A track-best 8th came on November 22, 1970, a race dominated by Bobby Allison and his Dodge. He also finished 11th in consecutive years out of 24 starters. His fourth start ended in a crash, but in the late stages, leaving him ahead of nine drivers in 16th.

Macon, Georgia
McDuffie’s 7th career last-place finish occurred here on November 17, 1968 when his Buick lost the engine after 20 of 500 laps around the half-mile paved oval. His other three starts, however, were all top-ten performances - 7th, 9th, and 10th – for an average finish of 14th.

Montgomery, Alabama
McDuffie’s only Cup start here was the sixth and final the series held at the track. Held on December 8, 1968, the Alabama 200 counted as the second event on the 1969 schedule. McDuffie qualified 10th in a field of 22 and worked his way to 13th, 30 laps behind Bobby Allison.

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Long before it hosted races in what is now the NASCAR XFINITY Series, Myrtle Beach saw McDuffie make his first-ever Cup start. Held on July 7, 1973, McDuffie lined up 14th in a field of 18 and came home 12th, 87 laps behind Ned Jarrett. It was McDuffie’s only start there.

Asheville, North Carolina
New Asheville holds the record of McDuffie’s best average finishes across all tracks where he has more than one start. In all four of his races there, McDuffie finished inside the Top 10. The first, on July 14, 1963, was the first top-ten finish of his career. Overall, three 8th-place runs and a 7th worked out to an average of 7.8.

Raleigh, North Carolina
On September 30, 1970, this track saw McDuffie take part in the final dirt track race sanctioned by one of NASCAR’s top three series until Eldora joined the Truck Series schedule in 2013. In the 1970 running, McDuffie started 12th in the 23-car field, but broke the driveshaft and ended up 19th. He also failed to finish his other start there the year before, losing an engine but managing 11th.

Hillsboro, North Carolina
Known as the Orange Speedway at the time he raced there, this nine-tenths-of-a-mile dirt track proved particularly difficult. McDuffie failed to finish all three of his starts there, only once making it past the halfway point. He finished last on September 18, 1966, when his 1964 Ford lost oil pressure after the opening lap. Dick Hutcherson won the race from the pole.

Manassas, Virginia
McDuffie’s lone start at this track was the seventh and final Cup race ever held at the speedway on July 7, 1966. McDuffie started 23rd in the 24-car field and worked his way up to 13th before the brakes failed on #70. As it turned out, it was still a good day for NASCAR’s independents – Elmo Langley scored his second and final Cup Series win that day, leading 231 of 400 laps.

Oxford, Maine
Another venue in the northeast saw McDuffie make a pair of starts in the late 1960s. His first start on the one-third-mile paved oval came on July 12, 1966, when he started 20th and finished 18th with transmission trouble near the halfway point. Bobby Allison won the race from pole, leading 238 of 300 laps. His second start in 1968 went much better, yielding an 8th-place finish, one spot ahead of Wendell Scott.

Spartanburg, South Carolina
McDuffie’s lone start at Piedmont was the 22nd and final ever held at the track. It also saw him score his first career top-five finish, a 5th, giving him his best average finish at any Cup Series track. In what was Elmo Langley’s first Cup Series victory, other lesser-known names filled the Top Five: 2nd went to Neil “Soapy” Castles (driving Buck Baker’s Dodge), followed by Doug Cooper and Joel Davis.

Savannah, Georgia
McDuffie came around in time for the final two Cup races at the Savannah Speedway, unfortunate since it also proved to be one of his best. He finished under power in both of his starts, finishing 10th in 1969 and 11th in 1970, both times 16 laps down to the race winner (Bobby Isaac and Richard Petty, respectively). It was one of McDuffie’s best overall performances on a paved track.

Maryville, Tennessee
The first two of McDuffie’s eight starts at the half-mile (and later 0.520-mile) oval were on dirt, yielding a 21st and 19th in 1966. When the track was paved in 1968, he improved noticeably, finishing 11th or better in his next four starts, including a track-best 8th on June 5, 1969. Even with three DNFs, his average finish there was a respectable 15.1.

South Boston, Virginia
McDuffie earned an average finish of 9.5 in his four starts at South Boston, a track still in operation today. From 1968 through 1971, McDuffie earned a pair of 12th-place runs, then 7th twice, completing 91.6% of the laps in the process. His best overall weekend at the track came on August 29, 1970, during the Halifax County 100. That day, the #70 started 8th in the 24-car field and came home 7th, eight laps behind a dominant Richard Petty.

Monroe, North Carolina
Several tracks only hosted one Cup Series race, including this half-mile dirt oval. But the Starlite Speedway was one of the only ones to host an “independent-only” race. Hosted on May 13, 1966, McDuffie joined 24 other underdogs including Neil Castles, Elmo Langley, Tiny Lund, John Sears, and “Tiger” Tom Pistone. Curiously, series champion Buck Baker was also entered in his own car. McDuffie started 6th on the grid and finished 11th, eliminated in a mid-race crash. Darel Dieringer took the win over Clyde Lynn and Wendell Scott.

Randleman, North Carolina
Another venue where McDuffie competed in the final event was the Tar Heel Speedway, located in the Petty family’s stomping grounds of Randleman. In the third and final race hosted on the track, McDuffie started 17th and finished 10th, his third career top-ten finish.

Thompson, Connecticut
McDuffie finished 11th in his only two starts at Thompson, a track that has become synonymous with modified racing and the K&N Pro Series East. The second of those starts, on July 8, 1970, was run on a 0.542-mile configuration, shorter than the track’s current measured length of 0.625.

Trenton, New Jersey
McDuffie finished under power in three of his five starts at Trenton, but the New Jersey oval proved exceptionally difficult for the driver. His average finish was just 20.2 with a best of 16th his last time out in 1972. The track would continue to host open-wheel competition for another seven years.

Huntington, West Virginia
Known as International Raceway Park (and originally incorporated into Ona, West Virginia), the lone West Virginia 500 that saw McDuffie race was held on August 8, 1971. In a large 35-car field, car #70 finished 12th, 48 laps behind Richard Petty.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series on the track-by-track career of J.D. McDuffie. With now just four days until the release of “J.D.: The Life and Death of a Forgotten NASCAR Legend,” be sure to pre-order your copy today!


Unknown said...

Brock I really enjoy reading your article on J.D. I got to see him race a lot in person and actually got to meet him and his son Jeff at North Wilkesboro Speedway in the early 80's. Doing a great job with the articles. Thanks for taking the time to do them and not letting the small independent teams be lost in time.

Brock Beard said...

You're very welcome. Thank you for reading. We'll have more on J.D. very soon.