December 5, 1938 - Died: August 11, 1991 (Racing Accident)
Delphus McDuffie was a former NASCAR Winston Cup (now
Sprint Cup) driver. He raced in the top division of NASCAR
from 1963 to 1991. McDuffie had 106 top-tens in his Cup
Series career. His unexpected death was a result of a crash
at Watkins Glen International in 1991.
After attending his
first race in Bowman Gray Stadium at the age of ten,
McDuffie was inspired by racing legends
Billy Myers, and others
to become a race car driver. He won several small races
throughout the Carolinas including a track championship at a
small dirt track near Rockingham, North Carolina. McDuffie
made his NASCAR Winston (Sprint) Cup debut in 1963 at the
Rambi Speedway near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina driving
Curtis Turner’s old 1961 Ford. Though McDuffie was a expert
dirt track racer, he never met with much success on asphalt
tracks. His best NASCAR finish came at Albany-Saratoga
Speedway in 1971 where he managed to finish 3rd. In 1978
McDuffie won the pole position for the Delaware 500. In the
1988 Daytona 500 qualifying race, McDuffie received second
and third degree burns in an accident after he raced without
fireproof gloves because they were stolen before the race.
One day before his fatal accident at Watkins Glen
International Speedway, McDuffie won a celebrity race at
Shangri-La Speedway not far from Watkins Glen.
was involved in an accident in the opening laps of the 1991
Bud at the Glen race at Watkins Glen International Raceway.
On the long back stretch, at 170 mph, JD (70 car) and
Jimmy Means (52 car)
touched wheels. As a result, the driver's side outer tie rod
end dropped from the front wheel spindle. With no tie rod
end, there was no control of the position of the right side
tire/wheel. The uncontrolled spindle/tire/wheel assembly was
ripped from the upper and lower control arms. At that time a
single master cylinder was used; the loss of the front wheel
resulted in total brake loss. He was unable to steer or slow
down the car at all, and with an absence of a gravel trap,
McDuffie skidded across the grass and slammed with
tremendous speed into the tire barrier and catch fence
outside the high speed right-hander. Jimmy Means who was
also involved in the accident, crashed underneath him. Means
was able to slow his car down substantially before crashing
and avoid injury, but the sheer violence of McDuffie's
impact with the tires rolled the car in the air as the 52 of
Means passed underneath. McDuffie was pronounced dead at the
McDuffie's fatal crash
was similar to a serious injury to
Tommy Kendall six weeks earlier in the Camel
Continental VIII, as well as a severe crash by
Geoff Bodine. In 1989 with
two laps to go, McDuffie led to a new bus stop chicane
shortly before Turn 5 (now turn 9) to slow down cars
entering the turn.
widow, Ima Jean, unsuccessfully (as of September 1993) sued
Watkins Glen for $4.25 million, claiming the barrier
McDuffie hit was unsafe. The judge in that case ruled that
McDuffie was familiar enough with the track to be aware of
the dangers and that mechanical failure caused the accident.
J.D. McDuffie is still
the record holder for the most starts in NASCAR's top
touring series without recording a win. His 653 starts ranks
him 17th in all-time starts (as of April 2009).
Ironically, the day
before his fatal crash, J.D. McDuffie won a celebrity race
in Owego, New York at Shangri-La Speedway near Watkins Glen.
spent most of his life in his small race car shop in
Sanford NC. He couldn't afford to pay team professionals
to help, so he was helped by Community Volunteers, and
some guys who loved racing just as much,and wanted
to be a part of it.
JD won many races on
the dirt tracks of North Carolina in the early1960's, and
he won the Championship at the old Rockingham dirt trackin 1962.
Once moving to Winston Cup, the wins did not come as
His best finish in
the Winston Cup Series was third at Malta Speedwayin upstate
New York in 1971.
He finished 9th in
the points championship that year- his highest
Always quick with a
smile, puffin on his trade-mark cigars ~ he wasjust as
quick with a helping hand and his toolbox full of
His passion for
racing was only equaled to his love of a good cigar.You could
always tell the length of a race, by the number of
JD taped to his dash.
had a big heart and a steely determination that made him
with both drivers and
crew members. He was never what one would categorize
today as a "front-runner", but he was from the Old
JD did things on his
own, and didn't buy anything unless he had tohave it. If
he had a part that could be repaired, unlike today's
multi-million dollar teams that discard them, he would
repair it, and use it again.He was also
known for buying used parts from the larger racing
to avoid the high
cost of new parts.
He continued to show
up at the tracks with his old pickup truck andhis race
car on a trailer. Other teams often went out of their
way to give
him a hand. When it
appeared that JD would not be able to make a qualifying
attempt in Daytona one February, Earnhardt quietlytook up a
collection in the garage area to rent an engine for him. Junior
Johnson always said "Give him anything he wants"
....everybody helped him, and JD borrowed only when he
and paid them back as
soon as he could. Twenty five years ago, hisblue Ford
crew cab was state of the art, but not one to waste
his one car open
hauler could often be seen next to the ultra modern 18
wheel million dollar transporters of the other teams at
McDuffie had started 653 Winston Cup Races- though neverwinning. JD
did win a pole position at Dover in 1978, that qualifiedhim for the
1979 Busch Clash which he was very proud of.
Although JD had not
finished in the top 10 since 1982...he continuedto do what he truly loved. And
that was Racin!Yep,
fixer up and go racin again!
On the Saturday evening before the
Watkins Glen Race, McDuffie,
the last of the independents on
the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit, had driven a stock car
into Victory Lane!
wonderful and uplifting experience for the cigar smoking
52 year old driver. It was only a 10 mile match race for
late model stock cars at Shangri-La Speedway, a short
track in Owego NY, the cars were
donated for the drivers to use.
McDuffie was competing against
Earnhardts "Flying Aces" crew, and
he won by about 5 car lengths
They never thought they would get
him to stop grinning.
That win would be his
On Sunday August 11,
1991, JD was killed instantly when hisPontiac
slid off course in turn 5 of the 2.428 mile road course
about 170 mph,
slamming into a tire barrier, and flipping upside down.The wreck
occurred on turn 5, one of the toughest corners at the
the long high speed
backstretch. At least 5 cars crashed in that samelocation
during the weekend practice sessions.
JD never finished the
Watkins Glen race - but the last race he competedin and
So to all of us who
loved JD, his unstoppable determination, unflappable
spirit, and his perseverance at all cost to do what he
JD will always be a
Winston Cup Starts:
653 Top 5: 12 Top 10: 94 Poles:
Dover 1978 Hometown:
Sanford NC Family:
Irma Jean (wife) Jeff and Linda Career
Highlights *1962 Dirt
Track Champion *1971
Finished 9th in Championship points
great read on J.D. McDuffie that I just had to share..
Delphus (J. D.) McDuffie was born on December 5, 1938,
in Sanford North Carolina, where he and his wife Ima
Jean later made their home and raised Jeff and Linda,
their two children.
On July 7, 1963, J. D. went racing for the first time on
the Grand National circuit (Winston would not arrive on
the scene for another nine years) at Myrtle Beach
Speedway, then known as Rambi Raceway. He started in the
14th position and finished 12th. Because Floyd Powell
already had the #70 that J.D. had always raced on
smaller circuits, his 1961 Ford ran with only a large
"X" on the door, but he would later reclaim his favorite
J. D. was not a rich man when he entered racing, and I
doubt that he was any richer when racing took his life,
except in friendship. I don't believe there was a single
soul in the racing world, drivers, owners or fans, that
didn't love J.D. The words I've heard used most to
describe him are determined, sweet and loveable. J. D.
McDuffie was all of those things and more.
Much the same as many of the independent drivers of days
gone by, he operated on the proverbial shoestring,
making do with used parts and once-run tires, while
doing most of the mechanical work on the car himself. He
had very few employees over the years and most of those
that he did have worked only part-time. His pit crew was
usually made up of workers picked up at the track on
When you look at the big fancy haulers that the moneyed
teams use to transport their cars, you are not looking
at anything like what J. D. used to carry his. I had the
profound honor of meeting him once, just outside of
Darlington in 1991. In the parking lot outside our motel
sat what appeared to be a pickup truck with a flatbed
body, and strapped onto that flatbed was the familiar
old #70. I've since learned that he called that
makeshift hauler, "Ol' Blue."
Standing outside the truck, with the ever-present cigar
clenched between his teeth was J. D. McDuffie. It was
obvious that he was not only the race driver, but the
truck driver as well. We stopped to wish him well and
chatted for a few minutes, then went about finding our
supper. If I'd realized that we'd lose J. D. only five
short months later, I'd have stayed longer and talked
cigar I just mentioned was a perennial prop with J. D.
and he was seldom seen without one, even in the racecar.
In fact, he used to claim that a good cigar would last
him 100 miles and if he went through five cigars, he'd
had a good day because he finished the race.
The big-money days were just coming into NASCAR back
when he started racing and sponsorship for racecars was
becoming the way to go. Unfortunately, that didn't bode
well for the independent racers that were working on the
smallest of budgets. Because they relied on inferior
equipment sponsors tended to shun them, feeling that
they were slow cars and that their dollars would be
better spent on the fast cars. Many of those drivers
might have been among the greats, had someone taken a
chance and put them in first class rides, but the cycle
was a vicious one that tended to make the rich richer
and the poor poorer.
J. D. was not without lettering on his car most of the
time, but his sponsors included local businesses like
"Son's Auto Supply" and "Rumple Furniture" rather than
any nationally or even statewide known product. Such
sponsorships were likely to mean nothing more than an
extra set of tires strapped to the rack on "Ol' Blue",
still he persisted over the years, all for the pure love
of the sport and the thrill of the race. I'm quite sure
that companionship entered into that equation as well,
for J. D. loved people as much as they loved him
records, as I said, were not impressive probably even to
him. Over 28 years, he started 653 races, finishing in
the top-five only 12 times and in the top-ten 106 times.
He never won a race, with his best finish of third
coming at Malta, NY in a 100-mile race in 1971. He did
however capture one pole in his racing career, at Dover
in 1978, running on McCreary tires, which may have been
the reason. That pole enabled him to run the very first
Busch Clash (Now the Budweiser Shootout) in 1979.
It was in that 653rd race that the shadow of poverty
probably cost J. D. his life. It happened in the brutal
fifth turn at Watkins Glen on the fifth lap of the race.
Something broke on J. D.'s car, leaving him without
brakes and with a tire gone. His car careened sideways
into the car of fellow independent driver Jimmy Means,
and both cars left the track. Means was able to slow his
#52 Pontiac a bit, but McDuffie, with no brakes, struck
a tire barrier at full speed and went airborne. Means
also hit the tires as McDuffie's car sailed over him,
struck a guardrail upside down and came to rest in that
position, atop Means' car. As we watched in horror, no
one had to be told that this was a bad accident. Jimmy
Means scurried out of his car and tried to assist his
friend but turned immediately away from the car and
began gesturing wildly to corner workers for help.
would arrive quickly, but to no avail. J. D. had been
killed instantly when the roof of the car struck the
guardrail. Though I've heard several accounts of the
injury and cause of death, this writer will simply say,
"Head injuries." The race was under a red flag for one
hour and forty-eight minutes for repairs to the
guardrail and removal of what had once been that
familiar old #70. Most of that time was spent on the
latter task, and in the end, they simply lifted the car
onto a flatbed and tied a tarp over it. One of the
saddest moments I've ever known was watching that truck
pull away, knowing that never again would we see J. D.
McDuffie or the old #70.
Later, Jimmy Means would comment, "It looked like he
didn't have any brakes. I saw him lose a wheel and he
was up in the air before I got to the fence. Jim Derhaag,
a Trans-Am driver imported for the road course race had
been behind McDuffie and Means on the racetrack and
offered this explanation of what he saw, "When he
(McDuffie) got to the braking area, I saw some smoke,
like maybe a brake line had ruptured and fluid got on
the headers. He just never slowed down."
Irvan, the eventual winner of the race saluted his
fallen comrade in Victory Lane with the words, "After
all I've been through, this is a great victory, but
winning is tempered by J.D.'s death. I dedicate this
victory to him. Every time we went through the turn
where he crashed, I thought about him. I've known what
it is like to struggle in this sport without a sponsor
just like he did, and I'll always remember him."
Although it came too late for J.D. that horrid fifth
turn at the Glen (which had been the site of several
previous injuries, including two broken legs sustained
by SCCA Trans Am driver Tommy Kendall) has been
modified. No longer do drivers approach its hairpin
radius at full speed, as the little chicane we are all
familiar with was placed just before the turn to reduce
the speed of entry. At least we can say that we learn
from our mistakes.sometimes.
J. D., whatever part of heaven you're in, I'm sure that
you're winning races. You were always a winner in my
The "Independent" J. D. McDuffie
J.D. McDuffie is still the
record holder for most starts in NASCAR's top
touring series without recording a win
when you think of “Independent driver” you think of
Robby Gordon, or Michael Waltrip, but those drivers
don’t even compare to somebody such as J.D McDuffie
who went his whole career in his own car; J.D didn’t
have a good career in a high-dollar team and then
leave to go on to make his own team just for the fun
of it. J.D was a true owner-driver and paved a way
for the ones that are racing now.
John Delphus McDuffie was born on December 5th of
1938 in Sanford, N.C.
At the young age of only ten years old J.D went to
see his first ever race. It was practically the
opposite of one that would go on today; it was in
Winston-Salem N.C at what is now the Bowman Gray
Stadium. McDuffie went with his Uncle Reuben and his
brother Glenn. They saw the legends of Curtis
Turner, Glenn Wood, and Billy Myers fly around the
track. Sadly J.D had to leave early due to sickness
but that ignited his spark for racing.
J.D won all over the Carolina’s before going on to
win the 1962 championship at a small dirt track near
McDuffie made his NASCAR Winston (Sprint) Cup debut
in 1963 at the Rambi Speedway near Myrtle Beach S.C
driving Curtis Turner’s old 1961 Ford, he started
14th and finished 12th out of 18 drivers with
Ned Jarrett winning
that race; he raced 11 more races that year.
Even though J.D was a master of dirt
tracks his racing skill never really clicked with
asphalt. His best finish in his NASCAR career was a
third place at the Albany-Sarasota Speedway in upstate
New York in 1971.
1978 J.D won the pole for the Delaware 500 at the then
Dover Downs International Speedway which then let him be
in the inaugural Busch Clash at Daytona the next
February. That was one of his many tiny successes’s that
went on throughout his career.
The 1988 Daytona 500 qualifying race was a major
down-point of J.D’s career. That morning someone had
stolen his fireproof racing gloves, but of course with
J.D being the man he was he raced anyway. Mid-way
through the 125-mile race his car made contact with
another and he flew into the wall, that impact ruptured
the oil cooler. That ignited an eruption of flames out
of his car which melted his steering wheel. Thankfully
McDuffie was able to get out of the car, but with second
and third degree burns especially to his hands. Someone
somewhere will never forget that day even as it fades
through everyone else’s minds.
day before the Winston (Sprint) Cup race, J.D won a
celebrity race in Owego, New York at the Shangri-La
Speedway which is located near Watkins Glen. Going off
of the momentum of his win J.D went into the 1991 Bud at
the Glen at Watkins Glen International Raceway ready to
go in his #70 L.C. Whitford Company Pontiac. Early in
the race McDuffie slammed into the turn 5 wall due to a
broken ball joint making the right front tire fly off
and making J.D lose control; unable to slow the car at
all, and with an absence of a gravel trap, McDuffie skid
across the grass and slammed with tremendous velocity
into the tire barrier outside the high speed
right-hander. The force of the impact flipped the car
and kept it airborne as Jimmy Means crashed underneath
him. Means was able to slow his car substantially before
crashing and avoid injury, but the sheer violence of
J.D.'s impact with the tires is what rolled the car in
the air. J.D died instantly due to brain injuries; due
to that wreck along with a couple other ones, there was
a bus stop chicane installed in what is now turn 9.
The L.C. Whitford Company of Wellsville, N.Y., sponsored
J.D.’s ride for the Watkins Glen race. It was the
company’s first and only venture into Winston (Sprint)
Cup racing, a one-time deal made at the request of a
Whitford employee who had previously worked on
McDuffie’s pit crew. Company president Brad Whitford
never had the chance to meet McDuffie and wasn’t even at
the race. But, in a chilling quirk of fate, he turned on
the television just in time to see a replay that he
said, “Made me sick to my stomach.”
widow, Ima Jean, unsuccessfully sued Watkins Glen for
$4.25 million, claiming the barrier McDuffie hit was
unsafe. The judge in the case ruled that McDuffie was
familiar enough with the track to be aware of the
dangers and that mechanical failure caused the accident.
She is still very hurt and unhappy.
Nobody drove the #70 car at Watkins Glen in the NASCAR’s
top Series again until August of 2007 when Johnny Sauter
drove in his Haas Automation Chevy in the Centurion
Boats at the Glen.
J.D had many friends in NASCAR such as Benny Parsons,
and Dale Earnhardt. There were also many people that
respected McDuffie throughout the garage for his
determination to do well in NASCAR with his own team.
J.D was really the icon for owner-driver racing which
has all but left the sport today. Many fans would reach
out and help McDuffie any time he was in need. He
wouldn’t even have to ask they would have a hat passed
around just he could get a new motor to make the race.
J.D. McDuffie is still the record holder for most starts
in NASCAR's top touring series without recording a win.
His 653 starts rank him 17th in all-time starts. After
his death Racing Champions made die cast cars of
McDuffie’s #70 as a tribute to his life; they can still
be found in novelty stores today.
One thing most people loved about J.D is how he fielded
his own cars most of his career. Most of the time you
could catch J.D out smoking a cigar in the pits before
the race in the infield while working on his car, and
then jump into his car wearing an open-face helmet with
that old cigar still in his mouth.
Out of 27 years of racing he only raced 7 full seasons.
He has 653 starts under his belt, with 12 top fives, 106
top tens, 1 pole, and $1,419,715 in total winnings. He
also raced 11 races in the Busch (Nationwide) Series
with one top ten in the record books.
OLD NUMBER 70
The racing Life of J.D. McDuffie By Anthony W.
Hager, December 2009
A stock car race in
Winston-Salem in 1949 is far removed from the
bright lights of the modern NASCAR circuit.
Doesn’t it follow that a driving career launched
at that race would be just as different from
today’s celebrity drivers?
A 10-year-old John Delphus
McDuffie attended that event with his Uncle
Reuben and his brother Glenn. They watched the
iconic legends of racing’s by-gone era compete
for supremacy: Curtis Turner, Glenn Wood and
Billy Myers. Glenn McDuffie remembers Myers
winning the race, but J.D. wasn’t there to see
it. He had become sick from the exhaust fumes
and was long gone when the checkered flag waved.
Nausea notwithstanding, the
experience had lit a fuse within the boy from
North Carolina’s sandhills. Beginning that
night, J.D. McDuffie knew what he wanted to do
with his life. When he attained the age and the
means, he and his father-in-law built a racecar
from junkyard parts, and he began racing on the
local dirt tracks. He won races at small
speedways throughout the eastern portions of
both Carolinas, eventually winning the 1962
championship at a small dirt track near
Rockingham, N.C. His success spawned a desire to
hunt the big game: NASCAR’s Grand National
took his first crack at the big time on July 7,
1963, at Rambi Raceway in Myrtle Beach, S.C. His
racecar was a 1961 Ford, which once belonged to
Curtis Turner, with a refurbished roll cage and
a big “X” painted on the door. Ned Jarrett won
the race. J.D. started 14th and finished an
uneventful 12th, earning the handsome total of
$120 for his efforts. However, that event
launched a career that saw J.D. McDuffie start
653 Grand National and Winston Cup races over a
J.D.’s successes on the dusty
local tracks never materialized on NASCAR’s top
circuit. His best career finish was a third
place run at Albany-Sarasota Speedway in upstate
New York in July of 1971, a race won by Richard
Yet, the fact that McDuffie
never visited victory lane in a Winston Cup car
doesn’t mean he enjoyed no success in racing.
J.D twice finished in the top 10 in driver
points and won the pole for the 1978 Delaware
500, which earned him a spot in the inaugural
Busch Clash at Daytona the following February.
His best overall showing was the 1979 Music City
420 in Nashville. A ninth place qualifying
effort turned into a fifth place finish during
which he led 111 laps, the most of any single
race in his career. But, and perhaps fittingly,
his performance was a mere afterthought in the
That was typical for the
dinosaur known as the independent driver, for
whom McDuffie could’ve been poster boy. Seldom
did such men attract the wealthy sponsors or the
fame and notoriety that racing held. But the
lack of media attention was no indicator of the
owner-driver’s talent, knowledge and
determination. J.D. possessed all three
qualities, and they brought opportunities to
drive better and faster equipment for other car
One of those offers
eventually carried Benny Parsons to the 1973
Winston Cup championship. According to Glenn
McDuffie, J.D. had twice declined the driver’s
seat. When Glenn asked his brother why he didn’t
take the ride, J.D. responded simply, “I don’t
want anybody telling me what to do.”
Such a reply was indicative
of J.D.’s dogged resolve, and his determined
attitude brought him respect in the garage area.
Earnhardt’s helping hand
of his greatest allies was a fellow North
Carolinian, some guy known as “The Intimidator.”
Dale Earnhardt assisted J.D.’s lonely struggle
several times, even to the point of donating the
winnings from pre-race poker games to McDuffie
Racing. There was a time at Pocono when
McDuffie’s only engine went sour prior to the
race. He approached Earnhardt about borrowing an
engine for the weekend. Dale readily obliged and
J.D. made the field for the Sunday’s race.
Whenever J.D. tried to return the engine, Dale
would wave him off, promising to get it later.
J.D.’s wife Jean recalled a similar situation at
J.D. was on the edge of
qualifying for the race, so Earnhardt passed the
hat around the garage. He raised enough money to
buy another engine for McDuffie Racing.
Unfortunately, as Jean tells it, “That engine
wasn’t any faster than the one J.D. had, so it
wasn’t much help. But he appreciated the
The admiration for J.D.’s
resilience went beyond the other NASCAR teams.
Jean remembers seeing volunteers at every track
who were ready to pitch in with anything the
number 70 car might need. “He never had to ask,”
The volunteers’ faces are too
numerous to recall and their names are obscured
by the passage of time. But there was one man,
known as “Big John,” who stands out in Jean’s
memory. He was “Big John” in both strength and
stature, and he helped pit McDuffie’s car at the
California races. “I can still see him,” Jean
says, “walking through the garage with a mounted
tire and wheel in each hand.”
"....J.D.'s.... knowledge of race
cars might’ve made him another
For all the help received
from willing fans and other race teams, J.D.
himself was arguably his best and most
dependable asset. McDuffie was an excellent
mechanic and his knowledge of race cars might’ve
made him another Richard Childress. Don
Rumple—son of the late Tom Rumple, founder of
McDuffie sponsor Rumple Furniture—saw J.D.’s
expertise firsthand. “He was a great mechanic
who would’ve made a good crew chief,” says Don.
“But J.D. liked to do his thing and was happiest
behind the wheel.”
Don remembers an incident in
the garage at Daytona that highlights not only
J.D.’s mechanical abilities but also the
hardships he faced and the resourcefulness that
kept him going. Maybe you remember how your
grandpa taught you to straighten a bent nail.
You roll it slowly and tap it with a hammer
until the shank is again true. Don witnessed
J.D. using that principle on a much larger
McDuffie had bent his car’s
rear axle during a practice session. The better
financed teams would’ve tossed the damaged part
in the scrap heap. But that wasn’t an option in
the McDuffie Racing stable. When Don Rumple
poked his head inside the garage stall there sat
his driver gripping a borrowed torch. The bent
axle lay over a couple of old tires and J.D. was
heating the metal, rolling the axle and banging
it with his hammer. Eventually, the axle was as
straight as your grandfather’s nail and the
McDuffie Pontiac raced on it that weekend.
resourcefulness was indispensable for J.D., and
it indicates the mountains he conquered to
remain a part of the Winston Cup Series. Racing
was seldom easy for J.D. McDuffie and by the
late 1980s it was becoming even more difficult,
if not downright impossible. NASCAR was changing
rapidly. The independent drivers --like the dirt
tracks NASCAR’s top level had once called
home—were little more than musty relics
consigned to the corner of racing’s basement.
To complicate matters, J.D.
suffered serious burns from a fiery crash during
a qualifying race for the 1988 Daytona 500.
Contact with another car sent J.D. into the
outside wall, rupturing the oil cooler. The
ensuing fire engulfed the car as it slid to a
halt on the track’s apron. Fortunately, he was
able to escape the inferno under his own power
and was taken to the hospital with second and
third degree burns, especially to his hands.
"Someone had a prize racing
souvenir. J.D. got the scars...."
fire was so hot that it melted the steering
wheel in McDuffie’s car. Worse still, someone
had taken J.D.’s brand new pair of fireproof
gloves from his driver’s seat the very morning
of the 125-mile qualifier. He raced anyway.
Somewhere, someone had a prize racing souvenir.
J.D. got the scars.
During the Daytona 500 a few
days later J.D. spoke to the broadcast crew from
his hospital room. “All I ever done is race,
it’s all I know,” he said. “I still love to do
it and I’ll be back. This ain’t going to get me
crash at Turn 5
J.D. raced only 17 times
between 1988 and 1990. By the time he arrived at
Watkins Glen, N.Y. , in August of 1991 McDuffie
had made the field in only four of the season’s
17 events. But the night before the Budweiser at
the Glen, J.D.’s frustration turned to
jubilation. He won an all-star race at the
Shangri-La Speedway in Owego, N.Y. Less than
24-hours later, on August 11, John Delphus
McDuffie lay dead in the driver’s seat following
a violent crash at Watkins Glen International’s
dangerous Turn 5.
Rudd, perhaps Winston Cup’s best road racer at
the time, and Harry Gant had wiped out in the
same turn during the practice session a few days
earlier. Tommy Kendall had also suffered severe
injuries in Turn 5 during a sports car event the
Opinions vary on what caused
that fateful accident. The news accounts say
that the right front wheel had broken loose,
which is plainly evident in video of the wreck.
Other observers claim that contact with another
car started the incident, or that brake failure
or a stuck accelerator was the culprit. Whatever
the cause, McDuffie had died instantly of brain
injuries after his Pontiac slammed into a tire
barrier, flipped, and landed on its roof.
The L.C. Whitford Company of
Wellsville, N.Y., sponsored J.D.’s ride for the
Watkins Glen race. It was the company’s first
and only foray into Winston Cup racing, a
one-time deal made at the request of a Whitford
employee who had previously worked on McDuffie’s
pit crew. Company president Brad Whitford never
had the chance to meet McDuffie and wasn’t even
at the race. But, in a chilling quirk of fate,
he turned on the television just in time to see
a replay that he said, “made me sick to my
Sanford’s hometown hero
It’s been said that a
person’s worth is undervalued until they’re
gone. J.D. received little recognition during
his career, but it seemed everyone understood
the void he left behind when he died. “J.D. was
just a humble man that everyone liked,” said
Tommy Bridges, who conducted J.D.’s wake for the
Bridges-Cameron Funeral Home. In fact, the
number of mourners who paid tribute to Sanford’s
favorite son was among the largest he has
witnessed during his 50 years in the field.
Race fans transformed
Sanford, N.C., into an RV campground that
resembled the race day infield at Charlotte
Motor Speedway. News crews rolled film. Winston
Cup drivers and car owners—out of respect for
their fallen competitor—spurned interview
requests as they filled the Grace Chapel Church
beyond capacity, leaving hundreds of mourners
standing in the churchyard. The outside interest
was enormous, but it wasn’t the out-of-town fans
or the racing celebrities that caught Don
Rumple rode third in line
behind J.D.’s hearse in the funeral procession.
There was little fanfare, just an eerie silence
hanging over Sanford’s streets and businesses.
It was as if the President of the United States
was being laid to rest. “People were stopped,
quiet and somber,” Don recalls. “When J.D.’s
hearse passed by all activity would cease.
Sanford had lost one of its own and was mourning
"... he was more successful than
today’s brightest and wealthiest
race fans, J.D. McDuffie was a sports figure,
somewhat of an icon on the Winston Cup Series.
To the people of Sanford he was far more than a
hometown hero; he was their neighbor and their
friend. He was a brother, a father and a
husband. His success was certainly modest,
especially when measured against racing’s
current standard. Yet, in a way, he was more
successful than today’s brightest and wealthiest
stars. J.D. never had to bow and scrape for the
suits and ties of an image-conscious corporate
sponsor. He never had to mince words nor pander
J.D. was his own man; a man
with an easy smile, a brushy mustache and a
thoroughly gnawed Tampa Nugget cigar. He
maintained his independence and his
resourcefulness in a sport where both qualities
were destined for extinction. Along the way he
earned the respect of competitors who routinely
defeated him on the track. He also won the
allegiance of fans who could relate to his
struggles, silently hoping against all hope that
stock car racing’s Don Quixote would someday
topple a windmill.
Ultimately he remained the
same J.D. McDuffie whose dreams began on a
summer night in Winston-Salem. He was the
regular guy down the street who just happened to
earn a living at nearly 200 mph.
Anthony W. Hager is
a Gaston County writer whose work has appeared
in the Gaston Gazette, the Lincoln Times-News
and the Shelby Star newspapers.
Pictures Courtesy of...
Remembering J.D. McDuffie
1991 Budweiser At The Glen - JD McDuffie Fatal Crash