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John Delphus 'J.D.' McDuffie

Born: December 5, 1938 - Died: August 11, 1991 (Racing Accident)

John 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.

Career

After attending his first race in Bowman Gray Stadium at the age of ten, McDuffie was inspired by racing legends Curtis Turner, Glenn Wood, 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.

 Death

McDuffie 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 scene.

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.

McDuffie's 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.

 

 

J.D. McDuffie

JD 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 early 1960's, and he won the Championship at the old Rockingham dirt track in 1962. Once moving to Winston Cup, the wins did not come as easily. His best finish in the Winston Cup Series was third at Malta Speedway in upstate New York in 1971.

He finished 9th in the points championship that year- his highest championship finish.

Always quick with a smile, puffin on his trade-mark cigars ~ he was just as quick with a helping hand and his toolbox full of wrenches. 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 cigars JD taped to his dash.

JD had a big heart and a steely determination that made him popular with both drivers and crew members. He was never what one would categorize today as a "front-runner", but he was from the Old School of Racing.

JD did things on his own, and didn't buy anything unless he had to have 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 teams, to avoid the high cost of new parts.

He continued to show up at the tracks with his old pickup truck and his 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 quietly took 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 had to, and paid them back as soon as he could. Twenty five years ago, his blue Ford crew cab was state of the art, but not one to waste money, his one car open hauler could often be seen next to the ultra modern 18 wheel million dollar transporters of the other teams at every race.

JD McDuffie had started 653 Winston Cup Races- though never winning. JD did win a pole position at Dover in 1978, that qualified him for the 1979 Busch Clash which he was very proud of.

Although JD had not finished in the top 10 since 1982...he continued to 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!

A 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 last.

On Sunday August 11, 1991, JD was killed instantly when his Pontiac slid off course in turn 5 of the 2.428 mile road course at 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 end of the long high speed backstretch. At least 5 cars crashed in that same location during the weekend practice sessions.

JD never finished the Watkins Glen race - but the last race he competed in and finished...HE WON!

So to all of us who loved JD, his unstoppable determination, unflappable spirit, and his perseverance at all cost to do what he truly loved... JD will always be a WINNER!

JD FACTS

    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

                     Here's a great read on J.D. McDuffie that I just had to share..


John 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 number.

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 raceday.

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 more.

That 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

His 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.

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."

Ernie 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 book.

 

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

Now-days 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 Rockingham, N.C.

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.

In 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.

The 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.”

McDuffie's 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.

From NascarDriveroftheDay.com


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 circuit.

McDuffie 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 27-year span.

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 Petty.

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 media.

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 owners.

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.

Dale Earnhardt’s helping hand

One 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 Daytona.

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 effort.”

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,” she says.

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 Richard Childress..."

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 scale.

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.

As NASCAR changed

Such 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...."

The 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 down.”

The 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.

Ricky 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 previous June.

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 stomach.”

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’s eye.

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 his passing.”

"... he was more successful than today’s brightest and wealthiest stars..."

To 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 to anyone.

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.

Some Pictures Courtesy of...


Remembering J.D. McDuffie

1991 Budweiser At The Glen - JD McDuffie Fatal Crash

 

J.D. McDuffie Winston Cup DRIVER Statistics

Year Age Races Win T5 T10 Pole Laps Led Earnings Rank AvSt AvFn
1963 24 12 of 55 0 0 3 0 1918 0 1,620 46 16.6 14.6
1966 27 36 of 49 0 1 9 0 7170 0 8,545 27 21.8 15.4
1967 28 1 of 49 0 0 0 0 137 0 150   16.0 18.0
1968 29 32 of 49 0 0 9 0 5587 0 8,355 24 19.2 17.8
1969 30 50 of 54 0 0 12 0 10173 0 30,861 14 21.6 17.4
1970 31 36 of 48 0 1 10 0 8461 0 24,905 16 21.0 16.7
1971 32 43 of 48 0 2 8 0 9389 5 35,578 9 25.0 19.0
1972 33 27 of 31 0 1 2 0 6231 0 36,833 18 27.4 21.1
1973 34 27 of 28 0 3 10 0 7388 11 56,140 10 21.4 17.4
1974 35 30 of 30 0 0 7 0 8283 1 59,534 12 22.7 16.0
1975 36 26 of 30 0 1 6 0 5832 0 50,936 18 20.3 19.4
1976 37 30 of 30 0 1 8 0 7954 0 82,240 12 24.2 16.9
1977 38 30 of 30 0 0 4 0 8252 1 85,227 12 18.8 18.5
1978 39 30 of 30 0 1 6 1 7300 15 86,856 11 17.7 18.6
1979 40 31 of 31 0 1 7 0 8014 118 113,477 13 20.0 17.5
1980 41 31 of 31 0 0 3 0 6044 0 82,402 16 23.2 22.5
1981 42 28 of 31 0 0 1 0 7110 8 105,498 17 28.1 18.8
1982 43 30 of 30 0 0 1 0 6695 1 112,743 19 28.7 22.3
1983 44 25 of 30 0 0 0 0 5890 0 73,425 26 31.2 25.0
1984 45 16 of 30 0 0 0 0 4064 0 50,320 34 28.0 25.9
1985 46 23 of 28 0 0 0 0 4667 0 84,965 27 32.1 27.5
1986 47 20 of 29 0 0 0 0 4750 1 106,115 26 31.8 24.0
1987 48 17 of 29 0 0 0 0 3459 0 45,555 30 33.9 27.6
1988 49 2 of 29 0 0 0 0 516 1 3,750 61 37.0 30.5
1989 50 7 of 29 0 0 0 0 1381 0 27,720 44 36.0 32.6
1990 51 8 of 29 0 0 0 0 1301 0 26,170 40 36.4 31.1
1991 52 5 of 29 0 0 0 0 732 0 19,795 48 37.2 32.0
27 years 653 0 12 106 1 148698 162 1,419,715   24.3 19.9

J.D. McDuffie Busch Series DRIVER Statistics

Year Age Races Win T5 T10 Pole Laps Led Earnings Rank AvSt AvFn
1982 43 5 of 29 0 0 0 0 588 0 3,150 44 19.5 17.8
1983 44 5 of 35 0 0 0 0 702 0 5,580 44 27.0 18.2
1984 45 1 of 29 0 0 1 0 197 1 2,700 112 31.0 8.0
3 years 11 0 0 1 0 1487 1 11,430   25.6 17.1
 

J.D. McDuffie National East Series DRIVER Statistics

Year Age Races Win T5 T10 Pole Laps Led Earnings Rank AvSt AvFn
1972 33 2 of 15 0 0 1 0 72 0 460   19.0 16.0
1973 34 1 of 15 0 0 1 0 0 0 265     9.0
2 years 3 0 0 2 0 72 0 725   19.0 13.7

J.D. McDuffie Winston Cup OWNER Statistics

Year Driver Races Win T5 T10 Pole Laps Led Earnings Rank AvSt AvFn
1963 Larry Manning 1 0 0 0 0 11 0 5,405 29 30.0 32.0
1963 J.D. McDuffie 12 0 0 3 0 1918 0 1,620 46 16.6 14.6
1966 J.D. McDuffie 36 0 1 9 0 7170 0 8,545 27 21.8 15.4
1967 J.D. McDuffie 1 0 0 0 0 137 0 150   16.0 18.0
1968 J.D. McDuffie 32 0 0 9 0 5587 0 8,355 24 19.2 17.8
1969 J.D. McDuffie 45 0 0 12 0 9156 0 30,861 14 21.0 16.4
1970 Rodney Bruce 1 0 0 0 0 261 0 225   29.0 17.0
1970 J.D. McDuffie 35 0 1 10 0 8431 0 24,905 16 20.6 16.1
1970 Tom Usry 1 0 0 0 0 226 0 255   23.0 11.0
1971 J.D. McDuffie 40 0 2 8 0 8724 5 35,578 9 24.6 18.5
1972 J.D. McDuffie 24 0 0 1 0 5444 0 36,833 18 27.8 21.7
1973 J.D. McDuffie 27 0 3 10 0 7388 11 56,140 10 21.4 17.4
1974 J.D. McDuffie 30 0 0 7 0 8283 1 59,534 12 22.7 16.0
1975 Henley Gray 2 0 0 0 0 682 0 10,050 39 23.0 17.5
1975 Dick May 1 0 0 0 0 66 0 11,525 41 19.0 20.0
1975 Glenn McDuffie 1 0 0 0 0 431 0 1,130   26.0 19.0
1975 J.D. McDuffie 26 0 1 6 0 5832 0 50,936 18 20.3 19.4
1976 Larry Esau 1 0 0 0 0 169 0 1,745 86 19.0 13.0
1976 Glenn McDuffie 1 0 0 0 0 205 0 730 98 21.0 27.0
1976 J.D. McDuffie 29 0 1 8 0 7565 0 82,240 12 23.8 16.6
1977 J.D. McDuffie 30 0 0 4 0 8252 1 85,227 12 18.8 18.5
1978 J.D. McDuffie 30 0 1 6 1 7300 15 86,856 11 17.7 18.6
1979 J.D. McDuffie 31 0 1 7 0 8014 118 113,477 13 20.0 17.5
1980 J.D. McDuffie 29 0 0 3 0 5749 0 82,402 16 23.2 22.1
1980 Jeff McDuffie 3 0 0 0 0 1138 0 2,725 53 25.7 18.0
1981 J.D. McDuffie 28 0 0 1 0 7110 8 105,498 17 28.1 18.8
1982 J.D. McDuffie 27 0 0 1 0 5699 0 112,743 19 29.2 22.8
1982 Jeff McDuffie 1 0 0 0 0 377 0 1,005 80 30.0 16.0
1983 J.D. McDuffie 24 0 0 0 0 5713 0 73,425 26 31.1 24.6
1984 J.D. McDuffie 16 0 0 0 0 4064 0 50,320 34 28.0 25.9
1985 J.D. McDuffie 22 0 0 0 0 4464 0 84,965 27 32.1 27.5
1985 Jeff McDuffie 1 0 0 0 0 445 0 1,875   33.0 23.0
1986 J.D. McDuffie 14 0 0 0 0 2982 1 106,115 26 31.3 23.4
1987 Charlie Baker 1 0 0 0 0 147 0 3,615 67 40.0 33.0
1987 J.D. McDuffie 14 0 0 0 0 2405 0 45,555 30 34.1 29.2
1988 J.D. McDuffie 2 0 0 0 0 516 1 3,750 61 37.0 30.5
1989 J.D. McDuffie 7 0 0 0 0 1381 0 27,720 44 36.0 32.6
1990 J.D. McDuffie 8 0 0 0 0 1301 0 26,170 40 36.4 31.1
1991 J.D. McDuffie 5 0 0 0 0 732 0 19,795 48 37.2 32.0
27 years 639 0 11 105 1 145,475 161 1,460,000   24.1 19.7

 

 


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