Longtime NASCAR team owner Junie Donlavey passed away Monday night at age 90, in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia.
Donlavey’s NASCAR Grand National (now Sprint Cup) career began in 1950 at Martinsville (VA) Speedway, when he entered a 1949 Oldsmobile for driver Runt Harris, finishing 19th in the 21-car field. By then, however, he had long ranked as one of the country’s top modified car owners, with dozens of victories throughout the south.
Over the years, he fielded cars for three eventual NASCAR Hall Of Famers -- Joe Weatherly, Fred Lorenzen and David Pearson – and earned a reputation for giving talented young drivers their start in the sport. Tiny Lund, Sonny Hutchins, Bill Dennis, Dick Brooks, Charlie Glotzback, Jimmy Hensley, Ken Schrader and Wally Dallenbach, Jr. all drove for Donlavey at one point or another in their NASCAR careers.
|Jody Ridley won at Dover in 1981|
His lone victory in 863 career Cup starts came in 1981 at Dover International Speedway, when rookie Jody Ridley authored one of the biggest upsets in the history of the sport. With 50 laps remaining, Ridley was four laps behind leader Neil Bonnett and two laps back of runner-up Cale Yarborough. When Bonnett and Yarborough both suffered engine failure within site of the checkered flag, Ridley took Donlavey Racing to Victory Lane.
“This has got to be a bigger thrill for Junie than it is for me,” said Ridley after the race. “He’s been at it for almost 30 years (and) I’m a rookie. I just can’t believe it. This is the biggest thrill of my life.”
Plagued by lack of sponsorship, Donlavey ran his final race in 2002 at Rockingham Speedway, finishing 41st with driver Hermie Sadler. He battled the effects of Alzheimer's disease in recent years, but still made periodic appearances in the NASCAR garage.
"This is what I miss most,” said Donlavey while shaking hands with friends and admirers in 2006 at his home track, Richmond International Raceway. “I miss the people and the friendships and the storytelling you can only get in racing."
NASCAR issued a statement on Donlavey's passing today, saying, “With Junie Donlavey's passing this week, NASCAR lost a treasure, a man who personified NASCAR's proud past. With 863 starts as a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car owner, he won over millions of fans through his 50-plus years in our sport. The list of men who drove for him during his career is impressive, including two who won NASCAR Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year honors -- Ken Schrader and Jody Ridley. Others included Dick Brooks, Ricky Rudd, Dick Trickle and Benny Parsons. All contributed to Junie's lasting legacy in our sport. NASCAR offers sincere condolences to Junie's family and friends at this difficult time."