For Edwards' spotter, Donlavey impact lasts
June 10, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
Hedlesky fondly recalls first big-league opportunity with longtime car owner
RELATED: Images of Junie Donlavey's life in NASCAR
Jason Hedlesky was looking for an opportunity to compete in NASCAR.
What he got instead, he said, was the thrill of a lifetime.
Hedlesky, who today serves as spotter for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Carl Edwards, broke into NASCAR thanks to veteran car owner Junie Donlavey in December of 1998. For nearly six years, he served as team manager for the Richmond, Virginia-based Donlavey Racing.
"I was a Late Model racer in Michigan and when I came down (south), a mutual friend introduced us," Hedlesky told NASCAR.com Tuesday. "Junie offered me a job basically. It was right after (Dick) Trickle and (sponsor) Heilig-Meyers had left. He didn't really have anything but a decent group of guys. I just wanted to race. Just wanted to drive race cars.
"He said, 'Well if you hang out down here, you'll be closer … than you would be back in Michigan.'
"I stayed and he was true to his word. We started running five or six ARCA races in 2000 and '01-03; in '02 he gave me a chance to drive his Cup car. So we ran (ARCA) and I was team manager on the Cup side. It was the most awesome time in my life."
Hedlesky made one start in the Cup series for Donlavey, qualifying 41st and finishing 43rd in the UAW-GM Quality 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2002.
NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series heads to the Irish Hills of Michigan this weekend for the first of two annual stops at Michigan International Speedway. The track is located approximately 15 miles west of Hedlesky's hometown of Clinton, Michigan.
Donlavey's team only won one Cup race in 863 starts -- Jody Ridley drove the familiar No. 90 Ford to the win at Dover in May of 1981. Between 1975 and '90, however, Donlavey Racing finished 10th or higher in points nine times with drivers Dick Brooks, Ricky Rudd, Ridley and Ernie Irvan.
"He was just a tremendous human being," Hedlesky said. "I know everybody hears all the stories … he was just the most loyal, kind-hearted person you'd ever want to meet. And he gave so many guys like myself opportunities to get into the sport we love. Without him … I still have this 804 (Virginia) area code. I just called our old shop foreman and he said 'You've still got the 804 area code.' I said, 'Without 804, I wouldn't have a career.' I’ve just always kept it."
The last two digits of Hedlesky's phone number are 90, the team's car number.
"I did that on purpose," he said. "I got this phone when I worked up there. To make it easy, I got the (xx)90 number. You can use the numbers anywhere today so I've just kept it. It wasn't coincidence; it was easy to remember and easy to tell everybody at that time."
Now, it's a reminder of one of the sport's true treasures.
"Junie was just a great guy, a tremendous human being," he said. "Without a guy like him … the one thing that stands out to me is the love and the passion of the sport that Junie had. He just loved it. If we were in Daytona and there was an ARCA race or a Dash race … you'd think this guy might be bored by now, being in the sport 50-60 years, (but) he would still be on top of the truck with his headset on, listening to MRN and watching that race.
"He just absolutely had a passion and a love for the sport that I've not seen in any other human being. I think that's why he decided he wanted to give chances to guys like me, maybe he sees that same desire, that same passion in your eyes and knows he has that opportunity to give.
"Getting my first opportunity with somebody like him, that had the greats drive for him -- Buddy Baker, (Ken) Schrader, go back to a guy that hung around with Joe Weatherly and Curtis Turner, Big Bill (France). He could talk about every single one of them. …
"They don't make them like that anymore."