Longtime car owner Junie Donlavey dies at 90
June 10, 2014, Staff report, NASCAR.com
Richmond native scored only win at NASCAR's top level in 1981
Junie Donlavey, a mainstay of NASCAR team ownership for more than four decades and winner of a premier series event in 1981, passed away Monday night in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia.
Richmond television station WWBT quoted members of Donlavey's family as saying the longtime team owner died at age 90 -- the same number that he used on so many of his race cars. Donlavey had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease, according to the TV report.
Donlavey, born Wesley Christian Donlavey, fielded his first entry in what is now the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 1950 at Martinsville Speedway, with Runt Harris behind the wheel. Although a number of top drivers competed over the years for Donlavey Racing -- NASCAR Hall of Famers Joe Weatherly, Fred Lorenzen and David Pearson among them -- the team's lone victory in 863 starts at NASCAR's top level came in 1981 at Dover International Speedway, when Jody Ridley held off Bobby Allison and Dale Earnhardt to win.
Donlavey's team competed in later years with drivers like Ken Schrader, Mike Wallace, and Dick Trickle, the latter of whom scored the organization's final top-five finish at Rockingham in 1997. Donlavey Racing eventually scaled back its schedule due to funding difficulties, and fielded a car for what would be the final time at Charlotte in 2002. Driver Jason Hedlesky finished 43rd.
"There are so many stories and stuff," Schrader told NASCAR.com "The two biggest things we were able to get done in his car was to win a qualifying race in his car at Daytona (1987) and sit on the pole at Darlington (also in 1987). The fact I was driving was nothing. The neatest thing for me out of that whole deal was watching the people -- the competitors in the garage area -- the way they came up to Mr. Donlavey and congratulated him. That was the neatest thing. He was just respected so much by everybody and they couldn't have been happier for him. When anybody ask me, I tell them driving it was nothing, the neatest thing was watching the people come up to Mr. Donlavey."
Donlavey went into retirement after shutting down his shop. "There's no way in the world I'd try to make a comeback now. As far as racing's concerned, I've done all I'm going to do," he told Ford Racing in 2006 during a visit to Richmond International Raceway, where he shook plenty of hands and received many well-wishers.
"This is what I miss the most," Donlavey said then. "I miss the people and the friendships and the storytelling you can only get in racing."
(Right to left) Owner Junie Donlavey, inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2007, talks with driver Ken Schrader, NASCAR's premier series rookie of the year in 1985 while driving for Donlavey.
NASCAR Hall of Famer and car owner Glen Wood fondly remembered his fellow Virginian.
"The only thing you really need to know about Junie Donlavey is that he was probably the most well-liked person ever in the sport of NASCAR," Wood said. "He was a good friend of the Wood Brothers... one of our very best friends in the sport."
"As far as I know, his team was never fully-funded, like you would see with most teams. But he always wanted to run well every time he was out there. I know he had some real good cars in the modified and sportsman days, even before NASCAR started. He had cars that ran well all the time, so he was a competitive person."
"But he always helped out everyone, no matter who you were. He helped out so many drivers and crew members who just wanted to get into the sport. He always had time for people like that."
NASCAR issued the following statement on Donlavey's passing:
"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."
Read below to see how the NASCAR community reacted Tuesday:
If there ever was a definition of the little engine that could in #NASCAR it would be Junie Donlavey.. Great man.. Will be missed..— Elliott Sadler (@Elliott_Sadler) June 10, 2014
Sad to hear of the passing of Junie Donlavey. A fellow Virginian and great guy, certainly a huge loss in the #NASCAR community— Wood Brothers Racing (@woodbrothers21) June 10, 2014