Junie Donlavey’s stats as a car owner in NASCAR weren’t spectacular. He was in NASCAR at the beginning, already a co-owner in the sport in 1949. And he was a NASCAR car owner for more than 50 years at NASCAR’s top level, entering a car in Cup competition for the last time in 2005. During that time, he only claimed victory once in 863 race starts. That win came in 1981 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway with Jody Ridley driving Donlavey’s No. 90 Ford. Donlavey’s numbers may not have mathched those of car owners like Rick Hendrick, Jack Roush, Richard Childress or Joe Gibbs, but when he passed away earlier this past week, the respect Donlavey earned in the NASCAR garage during his time in the sport was obvious.
The sanctioning body, Ford and several teams released statements regarding Donlavey’s death. Yes, this is a commong public relations move when someone in a particular sport ties, but in the case of Donlavey’s death, it seemed like the statements were more heartfelt, somehow.
“With Junie Donlavey’s passing this week, NASCAR lost a treasure, a man who personified NASCAR’s proud past,” a statement from NASCAR read. “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.”
Donlavey long championed Ford, so it went without saying that Ford would make a statement.
“His legacy will be the hundreds of drivers and crew members who he helped that went on to great careers,” Ford Motor Company Board of Directors member Edsel B. Ford said, according to a release from Ford Racing.
Another longtime Ford team, Wood Brothers Racing, is taking honoring Donlavey a step further. The No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford, driven by Trevor Bayne, will carry a paint scheme this weekend, reminiscent of the one carried for years by Donlavey’s No. 90 Ford.
On the surface, it would seem that this is a lot of hubaloo for a car owner who didn’t seem all that successful, when you look solely and the wins column. Newer fans of the sport may have been left wondering why Donlavey’s such a big deal. But fans who’ve been around for awhile understand. Donlavey did make an impact on the sport, win or lose. Donlavey gave several drivers their breaks in the sport. Actually, he gave breaks in the form of rides to more than several drivers. Throughout his years in racing, Donlavey provided rides to some 150 different stock car drivers, 60 of those in NASCAR’s premier series. And in the case of a lot of these drivers, we’re not just talking about run-of-the-mill, forgotten drivers, either.
Drivers who spent time behind the wheels of Donlavey owned cars include the NASCAR Hall of Famers. Do the names Buck Baker, Cale Yarborough, Joe Weatherly, David Pearson and Fred Lorenzen mean anything to you? For fans who’ve followed NASCAR for decades, they should. Bye the way, that Pearson guy I just mentioned is second all-time in wins at NASCAR’s top level — second only to Richard Petty. For those who were questioning it, that quote from Ford I mentioned earlier makes sense now, doesn’t it?
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Here’s a photo gallery of some memorable images of Donlavey and his famed No. 90. Enjoy the trip down memory lane (photos courtesy of ISC Archives/Getty Images).