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Junie Donlavey's greatest NASCAR drivers


Junie Donlavey enjoyed a 45-year run as a car owner in the sport of NASCAR. The Richmond, Va., native passed away on June 9 at the age of 90. His age was a fitting tribute to the man fellow car owner Glen Wood called “the most well-like person ever in the sport of NASCAR,” as Donlavey campaigned the No. 90 on his machines for all but 23 of the 863 races entered.  

Donlavey visited victory lane only once in his NASCAR tenure, but was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2007 and the list of those who sat behind the wheel of his cars reads like a Who’s Who of the sport: Hall of Famers David Pearson, Buck Baker, Fred Lorenzen and Joe Weatherly, along with some of NASCAR’s most recognizable names in Ricky Rudd, Benny Parsons, Buddy Baker, Dick Trickle and Morgan Shepherd, among others. Donalvey also entered Christine Beckers in the July 1977 Daytona race, one of three females (Lella Lombardi, Janet Guthrie) in the field that day.

The following is a list of some of the more memorable drivers to man Donlavey’s No. 90 (predominately) Fords over a career that spanned NASCAR’s rise from regional curiosity to national phenomenon.

11. Hut Stricklin

An honorary member of “The Alabama Gang,” Hut Stricklin was the last driver to score a top 10 for Junie Donlavey, and it came in 2001 at Michigan International Speedway. With a movement towards teenage and twenty-something drivers that appealed to Fortune 500 companies, Stricklin was nearing the end of his career when he teamed with Donalvey. It was a sign of the times for both the journeyman driver and the independent team; both were about to be swallowed up by the growth and size of the sport — and Father Time. While the No. 90 had sponsorship from Hills Brothers, it wasn’t enough to overcome the multi-car conglomerates that began to dominate the sport.

10. Ken Schrader

Ken Schrader is best known in the Cup Series for his time spent as the driver of the No. 25 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports following the passing of Tim Richmond. However, he actually got his start in Donlavey’s No. 90 Ford Thunderbirds. Schrader won Rookie of the Year in 1985 and a Daytona 125-mile qualifying race in 1987 with Donlavey, collecting 10 top-10 finishes that season as well as a pole at Darlington.

9. Lee Roy Yarbrough

The driver that Junior Johnson said had the most talent of anybody he ever saw was one of Ford’s premier drivers in the late 1960s. After dominating the sport in ’69, withdraw of factory support left him with only a handful of starts for the 1970 season, most with Johnson. One, however, came with Donlavey, when he ran at Trenton, N.J., lasting just 22 laps and finishing 30th with a blown engine.

8. Ernie Irvan

Before he cheated death twice or began a practice of swervin’, Ernie Irvan started the 1990 season in Donlavey’s No. 90 car. After making the Daytona 500 via 125-mile qualifier, sponsorship from Bulls Eye Barbecue Sauce was obtained and the team ran to a respectable 13th-place showing. Irvan left the outfit after the season’s third race to drive the No. 4 Kodak car and, one year later, won the Daytona 500.

7. Bobby Hillin Jr.

Bobby Hillin Jr. has just a single NASCAR win to his credit, but he was a part of one of the more memorable moments in recent Daytona 500 history. In 1992, a crash triggered when Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Al Unser Jr. got together sent Hillin spinning towards the grass, collecting Kyle Petty — who had dominated the event. With no brakes there was little Hillin and Donlavey’s teal Hellig-Meyers No. 90 Ford could do, but Petty wasn’t having much of it. His visor-close move — mid-argument — has proven one of the more poignant ways to end a disagreement.

6. Joe Weatherly

Looking through the list of drivers that Junie Donlavey had on his roster reads like this year’s Hall of Fame class. In Joe Weatherly’s case it is so. Weatherly would make one of his first starts in 1952 with Donlavey in the Southern 500 at Darlington. He finished 16th and brought home a staggering $150. He went on to win two championships elsewhere.

5. Fred Lorenzen

Another member of the 2015 Hall of Fame class — the Golden Boy from Elmhurst, Ill. — Fred Lorenzen logged one race in a Donlavey Ford. The first driver to win $100,000 in a season took a decidedly different approach to the cars he drove when he made some limited appearances in 1972. Lorenzen’s one start that season with Donlavey came sandwiched in a seven-race stint with Hoss Ellington — who also recently passed. Lorenzen recorded a fourth-place effort at Trenton, finishing behind Bobby Allison, Bobby Isaac and Richard Petty. Not bad company.

4. Dick Trickle

In the late 1990s, Dan Patrick always noted where Dick Trickle finished in NASCAR’s brief SportsCenter rundown. In 1997, Patrick almost got to do the feature of a lifetime following the Bristol night race when Trickle placed Donlavey’s Ford third. The No. 90 was also up front in the Pepsi 400 at Daytona in July, when it was involved in a massive crash before a final restart. An additional top 5 was garnered at Rockingham that fall, the final top-5 finish for both Trickle and the No. 90 car. The crew chief? Another independent car owner you may have heard of: Tommy Baldwin Jr.

3. Benny Parsons

As Benny Parsons’ driving career wound to a close in 1988, it did so behind the wheel of the No. 90 Bulls Eye Barbecue Sauce Thunderbirds owned by Donlavey. The future Hall of Famer notched one top-10 finish in his final season (eighth, Phoenix), as the 1973 Winston Cup champion made the move from driver to one of the most recognized and memorable broadcasters in motorsports history.

2. Dick Brooks

Without question, the most consistency and success Junie Donlavey enjoyed as a car owner came during the Dick Brooks years of 1975-79. In 175 races, the duo nabbed 22 top-5 and 78 top-10 results, finishing in the top 10 in points each year with the exclusion 1979. This was the bridge of the “Big Car” era, and at a time when many of NASCAR’s legends were active and competitive, winning races and championships. While they never managed to win a race together, the big blue No. 90 Truxamore Mercury’s and Fords were among the most recognizable cars of their era.

1. Jody Ridley

Who else? The one and only win for Donleavy came in 1991 in the Mason-Dixon 500 at Dover with Jody Ridley at the helm. Cale Yarborough blew an engine with 20 laps to go, handing the lead to Ridley, who held off Bobby Allison for the win. The No. 90 car survived all 500 miles at Dover (as opposed to 400 today), and lapped the entire field, save Allison. Ridley also won Rookie of the Year honors in 1980 while driving for Donlavey and drove the No. 90 Fords to some of their best years, finishing seventh in points in ’80 and fifth in ’81. The pair collecting 18 top 10s in each of those 31-race seasons. Even more impressive? They did it with just one race car in 1981. One.

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