Junie Donlavey, who has fielded a NASCAR team since the 1950s, celebrates his 77th birthday on Sunday. He met with the media on Saturday and talked about the changes he's seen over the years.
JUNIE DONLAVEY - 90 - Car Owner, Hills Brothers Coffee Taurus
HOW DO YOU LIKE THE GARAGE SET UP AT MARTINSVILLE?
"It looks beautiful. I would've never, ever believed that they - whoever designed that did a beautiful job because we've looked at it for years and years wondering why you couldn't put one in, but also we knew why you couldn't, because you'd block the view. And, here they put one in and it doesn't block your view so somebody's pretty smart up here."
WHAT COULD YOU RELATE ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCES WITH THE LATE CLAY EARLES HERE
"He was a fine gentleman and I've always enjoyed - and I was looking at the track this morning and thinking in 1950 I was here and Clay was right there with us and I look at his clocks over here and I can remember how many he'd given away down through the years. He was always good friend, if you needed help you could go to him and go right into his office over there and whatever you needed he'd take care of it, so he was a good friend."
HOW MANY OF HIS CLOCKS DID YOUR DRIVERS WIN?
"We had a few of them back in the old modified days, that's won 'em, but it was a little tough out here with these Grand National and Winston Cup cars. I've always enjoyed coming up here because it's part of Virginia and it kind of felt like home, like Richmond."
WHAT KEEPS YOU GOING AFTER ALL THESE YEARS?
"Well, I look over this track here and I look at all of them that we go to and it means that I was there when they all first started, and to look at them and to see the changes, it has a special meaning, more than if you just come in and say, 'Hey, it's a beautiful track.' When things started, they didn't look like this when you first started running on them. And all the people that's been through these tracks, the competitors. I was just downstairs talking to some new fans that had just started in racing, and it's so interesting that I would hate to leave it."
HOW MANY OF THE PRESENT-DAY CREW CHIEFS AND DRIVERS TRY TO DRAW FROM YOUR
"The present-day crew chiefs, they're in a whole different mode than we were coming up. We'd hire new crew chiefs and I'd let them basically do what they want to do. Coming up with Banjo and when all them guys were here, that type of crew chief, they operated a little bit different than these guys do today. They got a lot of engineers, they got lots of help to kind of let them make whatever decision they need. It's whole lot different that what we used to do."
IS THE PROGRESS ALL GOOD?
"It must be, putting on some pretty good races. I don't know, it was more by the seat of your pants back in those days, and you had some very, very smart crew chiefs and mechanics, and I can see where they blazed the trail for these boys to be able to fine-tune it. So, these guys can thank those old boys a whole lot for bringing it up to this moment."
WITH SINGLE-DAY QUALIFYING, SOME TRACKS HOLD QUALIFYING ON FRIDAY AND SOME
ON SATURDAY. YOUR OPINION ON THAT.
"I like the single-day qualifying. If you don't make it, you don't have to hang around and do a second deal. I just wish they would qualify 43, instead of using these provisionals, but I'm just a little biased on that because we seem to be in the top 43 and it's quite a bit harder to get in the top 36."
WHAT ARE YOUR FEELINGS ON SHORT-TRACK RACING, SUCH AS MARTINSVILLE, AS
OPPOSED TO THE SUPERSPEEDWAYS?
"You got to have the short tracks, if you don't you have nothing to compare the superspeedways with. And I think if you had nothing but superspeedways, I wouldn't be able to myself, if I was a fan, I wouldn't have that to relate with the shorts through the bigs. I don't know whether it would get boring on just the big ones, because you don't have boring races, they're all very exciting. But when you compare then it makes them a whole lot better."
IS THE MODERN-DAY DRIVER SEEN AS NOT AS IMPORTANT?
"No, the driver now has to perform really more than back in the old days because they fine-tuned it and the times are so much closer. I think Ricky beat one guy yesterday by 1/1,000th. So the driver has to be on top of it because the crew chief has really put everything that he needs, he's got everything there."
DID YOU EVER IMAGINE IT WOULD GET THIS FAR?
"Not in my imagination it didn't. I couldn't foresee anything like this. And it takes a lot of people with good thoughts to bring it to what it is today. You can keep on improving on something, but I look back and see what they started with, and although it was crude back then, it was the best that we had. Once they got started, then it was a whole lot easier to improve on it and bring it up to the state of art it is today - and who knows what it's going to look like in another 20, 30 years."
IS IT STILL AS ENJOYABLE AS IT WAS 50 YEARS AGO?
"Yes, it is for me because I'm more of a people person. I never took racing that seriously. We love to run in the race, be competitive. I never put everything into ruining a good day if we didn't win it. The fans we have today are more knowledgeable, they're fun to be around, and the competitors, every one of them are fine, fine guys."
HOW MANY PEOPLE DO YOU NOW HAVE IN YOUR SHOP?
"I think we have 20, 22, which is a large group for me, but then I read where some of them have got 80 to 100 people. Maybe it takes that many. It must to be able to really what's needed to be done."
IS THERE A DISADVANTAGE TO NOT BEING IN THE CHARLOTTE AREA, OR IS THERE AN
ADVANTAGE TO BEING OFF TO YOURSELF?
"I like being off to myself. What it is, if you go to Charlotte and you do not have any experience with these cars, it's kind of hard to get anybody to talk to you. But we seem to be a spot where you can stop off, get some experience, then go on to Charlotte, and we must do a pretty decent job because the boys that we sent down there are really first-class workers."
DOES THAT GET FRUSTRATING, BEING A FEEDER PROGRAM?
"No, not really, because I've worked with volunteers all my life and I enjoyed working with the new boys coming in, and these guys coming from north and south both and stopping in the shop, spending a year or two. I see them later on and it really makes me proud."
ON HIS CREW.
"We have the governor's son in training right now."