Junie Donlavey interview

Nobody has been racing at Daytona longer than Junie Donlavey, owner of the No. 90 Hills Brothers Coffee Taurus. He took part in the first Daytona 500 in 1959 and has been making the annual February trek ever since. Donlavey has made every...

Nobody has been racing at Daytona longer than Junie Donlavey, owner of the No. 90 Hills Brothers Coffee Taurus. He took part in the first Daytona 500 in 1959 and has been making the annual February trek ever since. Donlavey has made every Daytona 500 field since 1971 as a sole car owner, a streak that will be on the line Thursday in the Gatorade Twin 125's.

JUNIE DONLAVEY, Car Owner --90-- Hills Brothers Coffee Taurus --

WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER ABOUT THAT FIRST DAYTONA 500 in 1959?

"There was a gentleman out of Orlando that bought a T-Bird and we teamed up with him to help make the race. I think we had Curtis Turner driving for us that year, but it was a big-time deal. That was the first one we went to down here and we knew better than to just come down here and bring something to participate, so it worked out pretty good. We had a lot of fun with it."

WHAT WAS THE FEELING OF THAT FIRST RACE?

"When you came in through that tunnel and you looked at the size of this track, you knew it was a big deal. Remember, the only track that we had even in that category was Darlington and to look at the size of Daytona was impressive. Even though they only ran like 150 miles an hour, it was a great race. I mean, those guys drafted good. You had guys that this was their first time being here, but they found out right quick that when you dropped down to go by the group you went to the back. That's one thing about the drivers that NASCAR has had, they have been very learned in everything that's happened on this track. They've found out more tricks real quick, especially in the first few years or running down here. We had Sonny Hutchins down here in the early sixties and Tiny Lund was running behind him and couldn't get by him, so they went into one and Tiny was the bottom and went across the rear of him and turned Sonny around sideways. He never touched him, but just taking that slip-stream off of that car was all it took. The thing about it was that Sonny recovered. He got sideways and recovered. So what this track has done is it has created some of the best drivers that have ever been on race tracks because the drivers were very smart. They picked up on what you needed to know and they all came up together. One learned to draft as quick as the other one did, so it made for some beautiful races down here."

IS MAKING THIS RACE EVERY YEAR ONE OF YOUR PROUDEST ACHIEVEMENTS?

"I'm very proud of being involved in this sport going back to when we raced on the beach and then coming over here. It's been great just being a part of it. I look back on what I've been involved in all these years and I have realized that I'm really more of a fan than I am a competitor. I just enjoy it that much and knowing all the people that have been involved in NASCAR gives me greater satisfaction than if I had a bank full of money."

WHEN YOU CAME THROUGH THAT TUNNEL FOR THE FIRST TIME LAST WEEK, WHAT CAME TO MIND?

"I think looking back over the years and knowing that we've had some real good runs down here. We've had quite a few opportunities to win and have had a couple snatched away from us, but I've never felt regret of not having won. We were very competitive in a lot of races here and looking back at what Bill Dennis did in the Busch circuit by winning three straight years in the same car, I thought that was a pretty good accomplishment. But in '83 when we were here with Dick Brooks we had both races won, but an equalized tire took the 500 away from us and a slight brush with the wall took the July race away. Schrader had both races won in '87. I mean, he was that good. So not having won, I don't look at that with regret because I've got so many good memories here. Just being competitive was the main thing."

HOW EXCITING WAS IT WHEN SCHRADER WON A TWIN 125 IN 1987 FOR YOU?

"Like I said, I have just respected these drivers that run these tracks. Having known most of them, I think that satisfies me more than if I had won a lot of races here. You read the names from back in the fifties and sixties and having competed with them and been in their company, I wouldn't take anything for that."

WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT WHAT THIS SPORT HAS BECOME NOW COMPARED TO WHAT IT WAS BACK IN 1959?

"When we started, I never had any idea it would reach the heights that it has reached today. But I did realize it had to keep getting better because you had too many people that were working that were very smart. From the Holman and Moody's and the Banjo Matthews' and those people. You knew that it just had to keep getting better and better, so it doesn't really surprise me. I hate to see it get too fast or too sophisticated because I think it hurts the new people that want to get into this game. You could come in back then and you had some knowledge of racing and could compete with what they had, but if this thing gets like the Formula One cars or something like that, then it will be hard for your average racer to ever get a start in this game."

WHAT ABOUT PEOPLE LIKE YOU WHO CAME IN AS A SINGLE CAR OWNER AND MADE IT WORK. HAS THE SPORT GROWN SO MUCH THAT PEOPLE LIKE YOU AND BUD MOORE WILL BE LEFT BEHIND?

"I'm sure that's what will happen to all of us like Marcis and myself. The Wood Brothers were wise to tie up with the Roush organization because it gave them a lot of knowledge that was already there. I'm not sure that even if I could go on and on that I would enjoy it as much as if I had a big-time operation. I don't know. I still look at racing as a fun, non-profit organization. I never had any idea that there would come a day where so many people would make such a good living out of it. Still, I never want to lose sight of the fact that I started for fun and I want to end with it being fun. Ford has really helped me so much down through the years so I could enjoy this game without having a lot of money. We had the information that they had and we had the parts that they had, but we never had things like a paid pit crew until about '87. We won the pit crew championship in '84 with all volunteers. Now you read about what the pit crews are being paid today, well, we would have had to work 10 years to make one payment."

DOES IT BOTHER YOU TO SEE THE SPORT TURNING INTO A MORE SPECIALIZED ONE?

"I know that it's got to keep going that way. You can't hold people down from developing different things and different ways to do things, but I've had a very, very good life with it. I've made my living doing repair work, we built and wrecked automobiles. When everything was done -- home paid for, children grown and all -- then I went strictly to racing, not as a way to make a living but as a way to enjoy the sport."

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS THIS WEEK? IS THERE ANY STRESS TO KEEP THIS STREAK GOING?

"All I can ask for is that the crew works hard. They've worked hard over the winter and everything that we've needed to do we've tried to do. I know that you can't pit 52 cars in a 43-car field, but as long as we do the best that we can, then I'll have no regrets whether we make or we don't."

SO WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT THE TWINS ON THURSDAY?

"Last year we were sitting eight seconds back behind the 15th-place car and we were all by ourselves. All of a sudden we started gaining on them and ended up going by a couple of them and finished 13th, so whatever is meant to be will be. I had almost resigned myself to the fact that we might not make the race, but we did so everything wound up pretty good. We'll just do the best we can on this one. All streaks are made to be broken."

-Ford Racing

FORD RACING NOTES AND QUOTES    Daytona 500 Advance, Page 3             
February 12, 2001       Daytona International Speedway                  

HUT STRICKLIN --90-- Hills Brothers Coffee Taurus -- HOW IS IT TO DRIVE FOR SOMEBODY LIKE JUNIE, WHO HAS BEEN A PART OF THIS SPORT FOR SO LONG? "It's really nice to have somebody like Junie on your side because of all the experience he has the years he's competed in this sport. It's a big plus. Junie is such a great guy to work with and it's a good feeling coming to the race track with him. He's not the type of guy that applies any pressure on his drivers to say you have to do this or do that. He understands how this sport works and pretty much just lets you do whatever you need to do." IS THERE ANY MORE PRESSURE ON YOU THIS WEEK TO MAKE THIS RACE? "No more than any other time. There's a lot of pressure every week, but no more than normal. I feel like every one on the team is giving 100 percent and if we continue to do that by the end of Thursday and fall short, then so be it. But as long as we know everybody has worked hard and gives everything they've got, that's all we can do." WHAT DID YOU SEE FROM WATCHING THE SHOOTOUT SUNDAY? "There were a few guys that ran really good that I learned a few things from. I saw Earnhardt and Tony Stewart both be able to run high and low. There were a lot of guys that could run either high or low, but the couldn't run both. We're gonna have to be able to do that and we're gonna have to get our car to turn like theirs did. If we're able to do that and stay wide open all day Thursday, I think that's gonna be a big key for us. I don't want to be the driver that keeps Junie Donlavey out of the Daytona 500. If it happens, it happens, but I know I'm gonna work awfully hard whether the streak is there or not because I want to be in the race. It's a big deal for me personally and it's a big deal for Hills Brothers Coffee, Junie Donlavey and the rest of the team. Everybody has worked awfully hard, just like every other team, and we're gonna try to do everything we can to make the race."

FORD RACING NOTES AND QUOTES Daytona 500 2nd-Rd Qualifying, Page 4 February 12, 2001 Daytona International Speedway

Brett Bodine, driver of the No. 11 Ralphs Supermarkets Taurus, had the second round fastest qualifying time for Sunday's Daytona 500. Bodine, who did not qualify for last year's Datyona 500, spoke about his run.

BRETT BODINE --11-- Ralphs Supermarkets Taurus -- "That was huge. We were 29th fastest overall yesterday and history shows that the last two years 25th and 26th were the last ones to get in the 500 on speed. We just felt like we needed to be somewhere around 20th. We needed to be better than that and to gain eight hundreths of a second and go from 29th to 21st, that was just a huge gain today. The conditions were way worse -- about a 12 mile per hour head wind on the back straightaway. The car actually lost RPM going into three -- it lost about 100 RPM -- but what it gained down the front straightaway made up the difference." IT MUST MAKE YOU FEEL PRETTY GOOD. "It really does. These guys worked so hard all winter. I mean, we've spent endless hours and a tremendous amount of money that we didn't really have in the wind tunnel and trying to get this car as good as we could. Our goal was to come here and be in the top 20 in speed and 21st is pretty darn close to that goal. It's all a credit to them. They're the ones that did it, I just held it wide open. That's all you can do." DOES THIS CHANGE THE WAY YOU RACE ON THURSDAY? "It's gonna make supper taste a lot better the next three nights before Thursday because we feel like, no matter what happens on Thursday, we're gonna be in the Daytona 500 and it's been a long time since I've been able to say that."

-30-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Brett Bodine , Tony Stewart , Bill Dennis , Tiny Lund