The following is the story of J.D. McDuffie, a racer who never stopped chasing his dreams, no matter what obstacles were thrown his way.
J.D. McDuffie; most of you don't know who that is. For the contingent of you that do, I applaud you. For those of you that don't, I'd advise you to keep reading.
J.D. McDuffie was a North Carolina native and like many of his generation, he had dreams of going fast. He attended a race at the legendary Bowman Gray Stadium when he was ten years old and was mesmerized by the fearless racers who threw caution to the wind in pursuit of the checkered flag.
He watched as Turner, Wood, Myers, and other NASCAR pioneers battled fiercely for the win. It was at that moment he knew what he wanted to do. He wanted to be a race car driver.
Dirt track domination
McDuffie would go on to make a name for himself as a formidable opponent in the southeastern United States. On the dirt, he could run with the best but on asphalt, he had a lot more trouble keeping pace.
Now he could have stayed in his comfort zone and dominated dirt track races until the cows came home, but he didn't. He strived for more, he wanted a challange. He found that challenge in the form of the emerging stock car series we know today as NASCAR.
He made his debut in 1963 at the age of 24 at Rambi Raceway in Myrtle Beach, SC. He finished 14th driving a '61 Ford he prepared himself. As the months and years passed, he continue to try and secure that illusive first win. Other independent racers had done it and he wasn't about to bow out and go take the easy victories at local dirt races. That wasn't his style.
He was able to grab top fives here and there but the win still didn't come. In 1979 however, it looked like fate was going to finally shine down on J.D. He dominated the race, leading over 100 laps and holding off attacks from superstars such as Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Cale Yarborough, and Bobby Allison. However, it just wasn't meant to be. He would finish fifth after leading much of the event.
Fiery crash and cutting back
At the conclusion of 1987, McDuffie had been a part of the sport for 25 years and was still winless. He was very likable and popular among the fans despite failing to reach victory lane. He cut back his schedule to just a handful of races as he neared the age of 50.
While trying to qualify for the 1988 Daytona 500, McDuffie was involved in a fiery crash that left him with second and third degree burns over 15% of his body. He was back behind the wheel within a couple months, undeterred.
On August 10th, 1991, he won a local race in Owego, New York before competing the Cup event at the Glen the following day.
This Cup race, McDuffie's 653rd career start, would be the most remembered race of his career. You think this is the moment when I tell you how J.D. triumphantly took on the best NASCAR had to offer and pulled off the upset, right? Wrong.
On the fourth lap, he crashed on entry to the fifth turn. The car spun out of the car and violently slammed the tire barrier and catch fence that waited at the other end of the grass. The car was launched upward, flipping in the air and coming to a rest on its roof.
J.D. McDuffie was dead.
I'm not telling you this tragic story just because this is the 23rd year anniversary of his death, but also to enlighten you. J.D. McDuffie holds the record for the longest no-win streak in NASCAR history, going winless 653 times over a period of 28 years.
He left behind the success he knew as a young racer to pursue a dream, a dream that he was never able to attain, a dream that ultimately cost him his life. After years of struggles and defeats, McDuffie's desire to compete never wavered. His obstinate attitude and admirable fortitude make him a legend in his own right.
They say that J.D. McDuffie is the man that never won. I say that he's the man whose victories were not made up of checkered flags and trophies, but of passion and determination. He's the man who refused to give up, who wouldn't stop following his dreams, and he chased his dreams all the way until the man upstairs called him home.
We should all take a moment to remember and honor a true NASCAR hero today; J.D. McDuffie.