Junie Donlavey, the longtime car owner who helped start the careers of some of NASCAR’s greatest drivers, flew into Talladega, Ala., thinking he was simply an invited guest of the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.
Instead, he was the guest of honor.
Donlavey is one of six motorsports figures to be named to the 2007 Hall of Fame Class, joining Ray Hendrick, Jack Ingram, Warren Johnson, Wayne Rainey and Bruton Smith. The men will officially be inducted April 26 at the Speed Dome in Talladega.
“I figured I was going to come here and just back up some of the things everyone was saying about these Hall of Fame guys,” Donlavey says. “I’ve done everything I wanted to do in my life and met so many great people along the way.
“I was talking to the Lord and started thinking what I could’ve done to make my life better than what it’s been in my 82 years, and there isn’t anything. Then this comes along, and it’s such an honor.”
Donlavey’s love for motorsports began in his native Virginia, where his uncle owned a radiator shop and spent most weekends racing sprint cars.
“That’s where it all started,” Donlavey says. “I was 14 when I started going to the shop, and cars have been a part of my life ever since.
“The more I was around it, the more I knew it wasn’t just cars, though. It was meeting new people and making new friends – it was so perfect.”
Donlavey was on hand for the formative years of NASCAR and developed a reputation as a patron for young, unproven drivers.
It didn’t take long for them to prove themselves.
Driving Fords bearing No. 90, Ken Schrader, Bill Dennis and Jody Ridley got their starts under Donlavey, while established stars such as Tiny Lund, Bobby Issac, Buddy Baker and David Pearson also spent time in his camp.
When he retired, 60 drivers had participated in Cup races for Donlavey.
“I got in on the ground floor back in 1950 when we raced on the beach at Daytona,” Donlavey says. “We even got a chance to race at Le Mans.
“Back then we competed mostly with volunteers because there wasn’t the money in the sport that there is now.”
Hendrick won more than 700 races in the modified and late model sportsman series, and has been named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers.
Ingram won three consecutive NASCAR late model sportsman titles from 1972-74, then won Busch Series (then Grand National) crowns in 1982 and 1985. Although he has since been passed by Mark Martin, Ingram retired in 1991 with the most career Busch wins (31) to that point.
Johnson won six NHRA Pro Stock championships, his last coming in 2001. His 96 victories are the most in Pro Stock history, and he was named one of NHRA’s Ten Greatest Drivers in 2000.
Rainey won three consecutive 500cc Grand Prix championships from 1990-92 and was headed to a fourth before a back-breaking crash ended his career in 1993. In six seasons he registered 24 wins and also claimed a pair of AMA Superbike titles.
Smith, the high-profile owner of Speedway Motorsports, is considered a pioneer in the area of fan amenities. Aside from building condominiums within the track at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Charlotte, he is also the first track owner to install lights at a major speedway, also at Charlotte.
“I’m mighty proud,” Donlavey says. “I helped start Ray Hendricks when he first got going, and I figured that’s what I was going to talk about today. Instead, you folks put me in there with him.
“I’ve had a world of fun in my life.”
In the Driver’s Seat
A lineup of NASCAR drivers, past and present, joins veteran broadcaster John Kernan for a new daily talk show on Sirius satellite radio.
The Driver’s Seat, a call-in show, began Jan. 1 and airs every weekday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Eastern Time on Sirius’ NASCAR Radio channel 128, a newly launched 24-hour channel dedicated to NASCAR.
Drivers, including Hall of Famer Buddy Baker, former Busch and Cup Series Rookie of the Year Ricky Craven, 1995 Busch Series champion Johnny Benson, and two-time NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion Ron Hornaday, will cohost with Kernan, accepting calls from listeners, interviewing special guests and discussing NASCAR news.
“John Kernan and I have worked together on several occasions, and I look forward to teaming up with him again on Sirius,” Baker says. “John brings a lot of experience, and I started racing in 1959, so I have worked with more than three generations of drivers. We know the racing, the drivers and the inside stories you don’t always hear about. We’re going to give the fans the kind of entertaining and informative show they expect.
“If it comes out of my mouth, it’s the truth, and I’m not a ‘yes’ man for anybody. That’s what you’ll be hearing on our show.”
The Driver’s Seat is produced in conjunction with Performance Racing Network and will air exclusively on Sirius.
“Taking listeners inside NASCAR racing has always been Performance Racing Network’s primary objective, and The Driver’s Seat gives us the opportunity to make them feel like they are in the garage area,” says Doug Rice, president and general manager of PRN. “Teaming a veteran broadcaster like John Kernan with a strong and very opinionated lineup of drivers is going to result in informative and entertaining radio.”
Kernan has covered NASCAR racing since 1983, when he was a reporter for WDBJ-TV in Roanoke, Va. In 1990 he began working for ESPN as a pit reporter and went on to host ESPN’s RPM 2Night, the nation’s first nightly motorsports news show. From 1998-2003 he hosted RPM Now on ESPN Radio. He is the co-host of PRN’s Sunday Drive and has won numerous awards from the National Motorsports Press Association, the Associated Press and UPI.
Sirius NASCAR Radio will be home to every live NASCAR Nextel Cup Series, NASCAR Busch Series and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race, plus exclusive original programming. Other shows on Sirius NASCAR Radio will include Tony Stewart Live (airs Tuesdays, 8-10 p.m. ET) and The Morning Drive (airs weekdays, 7-11 a.m. ET).
In addition to the live race broadcast, Sirius will devote up to 10 additional channels to driver-to-crew communications during NASCAR Nextel Cup Series races. Sirius will combine the race broadcast with the driver-to-crew chatter on these channels, allowing fans to follow the overall race call and the in-car audio of a driver on a single channel throughout the race.
Rookie Of The Year
In the modern era of NASCAR, it seems that the driver who wins rookie of the year honors is often on the fast track to success in the Cup Series.
If that trend holds true, Danny O’Quinn will be a driver to watch this season.
“It feels awesome,” O’Quinn says of his honor. “It was a fun year. It was a rookie team, I was a rookie driver and we were coming to a lot of these places for the first time. We stayed out of trouble when we weren’t having the best runs at the first of the year, and we worked really hard. My team never let down a bit even when we weren’t having such a good day. I really owe this to those guys.”
Jack Roush, who knows a thing or two about molding up-and-coming drivers, knows O’Quinn is the real deal.
“Danny has really been a treat to work with this year,” Roush says. “He’ll bend your heart. He’s a big teddy bear, and he’s also a fast racecar driver. We had Danny in our Driver X competition last fall, and he was very, very good.
“Danny and David Ragan and Erik Darnell (other Driver X candidates) were at a virtual tie, so we just had to try and find something for all three of them. But the difficulty was, as we put all these new teams together, we kept going further and further down the human resource pool. We were halfway through the year before Danny got a car that was built for Danny, and I’m sure some of them weren’t too comfortable, didn’t have as much room in them as he needed.”
The Driver X program is also known as “The Gong Show” – a competition in which Roush tests several drivers to see if they might fit into one of his Cup, Busch or Craftsman Truck Series teams.
“It just took a long time to get his program going because they were the third one in line, and they were all new,” Roush explains. “But Danny made a good accounting of himself. He had a number of great races. We sure enjoy having Danny be part of the program.
“We don’t have sponsorship for it next year, and this Raybestos Rookie championship will sure help him a lot.”
O’Quinn says the Driver X program has prepared him for bigger – and possibly better – opportunities down the road.
“The Driver X program was great,” he says. “Jack sets that up a lot different than most teams do. You actually have an opportunity to go out there and compete against other drivers in equal equipment, so I think that definitely comes out and gives you a fair advantage.
“Jack is an awesome guy. He’s a racer. He understands what it’s like. He put together a great program. I was just fortunate to be able to go through that and finish in the top three.”