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.