As 2011 wraps up and Tony Stewart enjoys his third Sprint Cup title, many teams are already looking to Daytona and the 2012 season, hoping they’ll be the team seated at the champions’ table next year. We’ll count you down to next year’s Daytona 500 (its only 90 days away!) with some numberology for each number as the Super Bowl of NASCAR draws closer.
[media-credit name=”NASCARMedia/Motorsports Images & Archives” align=”alignright” width=”300″][/media-credit]A car no. 90 was entered in NASCAR’s first-ever race by none other than future two-time champion Tim Flock. Flock finished fifth in that race at Charlotte Speedway (not the same as the current track). He would use the number 90 just eight more times before changing to 91; then his famous number 300. However, the name most associated with car no. 90 is Junie Donlavey.
A longtime resident of Richmond, Donlavey fielded his first car in 1950 with Runt Harris. Donlavey would dabble in the sport over the next 15 years, but began his long association with the number in 1965 with driver Sonny Hutchins.
Donlavey’s sole win as an owner came in the 1981 Mason-Dixon 500, when driver Jody Ridley outran Bobby Allison over the last 20 laps to earn both his and Donlavey’s only victory. The victory didn’t come without controversy, however, as Allison’s car owner, Harry Rainer filed a protest, claiming that “No question we were a lap ahead of Ridley”. Although NASCAR admitted to a scoring communication difficulty, they upheld Ridley’s victory after 20 minutes.
“This has got to be a bigger thrill for Junie than me”, said Ridley. “I’m a rookie in the Grand Nationals. I just can’t believe it. This is the biggest thrill of my life.” Ridley raced for Donlavey through the 1982 season before driving for Robert Mcentrye and Rahmoc. His final Cup race came in 1986.
Donlavey was well known for giving young drivers a start in racing. Notably, Ken Schrader drove for Donlavey for a three year stint, garnering Rookie of the Year honors in 1985 and nearly winning the 1987 Firecracker 400, losing the lead with two laps to go. Coincidentally, the loss came to Allison, who changed tires during a late caution and stole the victory.
[media-credit name=”NASCARMedia/Motorsports Images & Archives” align=”alignright” width=”104″][/media-credit]Ricky Rudd, Ernie Irvan, and Mike Wallace all drove for Donlavey in the early parts of their career. Notable drivers who made their debut for Donlavey include Joe Weatherly, Harry Gant, Robby Gordon and current TNT analyst Wally Dallenbach Jr.
In a recent interview I conducted, Dallenbach said he had “Nothing but great memories” in his time with Donlavey. “I drove for him in my rookie deal into NASCAR, and Junie and the whole team were fantastic. I learned a lot and they were great people. Junie has given a lot of guys opportunities; opportunities they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. For what he had to work with, he did a great job. Junie never really had what you could call a major sponsor. “Orkin Pest Control and Ford Motorsports Sportswear were the only major primary sponsors Dallenbach had for his rookie season.
Donlavey was also notable for giving older drivers a shot behind the wheel. Benny Parsons, Lennie Pond, Buddy Baker, Dick Trickle, and Charlie Glotzbach all drove Donlavey livery towards the end of their careers.
Donlavey’s last start as a car owner came in the 2002 UAW-GM Quality 500 where Jason Hedlesky, current spotter for Carl Edwards drove a Lucas Oil backed machine; dropping out early due to handling issues.
His former crew chief and current owner Tommy Baldwin Jr., told a USA Today reporter at the time “It’s kind of a shame that he’s gotten to this point where he can’t run successfully week in and week out,” But Junie never really cared about that.” Donlavey seemed to agree, saying that “I have met so many nice people that, if I had to trade the people I met for money, there wouldn’t be enough money around.”
Dallenbach also agreed, saying “Junie liked [having] the team in Virginia, with friends and family working on the car. In his time, you could do that, but I don’t think Junie wanted to become a big-time Cup team. I think he had the opportunity to do that, but that would have required moving the operation to Charlotte”.
That was indeed the case, as Sara Lee reportedly pulled their sponsorship after the 2001 season when Donlavey refused to move his team to North Carolina.
Since then, the no. 90 has been used sparingly, most recently with Scott Riggs driving for Raymond Key at Phoenix in 2010. In total, car no. 90 has obtained two poles, one victory, 64 top five, and 231 top-ten finishes in the course of 918 starts.