Virginia's roots in NASCAR run deep and one Virginian in particular, W.C. "Junie" Donlavey's past extends back to NASCAR's beginnings. A car owner from 1949 through 2005, the Richmond native who passed away Monday night, embodied the spirit of racing.
Much of his notoriety came from the conduit he developed, giving young drivers a chance to compete at the top level in motorsports. In his more than 60 years of ownership, Donlavey placed 150 drivers in the seat of a stock car – 60 of those in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. And while the Virginia native had only one Sprint Cup Series win as a team owner (Dover International Speedway in 1981), the various yet-to-be discovered drivers he hired early in their careers – including Buck and Buddy Baker, Benny Parsons, Cale Yarborough, Joe Weatherly, Ricky Rudd, Ken Schrader, Ernie Irvan, Bobby Isaac and Rick Mast – went on to claim a total of 50 wins, 323 top-five's, 653 top-10's and 61 poles.
While attending a press conference at Richmond International Raceway in 2002, Donlavey reflected on his time in the industry, but found it difficult to pick his favorite experience from over the years. "I've had so many good times, and met so many nice people. When you have reached so many different people in your lifetime, and had a personal experience with them, you can't pick one or say this one is the best."
A Navy veteran, Donlavey tried his hand behind the wheel in the late 1940s, but quickly turned to owning and building race cars in his Richmond, Virginia shop. And he attributed the success of his team to the people in the Richmond area who pitched in over the years and kept his team going.
"Virginia and NASCAR lost a legend of our sport with the passing of Junie Donlavey," said Richmond International Raceway President Dennis Bickmeier. "I had the honor of meeting Junie a couple of years ago when he joined us for a press conference with our partner Federated Auto Parts. He was one of the nicest people I've ever met."
"I've heard so many stories about Junie since I moved to Richmond," continued Bickmeier. "He made an impact on many lives here in Richmond and in the NASCAR industry and will be missed."
Over the years, the motorsports industry recognized Donlavey's efforts and dedication to the sport and awarded him many honors, including the 1997 STP Richard Petty Achievement Award, the 1999 Ford Motor Company Spirit of Ford Award, 1999 Stock Car Hall of Fame inductee, the 2001 H. Clay Earles Award from Martinsville Speedway, as well as the 2002 Smokey Yunick Award, recognizing lifetime achievement in auto racing. The award, named for the legendary car owner and mechanic, annually recognizes an individual whose lifelong efforts have had a major impact on the motorsports industry.
Also in 2002, the Eastern Motorsports Press Association (EMPA) formed the Junie Donlavey Spirit Award, which is presented each year to individuals who best represent independent spirit of the sport and perform numerous tasks behind the scenes to make the sport better. Donlavey was named the first recipient of the award that same year.
In 2007, Donlavey added the title of "International Motorsports Hall of Fame Member" to his list of accomplishments, when he was inducted into the Talladega, Alabama museum alongside Jack Ingram, Wayne Rainey, fellow Virginian Ray Hendrick, Warren Johnson and Bruton Smith.
"Life has really been fast, I can tell you, but it's been pleasant," said Donlavey following the International Motorsports Hall of Fame induction ceremony. "I didn't regret a minute of it even though we ran against heavy-backed teams. We still had fun!"
And when asked about his love of the sport, Donlavey, who recently celebrated his 90th birthday, added, "The only reason why I got into it, the only reason why I've stayed in it is because it's fun. To waste just one day of your life on doing something that you didn't want to do is terrible because you can never get it back."