Beyond the stats: NASCAR family mourning Junie Donlavey
In the case of veteran NASCAR team owner Junie Donlavey, who died Monday at the age of 90, the record book barely scratches the surface of the man he was and the impact he made on the lives of others.
Junie Donlavey fielded cars in 863 NASCAR races from 1950-2002, earning one victory as a team owner.
RacingOne / ISC Archives
By Tom Jensen
Sometimes in sports you look beyond the record book.
If all you ever looked at in the life of Wesley Christian Donlavey, a/k/a Junie, was the record book, the numbers were not overwhelming: The Richmond native, who died Monday at the age of 90, fielded cars in 863 NASCAR races from 1950-2002, earning one victory -- Jody Ridley in the 1981 Mason-Dixon 500 at Dover International Speedway -- along with 60 top-five and 218 top-10 finishes.
But in Junie Donlavey's case, the record book barely scratches the surface.
In the fiercely competitive environment of NASCAR racing, Donlavey was a rare and remarkable individual, someone who was universally respected and admired by his fellow racers.
"The only thing you really need to know about Junie Donlavey is that he was probably the most well-liked person ever in the sport of NASCAR," said Wood Brothers co-founder Glen Wood, who raced against Donlavey from the very beginning and knew him as well as anyone.
"He always helped out everyone, no matter who you were," Wood said of Donlavey. "He helped so many drivers and crew members who just wanted to get into the sport. He always had time for people like that."
One of the people who just wanted to get into the sport was a 24-year-old from Michigan named Jason Hedlesky, who got a job with Donlavey working on the team's cars first and then driving them. He went on to become Donlavey's team manager and now serves as the spotter for Carl Edwards.
"He didn't just teach you about racing; he taught you about life and how to treat people and how to respect people," said Hedlesky.
"There were so many times when people like myself, who were young and aggressive, wanted to go and talk with a sponsor or a person that we thought might be good to work at the shop, but Junie would never have anything to do with them if they were associated with somebody else," said Hedlesky. "He would never go after somebody else's sponsor. He would never go after somebody else's employees. He just didn't do business that way. He just had so much respect for his fellow man and that's just the way he was. He was just a tremendous person and a great human being."
When news spread of Donlavey's passing, the NASCAR community weighed in on the character of the former owner.
"Anything you needed, he'd help you," said Eddie Wood, co-owner of Wood Brothers Racing, and Glen's oldest child. "You could call his shop any hour of the night and he'd answer on the first ring. Sometimes we'd talk about racing, but a lot of those last-night conversations were about life in general, just friends talking."
"Junie Donlavey was a man of love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control, God Bless, RIP," Darrell Waltrip posted on Twitter.
Fellow Virginian Elliott Sadler added, "If there ever was a definition of the little engine that could in #NASCAR it would be Junie Donlavey.. Great man.. Will be missed."
And this, from Edsel Ford: "Junie was a true gentleman whose legacy won't be measured in wins on the track," said Ford. "His legacy will be the hundreds of drivers and crew members who he helped that went on to great careers. All of us will miss his friendly smile and engaging stories in the garage."