Heroes don’t have to wear capes or have superpowers. They don’t even have to be winners.
As the record books show, Sanford NASCAR driver J.D. McDuffie was never a “winner” in the classical sense in the sport’s biggest series. But for one author, that doesn’t make him any less of a hero.
California writer and NASCAR fan Brock Beard recently completed a book chronicling the life and career of McDuffie, who lost his life in a crash at Watkins Glen in 1991. The book, titled “J.D. McDuffie: The Life and Death of a Forgotten NASCAR Legend” will be available for purchase on July 15, and pre-orders are available now from Waldorf Publishing.
McDuffie has been credited with two somewhat dubious NASCAR records in the past. He still holds the record for most NASCAR starts without a win, starting 653 races in 28 years before his death. He also held the record for most last-place finishes until 2014 when Joe Nemechek passed him.
But, if you think about it, said Beard, those records aren’t so bad after all.
“I’ve always pulled for the underdog, particularly in sports. I’ve been one myself,” he said. “In NASCAR, I liked how ESPN’s Bob Jenkins would go through the leaderboard and say ‘look where your favorite driver is running.’ I liked the thought that every one of those 43 starters has a group of fans out there, even the guy in last place.”
A large portion of those fans were likely here in Central North Carolina – McDuffie’s home. Beard made the trek across the country to Sanford – a place he called “beautiful” – last year as part of his research for the book, which his publishing company touts as “one of the most comprehensive stories of any race car driver.”
“It’s the tale of a man who honed his skills as a mechanic and built his own team from the ground-up, his No. 70 banging fenders with the likes of Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt,” a description of the book reads. “It’s also about the close-knit group of supporters who came together to make sure McDuffie made it to the track in a rapidly-changing sport.”
Beard is an attorney by trade, but his passion for telling the stories of the bottom part of a race’s final leaderboard has turned into his passion. He currently owns and runs the website LASTCAR.info, where the only drivers he writes about are the guys who finish last.
It’s the research for the site that led him to an interest in telling McDuffie’s story, which he has been working on for more than a decade.
“When putting the website together in 2009, I found that J.D. McDuffie had the record for the most last-place runs in Cup Series history,” he said. “Now, I’ve been a NASCAR fan since 1991, but I’d only known of McDuffie since 2000, when I found one of his diecasts in an antique store. There were a couple tributes to McDuffie online, but most only relayed the bare facts: he started 653 races, never won, and was killed at Watkins Glen. So, really, over these last two decades, I’ve been trying to find more and more information about him.”
That interest then grew into a book deal, especially after interviewing former McDuffie crew member Marty Burke.
”Originally, it was just my own curiosity – I just wanted to piece together who McDuffie was, what happened in that final race, and everything in between,” Beard said. “Interviewing Burke got me in touch with a couple other members of McDuffie’s crew, and I was suddenly learning even more about him.”
As for his writing style, he said he hopes the book can entertain NASCAR fans and non-fans alike.
“I’m been used to being the only NASCAR fan in most social groups I’ve been involved in, so I’m writing this book both for NASCAR fans and people who may not even have an interest in the sport. I think McDuffie’s story is relatable for a lot of people, and a stand-alone account of it is long overdue.”
Out of respect for the book, we won’t go into many more details about McDuffie’s career and death. Suffice it to say it’s an interesting story, to say the least. You can pre-order it here.
As a kid growing up in Tramway I could hear JD working on his engines , the roar would echo from his shop through the woods. The day he died, I remember swimming at the Moose Pool in Sanford, all of a sudden many of the dads were crying and everyone just left and went home. Last year at the Southern 500 (now known for running throwback paint schemes) one of the teams displayed his most recognized Rumple Funiture Co. sponsor and colors still based in Elkin NC. His wife and many old crew members were in the infield, it was a great tribute to a man who loved to race, every weekend he had a chance to win.