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Former team member Jason Hedlesky reflects on the late Junie Donlavey

Jun 10, 2014, 2:45 PM EDT

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In life, we have to make the most of what we have. So it went for former NASCAR Sprint Cup team owner Junie Donlavey, who passed away last night at the age of 90 in Richmond, Virginia.

In the 863 Sprint Cup races his team ran, Donlavey only achieved one win as an owner. His team never became a major operation, but according to one of his former team members, Jason Hedlesky, that didn’t stop him from giving his best.

“There was nobody that cared more about running good than Junie, but for a majority of his career the team didn’t have the resources that the multi-car teams had, so he made the best out of what he had,” Hedlesky said as part of a Ford release.

“He never once complained about it and just kept trucking along and kept people employed and the company running until he retired in 2004.  You can’t say much more than that.  He was all-in.”

Hedlesky served in multiple roles for Donlavey during the team’s final years, including as team manager, driver, and spotter. These days, he’s a spotter for Carl Edwards at Roush Fenway Racing.

In Hedlesky’s mind, he owes his current career to Donlavey, whose mentoring went beyond the race track and emphasized respect at all times.

“He didn’t just teach you about racing, he taught you about life and how to treat people and how to respect people,” Hedlesky said.

“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.

“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. We’re all going to miss him.”

Edsel B. Ford, a member of Ford’s Board of Directors, has issued the following statement on Donlavey’s passing:

“All of us at Ford Motor Company mourn the passing of Junie Donlavey and we send our thoughts and prayers to his family and friends. Junie was a true gentleman whose legacy won’t be measured in wins on the track. 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.”

NASCAR has also issued its own statement this afternoon:

“With Junie Donlavey’s passing this week, NASCAR lost a treasure, a man who personified NASCAR’s proud past. With 863 starts as a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car owner, he won over millions of fans through his 50-plus years in our sport.

The list of men who drove for him during his career is impressive, including two who won NASCAR Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year honors – Ken Schrader and Jody Ridley. Others included Dick Brooks, Ricky Rudd, Dick Trickle and Benny Parsons. All contributed to Junie’s lasting legacy in our sport.

NASCAR offers sincere condolences to Junie’s family and friends at this difficult time.”

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