50 Years of nascar racing ~ J.D. Stacy (Post 36)
By Matt McLaughlin
Editor's note: This article is part of a special reprise of Matt McLaughlin's "50 Years of NASCAR Racing", written and published in 1998 in commemoration of NASCAR's 50th Anniversary celebration that year. Matt has kindly granted me permission to run the entire series. Please, sit back and enjoy as you take a journey back through the pages of history and perhaps relive a memory or two. Many thanks to Matt for his generosity in sharing. God bless you, my friend.
In the history of NASCAR there have been a great many heroes, noble men, and foresighted prophets but as in any large venture there have also been a few bad apples. Among the rottenest fruits ever to disgrace the annals of NASCAR's history is one Jim "JD" Stacy, a mercurial megalomaniac millionaire, who had made his fortune in coal mining, and visited various misfortunes on those naïve enough to trust him, spoiling a good many drivers' careers along the way. Throughout his business life there had been allegations of shady and occasionally downright fraudulent transactions, strings of bad checks, and an enemy list that grew to the size of the New York City phone book. But at the time that Stacy's name darkened the pages of NASCAR's chronicles, many teams were financially strapped and the sport was growing ever more expensive to compete in. JD's promises of near limitless financial backing beckoned like a Siren's call to the unwary.
Such was the case in 1977, when Stacy first arrived on the scene in NASCAR. Norm Krauskopf's once dominant team that had won the 1970 Grand National Championship with Bobby Isaac, was on the ropes. The team, headed by the legendary Harry Hyde, had lost their long time sponsor, K and K insurance, at the end of the 1976 campaign. With the team's future uncertain, driver Dave Marcis had set out for greener pastures. Journeyman driver Neil Bonnett signed on to drive the team's Dodges with the understanding the alliance might not last out the season, and the team relied on pick up sponsors whenever they could, including the United States Army. Bonnett had a decent run at the World 600, finishing seventh, but that same weekend Norm Krauskopf announced after 11 years in the sport and 43 wins, he was throwing in the towel and the team was for sale. JD Stacy announced he had bought the operation, lock stock and barrel, shortly afterwards, and added he had intentions to acquire or start a second team soon as well, as the first steps to starting a NASCAR dynasty. The Stacy team's first run was at the Firecracker 400 in Daytona that year, and Bonnett surprised a good many observers by taking the pole for the event. Mechanical difficulties kept him from backing up that promising run, but Neil did wind up bringing the car home eighth. The team scored their first victory, and Bonnett his first win as well, at Richmond that September, with Harry Hyde patiently coaching his driver to the checkers. Bonnett backed up that win with another at the series finale in Ontario, California, edging out Richard Petty by two tenths of a second at the stripe. As a historical footnote, that was the last victory ever for a Chrysler product in Winston Cup racing. All in all, it was an auspicious start for the new team with two wins in 12 races and Bonnett and Hyde looked forward to the 1978 campaign with eager expectation.
Success proved harder to come by in 1978, though Bonnett had a decent if unspectacular year, running all thirty races, and while he went winless, compiling seven top five and twelve top ten finishes to place twelfth in the final points run down. But all was not sweetness and light. Throughout the season there had been rumors Stacy was in financial trouble. A second team he had promised to start for Ferrel Harris in exchange for a loan, made only two starts. Harris and Harry Hyde were forced to launch lawsuits to recover the money they were owed from Stacy. In the closing weeks of the season Stacy went out to his car in the parking lot and saw some suspicious wires hanging beneath it. When Stacy discovered it was a bomb rigged to blow him to pieces, he somewhat wisely decided to drop out of sight, and when he went, he took his checkbook with him. The team was officially listed as making three starts in 1979, two with Sterling Marlin and one with Joe Ruttman, before folding.
In 1981 JD Stacy came out of hiding and made yet another big splash into the world of NASCAR. Dale Earnhardt had won Rookie of the Year honors in 1979 and the Winston Cup Championship in 1980, driving for a team owned by Rod Osterlund. While their racing success was unparalleled, Osterlund, another millionaire dilettante who decided to dabble in stock car racing, was facing financial problems of his own in his real estate empire, brought on by the recession and high interest rates that had sent the price of real estate into the hopper. Though he denied the team was for sale, on June 26th, Osterlund sold his team and all its assets for $1.7 million, to none other than JD Stacy. The transition was not a smooth one. Despite initial assurances things would remain as they were, the team's manager was fired shortly thereafter. Next, Joe Whitlock, legendary journalist and a close personal friend of Earnhardt's, was released from his job of marketing manager for the team. Earnhardt drove four races for Stacy before announcing he was resigning, while still defending Winston Cup Champ, because he was dissatisfied with the way things were being run. Dale took over driving chores for noted independent, Richard Childress, an association that would only last until the end of the year, but of course Dale and Richard ended up pairing up again a few years later to form one of the most successful racing alliances ever. Stacy replaced Earnhardt with Joe Ruttman. While Ruttman did not win a race, he did post seven top-tens in his seventeen starts with Stacy's team, including a second at the season finale in Riverside.
The team seemed to be showing promise, and perhaps given a little time to gel, it could have succeeded; but Stacy had bigger plans. He entered the 1982 season trying to build his dynasty, which he constantly told folks would one day dominate the sport. In addition to Joe Ruttman, Stacy started another team for driver Jim Sauter. In addition to the two cars he owned, Stacy also provided what was rumored to be seven figures worth of support to each of five other teams, in entries driven by Terry Labonte, Dave Marcis, Ron Bouchard, Benny Parsons, and Jody Ridley. It was an unparalleled amount of teams running under one banner, especially in light of the fact the cars ran Stacy's blighted name on their quarter panels, not a company that he owned or had an interest in. He was apparently just delighted by seeing his name get around in the fast circles and the access it gave him to the garage area, being pursued by supplicants wishing to have money lavished on their teams as well. This despite almost from the outset there were rumors Stacy was spending money he didn't have.
While a Stacy-backed car did not win the Daytona 500, four drivers carrying his name, Terry Labonte, Ron Bouchard, Joe Ruttman and Jody Ridley, did place in the top ten. At the next race, at Richmond, Dave Marcis gambled on the rain ending, rather than delaying, the closing laps of the race and did not pit when the caution flag flew for a light rain. The gamble paid off and JD Stacy went to victory lane with Marcis. But from there, things seemed to be falling apart. Ruttman lost confidence in the team and resigned at the end of March. Stacy hired Tim Richmond to take over as the driver of the primary car he owned. After finishing thirty-third at Darlington in April, Jim Sauter was fired, and replaced by a young (as in 18 years of age) woman, Robin McCall, who had never even competed in a Winston Cup race. Later that month Stacy started laying off shop employees, and others quit citing concerns about Stacy's financial health. Harry Hyde and Ferrel Harris were finally able to recover some of the money they were owed by Stacy late that spring. The sponsorship checks that Stacy owed the five independent teams that carried his name began arriving late when they arrived at all.
On paper at least, everything looked fine. Tim Richmond, driving the primary car out of the Stacy stables had been a pleasant surprise. Terry Labonte was leading the Winston Cup points hunt, having assumed the lead after the fourth race of the season, carrying Stacy's sponsorship. But that is when things started falling apart. The checks Stacy was writing weren't worth the paper they were printed on. At the June 6th race at Pocono, Tim Richmond and Bobby Allison were battling each other and the weather for the win. When rain set in and the caution flag waved, Allison decided to gamble and stay out on the track, thinking the event might end prematurely. He lost that gamble and ran out of gas on Pocono's long back straight. Dave Marcis, gentleman racer and a long time friend of the Allison family, graciously used his car to push Bobby back to the pits where Allison took on fuel without losing a lap. Once racing resumed, Allison held off Richmond to take the victory. JD Stacy was furious. Had Marcis left Allison sitting stranded on the back straight, very likely Richmond would have won. Marcis professed surprise at Stacy's irritation, pointing out he and Richmond were not actually teammates, they just shared a sponsor, and no one had told him it was part of his duties to help other Stacy-backed cars win. Shortly thereafter, Marcis received notification that despite being the only driver who had won that year carrying Stacy's colors, JD was withdrawing from sponsoring Dave's car. The reason cited was not Marcis aiding Allison at Pocono, but his running "unauthorized associate sponsorship decals" on the 71 car. Stacy needed to renege on some contracts to keep his struggling empire afloat, and the decals provided a legal excuse to do so.
The next race on the circuit was at Riverside, and Tim Richmond scored his first win, and the first win for one of Stacy's team cars that season. Ironically, the win came on the same day Marcis had received notification Stacy was no longer backing him. That race was also the last ride for Benny Parsons in a car flying Stacy's logos. Despite having post eight top-tens, and four fourth place finishes, Stacy claimed not to be satisfied with how Benny was running and pressured team owner Harry Ranier to release him. Buddy Baker assumed driving chores in the Ranier car in Parsons' place. The real shock came that Wednesday, when Stacy announced he was no longer going to sponsor Winston Cup points leader Terry Labonte in Billy Hagan's car. Stacy cited the same bogus reasons he had used to renege on Dave Marcis' contract, saying Terry's driver uniform carried an unauthorized "Stratograph" patch. Stratograph was a company related to oil exploration owned by Hagan. While the team later found sponsorship (Texas Jeans), the financial chaos and uncertainty caused by Stacy's sudden departure was one of the reasons Labonte eventually backslid to third in the points.
Financial problems continued to build, and that fall Ranier removed Stacy's logos from his cars and announced he was suing JD for being months behind in his payments. Shortly thereafter, Ron Bouchard's team did the same. Stacy was down to his team car driven by Tim Richmond and sponsoring Junie Donlavey's, driven by Jody Ridley. Also about that point, Stacy began moving his shop equipment under the cover of darkness, fearing it would be reprocessed, or a judge would issue an order that the shop be locked so the equipment would serve as collateral for moneys owed the other teams, until the lawsuits were settled.
With the team's very future uncertain, Tim Richmond announced he would not be returning to the team in 1983. Tim did leave the struggling operation in style, winning the season finale at Riverside for JD and his cronies.
Almost unbelievably, despite the mounting lawsuits, ill will, and financial problems, Stacy was back in 1983. As a driver, Stacy selected a 24 year old Arkansas native by the name of Mark Martin. Young and naïve, Mark Martin was delighted by the opportunity to finally drive a top drawer Winston Cup entry; he sold his shop and all his equipment, and laid off his few employees. The official press release announcing Mark's joining the team was all the usual blather for a team giving a young driver his big break, saying Stacy and his people knew it would take a little time for Mark to get up to speed, but it was a long term commitment between JD and Mark to grow the team to the championship. (Don't read that press release to Kenny Irwin this year… it might keep him up at night.) All things considered, for a young driver and a new team, the pairing worked out fairly well. Mark showed a lot of early promise with an eleventh at Rockingham, a seventh at Atlanta and a third at Darlington. In the next two races Martin was sidelined by mechanical problems. Shortly thereafter, the Stacy team announced they were firing Martin and putting Morgan Shepherd in the car, leaving Mark out in the cold, with an uncertain future. It would be five years before he found another full time Winston Cup ride with Jack Roush. In 23 starts with JD Stacy's team, Morgan Shepherd posted no wins, but 13 top ten finishes, including a second place at that year's Firecracker 400. At the end of the season, JD Stacy folded his team and disappeared back into obscurity. Some of his drivers, notably Dale Earnhardt, Mark Martin and Terry Labonte, were able to recover from the damage his broken promises did to their careers. Others were not. JD Stacy entered the sport of NASCAR racing with lots of money and little in the way of enemies. He left seven years later with very little money and lots of enemies.
AFTERMATH: JD Stacy was not the only millionaire to dabble in Winston Cup racing. Carl Kiekhaefer's story in 1955 and 56 is a lot like Stacy's. He once even bought a race track so a race could be added to the schedule to give Buck Baker an extra chance to score points, and gave team orders to have one of his drivers purposely wreck Herb Thomas to keep him from title contention. There was also M.C. Anderson who fielded a team for Cale Yarborough starting in 1981, after Cale announced he wanted to run a limited schedule rather than pursue titles. During their two-year association, Cale won five races for Anderson. Anderson tried to lure Yarborough into running the entire schedule in 1983 and quit in a huff when Cale declined to do so, never to return to the sport. While Rick Hendrick cannot be compared to Stacy or Anderson, it has yet to be seen what sort of damage his financial problems could do to his teams or drivers. As of late, it seems millionaires with plans of grandeur buy race tracks rather than race teams.
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