FUZI: Late-Model Racing’s Don O’Neal
GAYLORD, Mich. — They say that pure speed can impress, but its consistency that wins; and Don O’Neal is living proof that the theory is correct.
The Martinsville, Ind., native has driven his Magnaflow Exhaust Products No. 71 dirt late model into victory lane countless times and always been a model of consistency. While others tire in grueling events, or wear out during long series such as the UMP Summer Nationals, that’s when “The Real Deal” shines brightest.
O’Neal’s career began in 1988 at Brownstown and Paragon (Ind.) Speedways, tracks that O’Neal was not unfamiliar with, his dad Marvin had been a regular Saturday night warrior at Paragon during Don’s childhood. When it came time for the young O’Neal to strap in, he was more than ready and by the 1990 season Marvin was anxious to see his son’s career reach new heights.
“In 1990 my dad went out and bought us new Rayburn cars and new motors and took us out racing,” O’Neal said. “I have to give all the credit for my racing career to my dad. I probably about broke him a time or two during those first 5-6 years. But now here we are.”
With the promise of a racing career ahead of him, O’Neal was faced with another decision just a few years later when in 1996 he turned his hobby over into a business and fulltime career.
“I grew up in the logging and sawmill business, it’s what I had done every day of my life, so it was actually a really big jump for me to start racing as a career,” he explained. “I’ve been pretty fortunate to do what I love for a living. There were some years where I wondered what I was doing, but in the past few years its all been well.”
O’Neal’s hot streak really started to pick up steam in 2003 when he won eight events on the Summer Nationals tour, and the $55,000 Dixie Shootout, but then in 2004 he captured the UMP Summer Nationals championship after winning 11 of 22 events.
In 2005 and 2006, O’Neal posted back-to-back runner-up points finishes in Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series standings, and for the past two seasons in addition to being victorious at some prestigious events, he has also strung together back-to-back top-five Lucas Oil series point finishes. This year he is already off to a promising start for the No. 71 team. O’Neal has found victory lane twice already in 2011 and has posted 14 top-10s and currently sits second in the Lucas Oil standings.
From February through October O’Neal’s schedule is full of dates, and states. Every weekend is a new track and a new opportunity to bring home the checkered; but for Don he already has his sights set on June and September.
“I’ve stepped my racing up a notch in the last few years so this year I really hope the Dream and the World 100 will be better,” he said. “Those races just stick in my mind. Eldora is my favorite race track and I’ve come in second there a time or two but just can’t ever get it done, but I’ve not given up on the place yet.”
O’Neal may not get to stay in one place very long; but one thing is certain for this mild-mannered man with an easy smile; family and home are a big part of his life and who he is, whether in a race car or out.
“My favorite race is the Jackson 100 at Brownstown,” O’Neal said. “I’ve won it 3 years in a row and it’s awesome to go there with the Lucas Oil series and win at my hometrack. Those probably stand out more than any race I could win.”
Whether its slinging mud at Brownstown or hanging out in the woods, O’Neal enjoys his hometown and his busy lifestyle.
“Being a single dad and raising two boys on my own (Houston, 15; and Hudson, 10) takes up a lot of time, but we just love to deer hunt and go racing together.”