NOTE FROM KAREN:
I had the opportunity to meet NASCAR Nationwide driver Donnie Neuenberger when I flew up to Dover International Speedway back in May for race weekend. We didn’t get a chance to “chat” at the track because of our different schedules, but we have since talked quite a bit since. I’ve enjoyed our conversations through the ‘social media’ and cell phone, (hahaha!) and am looking forward to seeing Donnie at the track again someday soon.
I’m sure you will find Donnie Neuenberger to have a heart of gold, who’s a very caring, outgoing person as well as a diehard racecar driver who’ll do anything just to race.
Here’s HIS story.
Donnie Neuenberger is a Maryland native and currently lives on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. Born on August 10, 1962, Donnie has been racing off and on since his mid 20′s. Donnie has always been into cars and did his share of drag racing down the street. “Yeah, it was a lot easier to do that back then,” said Neuenberger. Racing became his passion when he started going to stock car races with some good friends. Donnie had to see if he could do it, and see exactly how far he could take it. Donnie currently drives the No. 81 Eagle Convenience Store Dodge Charger in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
And as with any driver, who are best known for thanking their sponsors every opportunity they can – and even now, here’s a driver who wants to thank his sponsor even before an interview for an article! “Before anything, I have to thank Darryl Saucier, owner of Eagle Convenience stores for the sponsorship and friendship we have; also Randy and Pat MacDonald along with their Macdonald Motorsports team for working with us,” an appreciative Neuenberger said.
Back in the day, around 1990 – 1991, Bill Davis introduced Donnie to a guy named Barry Owens. Donnie started working with Barry, who was then working with Clifford Allison, right along with Bobby Allison. ”I always knew how to turn wrenches and Barry made me a deal – if I helped him, he would find me a ride,” said Donnie. Allison (Clifford) was a NASCAR Goody’s Dash Series champion car builder at the time, and was doing work for Bill Davis’ NASCAR Busch Series team – who, by the way had just signed with, then unknown, Jeff Gordon. Barry Owens set Donnie up and started him out – Donnie recalls the job he had to accomplish: Just finish the race, don’t worry about the lap count, don’t tear up race car, and protect your sponsors.
Barry once told Donnie that it is the worst cut throat business and everyone will try to steal sponsors. “Barry was so right on both accounts and I appreciate his honesty back then,” said Donnie.
Donnie’s first real racing series consisted of going up and down the east coast running in the NASCAR Goody’s Dash Series. He had met so many great people over the years. Neuenberger had run Daytona in both the Goody’s Dash and ARCA Series with lots of success stemming from the Goody’s Dash Series. Donnie’s big break came in 2000. His first run in a NASCAR [then] Craftsman Truck Series race was at Daytona International Speedway. Donnie’s friends, the Long brothers – Charlie & Robert, had taken over a truck team and previously chosen Scott Riggs to pilot it. Unfortunately, Riggs couldn’t get approved to run at Daytona, so they asked Neuenberger to drive. While prepping for the race, Neuenberger and Riggs became instant friends while they both worked on the truck – which Neuenberger finished in 9th. Donnie then ran part-time in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for a few years and then went on to the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Donnie made his Nationwide Series debut at Lowe’s Motor Speedway (Charlotte) in the of fall 2002. With his alma mater, the University of Maryland, College Park on the #77 Moy Racing Ford, he started 41st and finished 26th. Donnie has been racing off and on since.
THE BUMP ON THE TRACK
Donnie continued racing, but after Talladega in 2004, Donnie was diagnosed with Stage 4 Follicular Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. The chemotherapy and the recovery forced Donnie out for the rest of the year.
As time went on, Donnie was able to return to the track which made for what many may consider a feel-good story. The No. #72 MacDonald Motorsports team invited him back to Daytona. For 2010, Donnie drove part-time in both the #52 IHOP Chevrolet for Means and the #41 Chevrolet for Rick Ware Racing.
As of right now, Donnie is in remission. His Follicular Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma is not curable without a bone marrow transplant, which is not 100% certain, either. He undergoes scans every year to monitor the tumors. “I never had a chance to thank Larry McRenolds and the other broadcasters that give me kudos along with the many race fans and friends… so through you, (Racingal.com Blog) I am able to do so,” said Neuenberger.
In the meantime, Donnie started the Donnie Neuenberger Foundation to give back – because of the chance he has been given – and hopes that everyone will check out the Foundation by simply going to dgnf.org or dgnracing.com. Race fans can order a Driven to Survive bracelet for a donation of $8 while supporting the foundation. The Donnie Neuenberger foundation has recently taken delivery of 5,000 bracelets.
The mission of The Donnie Neuenberger Foundation is to support children and families battling cancer
by funding programs that improve quality of life thru hospital visitations and financial grants.
CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THE ORDER FORM TO ORDER A ‘DRIVEN TO SURVIVE’ BRACELET
Simply click on the picture of the bracelets to download your form.
GET TO KNOW DONNIE
When asked if he was superstitious, as most drivers are, Donnie went on to explain, “Naaah … I say a prayer before we start the engines, so that’s the one consistent thing I do.” However, one “close call” to being labeled a little odd was right before a Nationwide race at Dover, a fan walked up to Donnie and asked for an autograph. The fan then continued to ask him if he had ever flipped a car before. Donnie said, “Nooo!!!!” The fan, who ended up being a racer himself, went on to tell Donnie that he had flipped a midget car. “And don’t you know it, the next day….I flipped my car at Dover!!! Where’s that kid at today? ….. lol,” Donnie said.
I asked him if his number had any significance – the No. 81. “Well, yes and no,” replied Donnie. “The No. 81 was my high school football jersey number, so that makes it cool, but I’ve run so many numbers in my career that it doesn’t matter as long as I’m running! It just happened to be the number the team has, so I’m ok with it.”
When it comes to the question of who his biggest race fan is, you can believe it is his Mother, JoAnn. I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with JoAnn for an extended amount of time up at Dover International Speedway, where Donnie last raced. She had recently sent me a story that I asked her to share with the fans, about Donnie that is very memorable to her:
When a driver loses his ride…literally!!
“A few years ago, Donnie was racing in Daytona in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
and was going to race one night at a local track for another owner and was hauling the car.
He had parked it in the Mall near where we were staying. A few hours later we were taking
him to get the car and trailer and while looking for the car and trailer, the owner called Donnie
and was asking how everything was going and when he expected him to be at the track.
Well, Donnie didn’t panic and told him “everthing is cool” not knowing where the
truck and trailer was!! It turns out it had been towed. That in itself is another story just
getting it back and getting it out of the impounded lot.
He got to the track in plenty of time and the owner never knew this story,
which we still laugh over today.”
* * * * * * * * * *
Donnie ran at Daytona International Speedway this year with Lilly Trucking in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. “Unfortunately, we had all kind of problems, but were poised to have a top 10 finish, and then the “big one” happened right in front of us. Our brakes failed, taking us out of the running…it was a fun, but tough night,” said Donnie. Neuenberger has made over 50 starts in the top-tier of NASCAR and has proven his abilities time and time again.
PLANS FOR 2011?
Neuenberger has no plans that are etched into stone – YET. As for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, there are no more scheduled races, but he would love to do a few more. “There just isn’t any money out there … I see it getting worse, not better,” said Donnie.
So in the meantime, Donnie keeps working hard, just like other drivers in the search for sponsorship, and to do whatever they have to do just to keep racing. When I asked Donnie what he likes to do when he’s not racing, Donnie stated the two things he DOESN’T want (to have) for his “off time” and that is a boat or an RV. Fortunately for Neuenberger, he knows enough people that do have those “toys,” so he’s good… “I say that because I get asked all the time if I have one or both.” Neuenberger stated that he’s more into muscle cars. “I had a 1970 Boss 302 Mustang for almost 15 years, but I sold it to keep racing …. imagine that,” stating with a slight case of sarcasm. Today he has a 1968 Shelby KR 500 Mustang that he owns with his twin brother, Ron. “It’s not finished yet, but I’m working on it slowly… just money items left so that answers that.” Donnie’s owned a Mustang as long as he’s been driving. Donnie is also busy working on raising money for his foundation and visiting kids that have been diagnosed with cancer in local hospitals.
Donnie has given up a lot in order to race the past 18 years, but wouldn’t trade friends and relationships he’s made over that time for anything in the world.
“Like I say every day I’m alive, thank you Lord,” replied Donnie.
Be sure to “Like” The Donnie Neuenberger Foundation Facebook Fan Page. Donnie takes the time to reply to race fans and answer any questions they may have.