NASCAR WCUP: Junior Johnson: A Legend on and off the Track
15 March 2000
Posted By Terry
MOORESVILLE, N.C.-- Famous for his rugged, daring and
fearless style, Junior Johnson continues to be recognized for his
contributions to the sport he helped form. The NASCAR legend will be
inducted into the North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame Thursday, May
2000, at the Charlotte (N.C.) Convention Center.
Motorsports Editor, The Auto Channel
Born June 28, 1931, in rural North Carolina, Johnson was behind the wheel of his father's pickup truck by the age of eight. By 14, he was a part of the family business -- delivering moonshine throughout the backwoods of western North Carolina. While running whiskey, he developed his passion for racing and his now-famous hard charging, aggressive driving style. With souped-up delivery cars, Johnson and his fellow moonshiners often held informal races around open fields to see whose car was the fastest. Johnson regularly found himself in the winner's circle.
With a number of unofficial wins behind the wheel, Johnson entered the world of professional stock car racing in 1953. He started 313 races during his 14-year career -- winning 47 poles and 50 NASCAR Winston Cup Series races. He led the field in 1961 and 1965 in both laps and races led (2,373 laps and 23 races; 3,998 laps and 30 races). In 1963, he tried his hand at Indy Car racing and in 1971 helped establish Winston's sponsorship of NASCAR.
Johnson retired from the driver's seat in 1966 and spent the next three decades fielding cars for others to drive. As a car owner, Johnson showcased an impressive list of drivers, including Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Lee Roy Yarbrough, Charlie Glotzbach, Geoff Bodine, Bill Elliott, Jimmy Spencer, Neil Bonnett, and Terry Labonte. Yarborough and Waltrip each captured three series championships while driving for Johnson -- making him one of the sport's most successful team owners.
"I don't know of anyone in the state of North Carolina who deserves to be in the North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame more than Junior Johnson," Yarborough said. "He helped make NASCAR and my career what it is today. I have no idea what roads my career would have followed if I hadn't been able to drive Junior's cars. I consider myself especially fortunate to have spent those years (1973-1980) with him."
Waltrip echoes Yarborough's sentiments.
"Easily the best six years (1981-1986) of my career," Waltrip said. "Everyone knew that Junior's cars were the best in the business. I knew that if I could get in his cars, I would go from winning races to winning championships. And that is exactly what happened. I am proud to call Junior my friend."
Johnson recorded his last two victories as an owner in 1994, when Spencer drove Johnson's McDonald's Ford to wins at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. Following the 1995 season, Johnson sold his team to Brett Bodine and officially retired from the racing scene.
Today, a 68-year-old Johnson spends most days working on his 300-acre North Carolina farm and raising his young children with wife, Lisa. On Monday, March 20, he will be at the North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame to autograph copies of his new biography "Junior Johnson: Brave in Life," written by Tom Higgins and Steve Waid.
A nonprofit museum, the North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame is dedicated to all types of racing -- from drag racing to NASCAR. It houses more than 35 cars as well as numerous displays and showcases. Past inductees into the museum's Hall of Fame include Tim Flock (1999), Bobby Allison (1998), and Richard Petty (1997). For more information about the museum, log on to its web site at www.ncarhof.com.
Text provided by Erin Dominianni