Last week we said goodbye to Bill Simpson, a pioneer in racing safety. This week we bid farewell to Junior Johnson, a NASCAR legend. Junior was probably most responsible for NASCAR’s reputation as a place where moonshiners gravitated to utilize their driving skills legally. He learned fast driving transporting his father’s “product” and eluding law enforcement. His beginnings were celebrated in the movie, “The Last American Hero,” starring Jeff Bridges and featuring the song “I Got a Name” by Jim Croce.
Junior, named after his father Robert Glenn Johnson Senior, joined the family whisky business on the delivery side and was never caught while transporting. However, he was implicated in a raid on the family still and served a year in an Ohio prison in 1956-57. This interrupted his NASCAR career, with began in 1955. He won five races in 1955 and matched that total again in 1959. He won the Daytona 500 in 1960, when he learned to keep up with the faster cars by drafting. He was the first NASCAR driver to discover the technique, which soon became common practice. Johnson went on to win 50 races in NASCAR’s top division and retired from driving in 1966. During his driving career he wheeled and eclectic variety of cars; Oldsmobile, Hudson, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Pontiac, Dodge, Ford, and Mercury automobiles all received his attention. He also drove for many teams, among them Petty Enterprises, Carl Kiekhaefer, Smokey Yunick, Wood Brothers, Buck Baker Racing, Bill Stroppe, Holman-Moody, and of course Junior Johnson & Associates.
As a car owner Johnson scored 139 wins, the third most in NASCAR behind Petty Enterprises and Hendrick Motorsports. His drivers during that phase of his career were also legendary; Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip, Terry Labonte, Geoffrey Bodine, and Bill Elliott, to name a few. Junior’s drivers won six NASCAR championships, three each for Yarborough and Waltrip. Johnson was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1991, named one of NASCAR’s 50 greatest drivers in 1998, and selected for the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2010.
Since 2007 Junior has partnered with Piedmont Distillers to produce Midnight Moon, a legal moonshine from an old Johnson family recipe. It is available at Total Wine and More in Reno, so pick up a jug and drink a toast to Junior Johnson, a legend of motorsport.
I hope all you readers had a very merry Christmas and got all the racing and automotive goodies you asked Santa for. I also wish all of you a happy new year, knowing that the 24 Hours of Daytona start is only four weeks from today, and NASCAR’s Clash at Daytona is coming up on Feb. 9. And speaking of the new year, here are a few resolutions I recommend:
Jimmie Johnson: You have 83 wins going into your final season. Win one more and you’ll tie for fourth place overall. Win two and you’ll be in sole possession of fourth. Win a bunch and you’ll tie Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt with seven championships.
NASCAR: Do whatever it takes to fill those half-empty grandstands. Two-for-one tickets, contests for free seats, under 12 get in free, but do something!
Roger Penske: Now that you own Indianapolis Motor Speedway, change the IndyCar series from spec cars back to the good old days of innovation.
American Business: Pony up some sponsorship dollars. You had record profits last year, and race fans are loyal consumers.
Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc: Try not to run into each other this season.
Fernley 95A Speedway: With new ownership, get the car counts back to where they used to be.
Northern Nevada race fans: Patronize your local racetracks; Fernley 95A, Rattlesnake Raceway and Top Gun in Fallon, and Lovelock Speedway.