The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing – now known as NASCAR – has arguably the most epic tale of how it came to be.
In the 1920’s and 1930’s, Daytona Beach became the most sought-after place to go for land speed records to be attempted and set. Coupled with stock car racing having origins in bootlegging during the prohibition era in the United States of America, it was only a matter of time before the two merged and created the wonderful Motorsport that we sit and watch week after week.
NASCAR didn’t simply appear from thin air though, and there were notable characters, players, racers, drivers and pioneers. One of those notable people was NASCAR legend Junior Johnson. Join CLICKON Motorsport as we delve back into the history of NASCAR and how Junior Johnson earned his unlikely, yet badass legendary status that is still celebrated to this day.
Robert Glen Johnson Jr, widely known as Junior Johnson, was born in 1931. Originating from North Carolina, Junior’s family had a history in the whiskey business before Junior was even born. His father was also a lifelong bootlegger and spent two decades of his life serving time in prison.
Not only that, but Junior’s family was subjected to one of the largest alcohol raids in the United States, where 400 gallons of Moonshine was seized from his house.
Junior’s part in running moonshine for his family required him to drive aggressively, quickly and skilfully. He needed to outrun the law and so he put his hands to work building vehicles that would help him to do just that. He was even the inventor of ballsy moves such as the famous “bootlegger U-turn.”
To do this, he would turn the car sharply to the left, put it in a low gear and turn the car 180 degrees. He was seemingly fearless with his myriad of tricks up his sleeve in his quest to avoid run-ins with the law.
He would carry a cop siren in his car, which he used once to confuse cops into breaking up a road block at a bridge. It was a constant game of cat and mouse with Junior, and it wasn’t long before he was infamous within the state of North Carolina for being a rebellious hotshot.
Having done this for a little while, Junior developed a real passion and turned his attention to NASCAR where he understandably became an instant celebrity. Junior himself even spent a year in prison early on in his racing career, despite never actually being caught for transporting liquor at the high speeds we now associate with NASCAR.
Revenuers staked him out and Junior spent 11 months of a two-year sentence in jail.
In 1955 – Junior’s first full season as a NASCAR driver – he won five races and finished sixth overall in the points standing. It was certainly an impressive feat from a young man who had mastered his skill by helping to run an illegal operation, years before. After 11 years behind the wheel, Junior retired in 1966 with an awesome set of stats beneath his belt.
In his 11 years, he claimed 50 victories – 11 of those victories were at major speedway races. He went down in history as the most “winningest” driver to have never won a championship. On top of his 50 wins, Junior also scored 46 pole positions and 148 top ten finishes. Just when it seemed as though Junior couldn’t be more badass, he discovered “drafting” – a technique still used and executed by drivers today.
In terms of awards, Junior was named one of “NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers” in 1998. He was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1991. He was amongst other NASCAR legends such as Dale Earnhardt Jr, Richard Petty and Michael Jordon to have a stretch of highway named in his honour in 2004.
He was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2010. Finally – the most important of all, which wasn’t an award but it was a recognition – was the Presidential Pardon that Ronald Raegan granted him in 1986. This overturned his 1956 Moonshining conviction. It also restored his right to vote and naturally, Junior was overjoyed with this prospect.
— NASCAR Memories (@NASCARMemories) February 14, 2017
To this day, Junior is still very much celebrated as “The Last American Hero.” He has had articles written about him, as well as films, screenplays and books, all based on his amazing story and unlikely rise to fame. Junior’s life went full circle as of 2007 when he got back into the Moonshine business.
Only this time, he didn’t have to fear being caught and ending up in jail. Dubbing his concoction “Midnight Moon,” Junior gave his new shine two thumbs up after a sip and called it “the best shine ever.” Just like his alcohol, Junior has definitely had a life, career and reputation where he’s done nothing but shine like the moon, and he’ll always be remembered as a bootlegging badass.