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Robert Glenn Johnson, Jr. (born June 28, 1931), known as Junior Johnson, was a moonshiner in the rural South who became one of the early superstars of NASCAR in the 1950s and 1960s. He won 50 NASCAR races in his career before retiring in 1966. In the 1970s and 1980s he became a NASCAR racing team owner; he sponsored such NASCAR champions as Cale Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip. He now produces a line of fried pork skins and country ham. He is credited with discovering drafting. He is nicknamed "The Last American Hero" and his autobiography is of the same name.

Driving Days

Johnson was born in Rockingham County, North Carolinamarker, the son of Lara Belle Money and Robert Glenn Johnson, Sr. He grew up on a farm and, like many of the pioneers of stock car racing, developed his driving skills running moonshine as a young man. He consistently outran and outwitted local police and federal agents in auto chases, and he was never caught while delivering moonshine to customers. Johnson became something of a legend in the rural South, where his driving expertise and "outlaw" image was much admired. Johnson is credited with inventing the "bootleg turn," in which a driver escapes a pursuer by sharply putting his speeding car into a 180-degree turn on the highway, then speeding off in the opposite direction before his pursuer can turn around. Johnson was also known to buy and use police lights and sirens to fool policemen who had set up roadblock into thinking that he was a fellow policeman; upon hearing his approach, the police would quickly remove the roadblocks, allowing Johnson to escape with his moonshine.

In 1955, Johnson decided to give up delivering moonshine for the more lucrative (and legal) career of being a NASCAR driver. He found that he was able to easily translate his "moonshiner" driving skills--hard-won on mountain roads--to the highly-pitched racing tracks of NASCAR. In his first full season, he won five races and finished sixth in the 1955 NASCAR Grand National points standings. If NASCAR had a "Rookie of the Year" award at the time, Johnson surely would have won it.

In 1956, federal tax agents found Johnson working at his father's moonshine still in Wilkes County; they arrested him. Many local residents believed the raid was done in revenge for the agents' inability to catch Johnson delivering moonshine on local highways. Johnson was convicted of moonshining and was sent to the federal prisonmarker in Chillicothe, Ohiomarker. He served 11 months of a two-year sentence.

Johnson returned to the NASCAR scene in 1958 and picked up where he left off, winning six races. In 1959, he won five more NASCAR Grand National races; by this time he was regarded as one of the best short-track racers in the sport.

His first win at a "superspeedway" came at the Daytona 500 in 1960. Johnson and his crew chief Ray Fox were practicing for the race, trying to figure out how to increase their speed, which was 22 miles per hour slower than the top cars in the race. During a test run a faster car passed Johnson. He noticed that when he moved behind the faster car his own speed increased due to the faster car's slipstream. Johnson was then able to stay close behind the faster car until the final lap of the test run, when he used the "slipstream" effect to slingshot past the other car. By using this technique Johnson went on to win the 1960 Daytona 500, despite the fact that his car was slower than others in the field. Johnson's technique was quickly adopted by other drivers, and his practice of "drafting" has become a common tactic in NASCAR races.

In 1963 he had a two-lap lead in the World 600 at Charlottemarker before a spectator threw a bottle onto the track and caused Junior to crash; he suffered only minor injuries.

He retired in 1966. In his career, he claimed 50 victories as a driver, and 11 of these wins were at major speedway races.

Johnson was a master of dirt track racing. "The two best drivers I've ever competed against on dirt are Junior Johnson and Dick Hutcherson," said two-time NASCAR champion Ned Jarrett.

Career Statistics as Driver

Year Races Wins Poles Top 5s Top 10s Rank Start Finish
1953 1 0 0 0 0 26.0 38.0
1954 4 0 1 1 1 55 1.0 26.0
1955 36 5 2 12 18 6 7.4 12.2
1956 13 0 1 1 1 37 10.8 21.1
1957 1 0 0 0 0 154 11.0 20.0
1958 27 6 0 12 16 8 8.7 12.0
1959 28 5 1 14 15 11 13.1 10.9
1960 34 3 3 14 18 7 9.6 14.2
1961 41 7 10 16 22 6 6.8 12.1
1962 23 1 2 7 8 20 6.1 17.6
1963 33 7 9 13 14 12 4.2 14.4
1964 29 3 5 12 15 14 5.3 12.1
1965 36 13 9 18 19 12 3.3 11.4
1966 7 0 3 1 1 49 5.7 16.0
Totals 313 50 46 121 148 7.2 13.5


As a NASCAR owner

As a team owner, he worked with some of the legendary drivers in NASCAR history, including Darel Dieringer, LeeRoy Yarbrough, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Neil Bonnett, Terry Labonte, Geoffrey Bodine, Sterling Marlin, Jimmy Spencer, and Bill Elliott. In all, his drivers won 139 races, which is third only to Petty Enterprises and Hendrick Motorsports. His drivers won six Winston Cup Championships -- three with Yarborough (1976-1978) and Waltrip (1981-82, 1985).

Career Statistics as Owner

Year Driver Races Wins Poles Top 5s Top 10s Rank Start Finish
1953 Junior Johnson 1 0 0 0 0 26.0 38.0
1965 Bobby Isaac 1 0 1 1 1 75 1.0 2.0
1965 Junior Johnson 36 13 9 18 19 12 3.3 11.4
1965 Curtis Turner 2 0 0 0 0 39 3.0 29.0
1966 Darel Dieringer 2 0 0 1 1 12 16.0 7.5
1966 A.J. Foyt 3 0 0 0 0 14.7 25.0
1966 Bobby Isaac 8 0 0 2 3 53 8.9 18.9
1966 Gordon Johncock 2 0 0 1 1 2.5 15.5
1966 Junior Johnson 7 0 3 1 1 49 5.7 16.0
1966 Fred Lorenzen 1 0 0 0 0 23 3.0 23.0
1966 Curtis Turner 3 0 0 1 1 24 6.0 11.3
1967 Darel Dieringer 16 1 6 8 9 12 4.1 13.5
1967 Lloyd Ruby 1 0 0 0 0 8.0 22.0
1967 LeeRoy Yarbrough 3 0 0 1 1 37 4.0 14.7
1968 LeeRoy Yarbrough 20 2 6 13 13 16 4.0 12.0
1969 LeeRoy Yarbrough 28 7 0 15 20 16 5.4 8.8
1970 Donnie Allison 1 0 0 1 1 40 2.0 3.0
1970 Fred Lorenzen 1 0 0 0 0 54 9.0 33.0
1970 David Pearson 1 0 0 1 1 23 7.0 4.0
1970 LeeRoy Yarbrough 17 1 1 8 11 43 6.4 12.2
1971 LeeRoy Yarbrough 4 0 0 1 3 73 12.5 12.5
1974 Earl Ross 15 1 0 3 8 8 9.3 11.1
1974 Cale Yarborough 15 4 1 10 10 2 4.5 7.9
1975 Cale Yarborough 27 3 3 13 13 9 6.5 14.8
1976 Cale Yarborough 30 9 2 22 23 1 5.1 8.2
1977 Cale Yarborough 30 9 3 25 27 1 4.0 4.5
1978 Cale Yarborough 30 10 8 23 24 1 3.6 6.0
1979 Cale Yarborough 31 4 1 19 22 4 5.3 8.6
1980 Cale Yarborough 31 6 14 19 22 2 3.1 9.0
1981 Richard Childress 1 0 0 0 0 25 31.0 39.0
1981 Darrell Waltrip 31 12 11 21 25 1 5.3 7.2
1982 J.D. McDuffie 2 0 0 0 0 19 20.5 20.0
1982 Bill Schmitt 1 0 0 0 0 64 22.0 21.0
1982 Darrell Waltrip 30 12 7 17 20 1 3.8 9.1
1983 Darrell Waltrip 30 6 7 22 25 2 7.1 7.7
1984 Neil Bonnett 30 0 0 7 14 8 9.3 13.7
1984 Darrell Waltrip 30 7 4 13 20 5 5.9 11.2
1985 Neil Bonnett 28 2 1 11 18 4 10.5 10.6
1985 Darrell Waltrip 28 3 4 18 21 1 8.2 7.3
1986 Davey Allison 1 0 0 0 1 47 7.0 7.0
1986 Neil Bonnett 28 1 0 6 12 13 12.3 16.1
1986 Darrell Waltrip 29 3 1 21 22 2 8.6 10.0
1987 Terry Labonte 29 1 4 13 22 3 7.1 11.1
1988 Terry Labonte 29 1 1 11 18 4 12.8 10.8
1989 Terry Labonte 29 2 0 9 11 10 13.2 15.1
1990 Geoffrey Bodine 29 3 2 11 19 3 8.1 11.4
1991 Geoffrey Bodine 27 1 2 6 12 14 10.4 15.7
1991 Tommy Ellis 2 0 0 0 0 70 30.0 18.5
1991 Sterling Marlin 29 0 2 7 16 7 14.3 11.8
1992 Bill Elliott 29 5 2 14 17 2 9.7 10.9
1992 Sterling Marlin 29 0 5 6 13 10 13.0 14.4
1992 Hut Stricklin 1 0 0 0 0 27 27.0 31.0
1993 Bill Elliott 30 0 2 6 15 8 12.9 13.5
1993 Hut Stricklin 30 0 0 1 2 24 21.0 22.8
1994 Bill Elliott 31 1 1 6 12 10 15.7 16.8
1994 Jeff Green 1 0 0 0 0 51 31.0 18.0
1994 Tommy Kendall 1 0 0 0 0 63 27.0 22.0
1994 Jimmy Spencer 29 2 1 3 4 29 21.5 25.1
1995 Loy Allen, Jr. 5 0 0 0 1 41 31.8 20.4
1995 Brett Bodine 31 0 0 0 2 20 21.2 22.3
1995 Jimmy Horton 1 0 0 0 0 61 30.0 34.0
1995 Greg Sacks 1 0 0 0 0 39 20.0 17.0
1995 Elton Sawyer 20 0 0 0 0 38 28.3 29.4
Totals 1049 132 115 436 577 9.8 12.8


Awards



Family

His first marriage ended in divorce in 1992. His marriage to current wife Lisa in 1994 has resulted in two children, daughter Meredith Susanne, and son Robert Glenn Johnson III. He lives on a estate in the Hamptonvillemarker area of Yadkin Countymarker.

Subject of The Last American Hero movie

From 1964-65 writer Tom Wolfe researched and wrote an article about Johnson, published in March 1965 in Esquire magazine, and reprinted in Wolfe's The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine Flake Streamline Baby (1965) (in turn reprinted in The Best American Sports Writing of the Century, ed. David Halberstam [1999]). The article, originally entitled "Great Balls of Fire", turned Johnson into a national celebrity and led to fame beyond the circle of NASCAR fans. In turn, the article was made into a 1973 movie based on Johnson's career as a driver and moonshiner. The movie was entitled The Last American Hero (a.k.a. Hard Driver). Jeff Bridges starred as the somewhat fictionalized version of Johnson, and Johnson himself served as technical advisor for the film. The movie was critically acclaimed and featured the Jim Croce hit song, "I Got A Name."

Presidential pardon

On December 26, 1986, President Ronald Reagan granted Johnson, a lifelong Democrat, a presidential pardon for his 1956 moonshining conviction. Johnson called the pardon, which restored his right to vote and hold a passport, "one of the greatest things in my life."

Midnight Moon

In May 2007, Piedmont Distillers in Madison, N.C. and Junior Johnson teamed up to introduce the company's second moonshine product, called Midnight Moon. Johnson became part owner of Piedmont Distillers, the only legal distiller in North Carolina. Midnight Moon and the company's other product, Catdaddy, are only available in eight states - North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Wisconsin, Illinois, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. Midnight Moon follows the Johnson family’s generations-old tradition of making moonshine. Every batch is born in an authentic, copper still and is hand-crafted, in very small batches. The 'shine is an 80-proof, legal version of his famous family recipe. Junior describes his moonshine as "Smoother than vodka. Better than whiskey. Best shine ever."

Obama Endorsement

Johnson endorsed Senator Barack Obama for the 2008 presidential race. In an email sent to the public on October 27, 2008, Johnson wrote, "...the most important reasons I'm speaking out for Barack Obama are named Robert and Meredith, my two children. My wife Lisa and I talked it over, and honestly, we know in our gut that their future is more secure if Barack Obama is president. At the end of the day, there's just nothing more important than that."

Johnson also spoke out about what he described as a lack of "integrity" in the McCain campaign. "I know what it means to run an aggressive race, but I also know what it means to compete with integrity," Johnson wrote. "Have you gotten one of these pre-recorded calls that are flooding our state smearing Barack Obama's character and questioning his patriotism? That's crossing the line, and North Carolinians deserve better."

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