Johnson's racing roots began in bootlegging

Johnson's racing roots began in bootlegging

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by JEFF CAMPBELL / NewsChannel 36
E-mail Jeff: JCampbell@WCNC.com

WCNC.com

Posted on May 4, 2010 at 11:53 AM

Updated Tuesday, May 11 at 4:41 PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- In his prime, nobody drove a car harder or faster than Junior Johnson. He is a legend in the sport -- a pioneer that many considered a guaranteed first-ballot inductee into the Hall of Fame.

"He could do magical things with a car," NASCAR biographer Tom Higgins said. "He was like Dale Earnhardt, before Dale Earnhardt."

Johnson traces his roots to the heart of racing country. He is the son of bootleggers. He grew up in the Yadkin Valley, and by age 14, he was driving moonshine throughout the Carolinas. He learned to drive by racing the cops. By many accounts, he was the best of the best.

"I've heard him say many times that he drove faster on the highways than he ever did on the NASCAR track. That includes Daytona," Higgins said.

Recently, Junior Johnson sat down with NewsChannel 36 to talk about his career and his induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

As he told us, it all started on the dirt roads of the Carolinas.

"The bootleggers had the money, and they had the fastest cars. NASCAR got where it is today from the bootlegging side of the sport," Johnson said.

In the late 1950s, Johnson made the leap from moonshining to racing. Over his career, he'd win 50 races, including Daytona in 1960. He retired in his mid-30s to become one of the greatest team owners of all time. Cale Yarborough and Darrell Jarrett were among his biggest drivers.  Junior Johnson won six Cup Championships as an owner.

When asked about his induction, Johnson told NewsChannel 36, "I think it's the best thing that has ever happened to me." 

He told us he was somewhat surprised at first to find out he was in the initial Hall of Fame class.  But he is also extremely proud of the honor.

Inside the Hall, he'll have his own exhibit showcasing his time as an owner and driver. There is also a moonshine exhibit with moonshine equipment built in part by Johnson himself.

He told us the Hall of Fame will be something just about everyone will enjoy -- racing fan or not.

"It is a big thing. You're going to be shocked when you see it. It's really exciting for the sport, for NASCAR, and for the state of North Carolina," he said.

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