Robert Glenn Johnson Jr. (more famously known as Junior) was born on the 28th June 1931 in Ingle Hollow, Wilkes County, North Carolina. His parents, Robert Johnson and Lara Belle Money owned a farm and owned and operated what was reputed to be one of the largest copper stills in the county. Bootlegging was very common in this part of the county and the older men ran the distilleries, the younger men delivered the bootleg liquor and the women "called the cows" if the alcohol and tobacco tax agents arrived.
Junior Johnson, Car Owner, Crew Chief at the Nashville 420, July 16, 1983 (Wiki Commons)
Junior and his two brothers worked on the farm and helped out in the moonshine business. Learning to drive at the age of around eight or nine years Junior was making bootleg liquor deliveries by the time he was fourteen, honing his driving skills to escape from the pursuing local law enforcement. Incidentally, it was during this time that he invented and perfected what became known as the "bootleg turn," a 180-degree turn implemented by dropping the vehicle into second gear and jarring the steering wheel to the left. The evasive techniques that he used driving his souped-up Olds mobiles and Chevrolets became infamous and juniorís reputation of hoodwinking the enforcement officers went far beyond Wilkes County. Such was his reputation that it caught the attention of journalist Tom Wolfe who wrote an essay, published in March 1965 in the Esquire magazine, "The Last American Hero is Junior Johnson." In Wolfe words "Finally, one night they had Junior trapped on the road up toward the bridge around Millersville, thereís no way out of there, they had the barricades up and they could hear the souped-up car roaring around the bend, and here it comes - but suddenly they hear a siren and see a red light flashing in the grille, so they think itís another agent, and boy, they run out like ants and pull those barrels and boards and saw horses out of the way, and then ... Ggghzzzzzzhhhhggggggzzzzzzeeeeeeong! ... gawdam! There he goes again, it was him Junior Johnson! With a gawdam agentís si-reen and a red light in his grille!" This article later became a film, also titled "Hard Driver" in 1973, starring Jeff Bridges. He was never caught running with or delivering bootleg liquor. Before too long he was driving around the Wilkesboro dirt track, perfecting his "power sliding" into the turns and other bootlegging driving techniques and gaining many track records all over the area.
In the late 1940ís his brother, L. P., asked Junior to run his car at North Wilkesboro Speedway and after coming in at second place Junior knew he had to race stock cars, this was the beginning of a long and illustrious career for NASCARís bad boy.
1953 saw Junior entering his first NASCAR race at the Southern 500 held at Darlington. Using the skills that he had learned while moonshining Junior ran his first full season in 1955, winning five races and coming sixth in the NASCAR Grand National pointís standings. Unfortunately, his racing was curtailed in 1956 when he was arrested working at his fatherís still, Junior was given a two year sentence of which he served eleven months at the Chillicothe federal prison at Ohio. Incidentally, President Ronald Reagan pardoned Junior in 1986, returning his right to vote and hold a passport.
In 1958 Junior returned to racing and proceeded to transform the sport with his intimidating style of racing. He introduced "aerodynamic drafting" and pioneered the two-way radios between the drivers and the pit crew. He retired in 1966 after winning fifty victories, giving him eleven wins in major speedway races but he never had a championship. It is said that Junior was a master of dirt track racing. "The two best drivers Iíve ever competed against on dirt are Junior Johnson and Dick Hutcherson," said two-time NASCAR champion Ned Jarrett. Junior was later to be awarded:- Inductee into International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1990, Inductee into Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, Named as one of NASCARís 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998 and Inductee into NASCARís Hall of Fame 2010. Junior also had an 8.5 mile stretch of Highway 42, from the Yadkin and Wilkes County line to the Windy Gap exit named after him, known as the "Junior Johnson" Highway.
Junior has been married to his second wife, Lisa, since 1994 and they have two children, Meredith Suzanne and Robert Glenn Johnson 111 and the family live on an estate in the Hamptonville area of Yadkin County. His son is also a professional race car driver, gaining 2010 UARA Rookie of the Year, and Junior announced that he would restart a race team, at Hamptonville, North Carolina with his son, Robert as the driver. Ironically, .since his retirement Junior has teamed up with Piedmont Distillers, the only legal distillers in North Carolina to produce "Midnight Moon", and this product follows the Johnson familyís authentic traditional method of making moonshine and Junior describes it as "Smoother than vodka. Better than whiskey. Best shine ever."
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