Robert Glenn Johnson Jr., better known as Junior Johnson, was what you could call an old school NASCAR legend. The Wilkes County, North Carolina native came up during a different time in the sport of professional auto racing. It was a time when NASCAR drivers were more, in a word, badass. Sadly, on December 20, 2019, Johnson passed away at the age of 88. But, considering all he gave to not only the sport of NASCAR, but auto racing in general, Johnson’s legacy will never die.
Junior got his start in the family bootlegging business, and he even spent a year in prison in the ’50s for having an illegal moonshine still. So, even in an era of badasses, Junior was on another level. Could you imagine Kyle Busch or Chase Elliott or Kevin Harvick putting out a car fire with their own shirt? I mean, technically they couldn’t, since NASCAR drivers don’t even race in just shirts anymore.
But, back during the 1953 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, Junior didn’t have the luxury of a fancy racing suit. So, when he flipped his stock car on lap 222 of the race, he took care of it in one of the most old school ways possible. He threw his shirt on it.
You certainly don’t see stuff like this nowadays! Johnson, who actually made his NASCAR Cup Series debut that fateful day at Darlington, would go on to win 50 races during his 14-year NASCAR career.
Often credited as being the first driver to use the drafting technique in stock car racing, Johnson retired from NASCAR in 1966. As a NASCAR team owner in the 1970s and 1980s, he won a whopping six Winston Cup championships, three with Darrell Waltrip and three with Cale Yarborough.
Immortalized in Tom Wolfe’s “The Last American Hero,” Junior was also inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1990, the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1991, and the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2010. He was also named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998.
At the age of 87, Johnson still serves as a mentor of sorts to some of NASCAR’s young guns, when he’s not producing his own line of fried pork skins and country ham. Oh, and moonshine, too. But these days it’s legal.
This post was originally published on August 30, 2018.