The former racing driver and team owner Junior Johnson is one of the greatest NASCAR legends. He was active as a driver in the NASCAR Grand National Series between 1953 and 1966, scoring 50 wins in 313 starts. His most notable win was at the 1960 Daytona 500.
As a team owner, Johnson was the Winston Cup Series champion six times, three times with Cale Yarborough (1976, 1977 and 1978) and three times with Darrell Waltrip (1981, 1982 and 1985).
Johnson was named as one of NASCAR's 50 greatest drivers. He was an inductee into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame (1990), Motorsports Hall of Fame of America (1991) and NASCAR Hall of Fame (2010). He is nicknamed 'The Last American Hero', writing an autobiography of the same name.
NASCAR legend Junior Johnson
Born in a family of moonshiners
Junior Johnson's real name is Robert Glenn Johnson Jr. He was born on June 28, 1931, in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. He was the fourth of seven children of Lora Belle Money and Robert Glenn Johnson Sr. The Johnson family was involved in the whiskey business before he was born and Junior supported the family through prohibition. Junior himself spent one year in prison in Ohio for having an illegal still.
Johnson debuted in NASCAR in 1953
The 1950s were the years when the moonshiners become the stock car racing drivers. Junior had NASCAR debut at the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway in September 1953, driving his own Oldsmobile and crashing out after 222 laps. In 1954, he participated in four races and then expanded his racing activities in 1955 to the almost full season.
Junior Johnson at Hickory Speedway
Maiden victory at Hickory Speedway
He participated in 36 races with four different cars, the most in the #55 B&L Motors Oldsmobile. He won five races and finished sixth in the 1955 NASCAR Grand National classification. His first ever victory was at Hickory Speedway in May.
After just fourteen races over two seasons (1956 and 1957), Junior returned to the winning path again in 1958. He started in 27 races and won six times driving the #11 Ford for Paul Spalding. At the end of the season, he was 8th in the points. Johnson added five wins to his account in 1959, becoming one of the best short-track racers.
Strategic victory at 1960 Daytona 500
And then, on February 14, 1960, the greatest of all wins came. He won the Daytona 500, which was his first win at the superspeedway. He was driving the #27 Chevrolet for John Masoni. It wasn't the fastest car but Johnson managed to win with a clever strategy, increasing his speed by using the faster car's slipstream. In the following years, that technique was adopted by other drivers and practice of 'drafting' has become a common tactic in NASCAR races. In 1960, Johnson scored two more wins, finishing 7th in the points.
Junior Johnson and his team at 1960 Daytona 500
Record number of thirteen wins in 1965
He was sixth in 1961 when he won seven races in 41 starts. He was driving the #27 Pontiac for Rex Lovette. In 1962, he scored only one victory and then again seven wins in the 1963 season. In 1964, he was changing cars frequently, collecting three wins over the season.
In 1965, he set the record number of thirteen wins in one season, driving again for his own team. The victorious car in one race was the #26 Ford, in other races he was driving the #27. Junior retired as a driver in 1966, after participating in seven races that season. He closed a rich career with 50 Grand National victories in 313 starts. When retired, he was the winningest driver never to win a championship title.
Junior Johnson and Darrell Waltrip in 1982
Six championship titles for Junior's team
Following a retirement as a driver, Junior continued to run his team. In 1967, Darel Dieringer, Lloyd Ruby and LeeRoy Yarbrough were driving for him. Yarborough recorded ten wins from 1968 to 1970. In 1974, Cale Yarborough became Johnson's driver, reaching his first championship title in 1976.
Two more titles followed in 1977 and 1978. In 1981, Yarborough was replaced by Darrell Waltrip, who won his maiden title in the #11 Buick. Waltrip repeated championship triumphs in 1982 and 1985. The team was active until 1995.