Junior Johnson – NASCAR legend and pioneer dies at 88
Racing legend Robert Glenn “Junior” Johnson died on Friday at the age of 88, according to an announcement from NASCAR. His wife, Lisa, told The New York Times that Johnson suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and his health had recently been in decline.
Johnson had a storied career in the sport which he won 50 races as a driver and 132 more as an owner. He was also a member of the inaugural class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2010.
“From his early days running moonshine through the end of his life, Junior wholly embodied the NASCAR spirit,” NASCAR Chairman Jim France said. “He was an inaugural NASCAR Hall of Famer, a nod to an extraordinary career as both a driver and team owner. Between his on-track accomplishments and his introduction of (sponsor) Winston to the sport, few have contributed to the success of NASCAR as Junior has.
“The entire NASCAR family is saddened by the loss of a true giant of our sport, and we offer our deepest condolences to Junior’s family and friends during this difficult time.”
The North Carolina native was originally a moonshine runner before taking up a career in auto racing. Johnson even spent a year in prison after he was arrested for having an illegal still. He eventually received a presidential pardon from Ronald Reagan in 1986 for his moonshine charge.
Johnson developed his stellar driving skills while he was running moonshine in North Carolina. He was nicknamed “The Last American Hero” by author Tom Wolfe in a 1965 article for Esquire. In 1973, Jeff Bridges portrayed Johnson in a film called “The Last American Hero.”
Johnson’s driving career spanned from 1952 to 1966, including a Daytona 500 win in 1960. His last victory came in 1965 when Johnson won the Wilkes 400, which took place in his hometown of North Wilkesboro, North Carolina.
During his days as an owner, his team included drivers like Bill Elliott, Terry Labonte and Darrell Walttrip, and won six Cup Series championships during that time. In addition, Johnson’s drivers won 132 races, which is third all-time to Petty Enterprises and Hendrick Motorsports.