It is said that folk heroes are no more. Modern times have replaced them with "superstars". Junior Johnson qualifies as both.
As in many legendary tales, the Junior Johnson saga has a humble beginning on a North Carolina farm, complete with coon hunting and a little moonshine running as part of the family business. The story evokes images of Robin Hood, perhaps chomping a Barney Oldfield style cigar. According to legend, local residents cocked their ears each time they heard the whine of a souped-up engine echoing from the ridges of Wilkes County. "There goes Junior Johnson!"
When Junior's brother asked him to take a break from his mule plow and race at a real speedway, the image of the hard charger, out in front, red dust clouds flying, became reality.
Johnson competed on the NASCAR racing circuit for 13 years, racking up 50 Grand National victories. Before his retirement as a driver at age 35, he had won the 1960 Daytona 500 and was victorious at all the superspeedways that existed at the time.
Despite Hall of Fame credentials as a driver, Johnson's accomplishments as a car owner were even more impressive. By 1990 his cars had won 130 times on the Winston Cup circuit.
His drivers could start their own Hall of Fame: Fred Lorenzen, Curtis Turner, Bobby Allison, LeeRoy Yarbrough, Cale Yarborough, Gordon Johncock, Darrell Waltrip, Terry Labonte, Geoff Bodine, and Bill Elliott.
Major successes have come in threes for the Johnson Team. LeeRoy Yarbrough captured wins in the Daytona 500, World 600 and Southern 500 for the "Triple Crown" of Stock car racing in 1969, a feat that currently pays one million dollars. Beginning with the 1976 season, Cale Yarborough became the only driver ever to put together three consecutive Winston Cup Championships. In six years of driving for Johnson, Darrell Waltrip tallied three Winston Cup Season Championships, which included a record 24 wins over two consecutive seasons.
In an Esquire Magazine article published in 1965, a New York journalist, now world-renowned author Tom Wolfe dubbed Junior Johnson "The Last America Hero". He has earned the title - and then some!