Once pardoned by the president; Junior Johnson leaves his mark on NASCAR history
Junior Johnson: 1931-2019
Junior Johnson has passed. The NASCAR Hall of Fame driver was one of the few left that reaches back to the roots of NASCAR. Junior Johnson has died at age 88.
His career began in the moonshining days of the sport and reached into the modern era.
Johnson was convicted of moonshining in 1956 after authorities staked out the family operation.
However, he had very literal get out of jail free card. President Ronald Reagan pardoned Junior Johnson on Dec. 26, 1986.
“No maybe about it. Best Christmas gift I ever got,” Johnson told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2007 of the arrest.
Johnson became the owner of a legal mooshine operation in recent years. He was the owner of the Midnight Moon label.
Johnson’s health had been declining. Earlier this week he entered hospice care.
He ran 313 NASCAR Cup Series races over the course of 14 years. He picked up 50 wins and 148 top-10’s.
His first NASCAR Cup Series race came in 1953 via the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. He ran his last race in the 1966 American 500 at Rockingham Speedway.
Johnson ran his final race at age 35. But, he was far from done with the sport.
Johnson became a team owner. Cale Yarborough won three consecutive NASCAR championship in his ride. He then hired Darrell Waltrip who also won three titles in the machine.
Terry Labonte, Geoffrey Bodine and Bill Elliott also won races for Johnson.
NASCAR CEO Jim France on the passing of Junior Johnson
“Junior Johnson truly was the ‘Last American Hero.’ From his early days running moonshine through the end of his life, Junior wholly embodied the NASCAR spirit,” NASCAR CEO Jim France stated.
“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 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,” France concluded.