THE SHOP

December '18

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10 THE SHOP DECEMBER 2018 magazine about his start in the racing business. "Me and other guys who hauled liquor used to meet in fields and dirt roads and match our cars and driving against each other on Saturday afternoons for fun. Then, as early as age 17, I'd go up to the Wilkesboro track to race. I'd never seen a stock car race. Then, all of the sudden, I found a new profession." As it turned out, Junior's older brother L.P. asked him to drive his car in the first actual race at a track. Junior was plowing the family field, barefoot and behind a mule, when his brother approached him about competing in an actual NASCAR competition. Junior had boyhood dreams of being a major league baseball pitcher; however, an accident involving a farm tractor eliminated any chance of a career in professional baseball. His debut with organized racing took place on Sept. 7, 1953, and was the start of what became a long and successful career in stock car racing. In 1955 he won his first five Grand National races and, while he didn't win in '56, he did well enough to land a driving contract from Ford Motor Co. In time he became a true living legend of NASCAR racing—but not without some bumps along the way for the former moonshiner. WRONG PLACE, WRONG TIME Johnson had never been caught hauling moonshine. However, he did have an incident in June 1956 that caused him to serve time behind bars. Here's the way he remembers it: "I had won a race in Oxford, Penn- sylvania on a Saturday night. I come in about almost daylight when I had got home. My dad and brother had a still, over in the woods, both of them had overslept, and my dad, he asked me to go fire his still up for him, because if Here's an early shot of Junior quickly exiting his rolled-over Pontiac on the sands of Daytona Beach in 1956, during the late stages of the NASCAR Grand National event. In 1956 Junior was 25 years old and well on his way to becoming a name in NASCAR. When he beat the famed "Fully Jeweled" Chrysler 300s of Carl Kiekhaefer, Junior was behind the wheel of an Oldsmobile. Getting arrested for moonshining in 1956 was certainly not a highlight in Junior Johnson's life, as it resulted in a two-year prison sentence. He did a great job of stay- ing out of trouble after- ward and some 29 years later he received a full presidential pardon for his previous offenses. Junior Johnson: From Moonshine to Racing Pioneer A poster and still from the 1973 movie, "The Last American Hero." Here's the description: "This true-life success story is about racecar driver Junior Jackson (Jeff Bridges), based on stock-car champion Junior Johnson. As a child in North Carolina, Jackson stays one step ahead of reform school until his father (Art Lund) is thrown in prison for moonshining. Seeing the error of his ways, Jackson begins to concentrate his driving skills, hoping to become a professional stock car racer to raise money to get his father released from jail. Jackson rises from the ranks into the highest rung of professional stock car racing, but Jackson finds his independent nature is compromised by the corporate realities of the professional sports world."

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