December '18

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DECEMBER 2018 THE SHOP 15 30 miles away from his hometown to ask about sponsoring his car. When he sat down with the R.J. Reyn- olds representatives, he said he would need $800,000. RJR representative Ralph Seagraves had something bigger in mind. "Look, we just got booted off televi- sion. To be quite honest, we're looking to spend a whole lot more than that. We were thinking more along the lines of $570 million." Johnson figured with that much money available, the company needed to sponsor the whole circuit. He put in a call to France, and the Winston Cup was born. "If you look back on the savior of the whole thing, of the tough times we had in the early '70s," said Humpy Wheeler of NASCAR, "I don't know anyone who did more than Junior did. And we owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude for all that." JUNIOR ON THE BIG SCREEN The Junior Johnson story was adapted into a feature film, The Last American Hero, with a story line that basically went like this: "The son of a bootlegger from the mountains makes it big in NASCAR racing." The Twentieth Century Fox movie called him "Junior Jackson" and the lead role was played by Jeff Bridges. The 1973 movie was based on the Tom Wolfe stories and was loosely based on the life of Junior Johnson, promoted as a film about "a young hell-raiser that quits his moonshine business to try and become the best NASCAR driver the south had ever seen." The cast also included Val- erie Perrine, Ned Beatty and Gary Busey. Junior Johnson did serve as the technical advisor and consultant on the film. YAHOO! MOUNTAIN DEW After tremendous success with Cale Yar- borough through much of the 1970s, another Junior Johnson driver, Darrell Waltrip, racked up 12 victories in 1981 along with 11 pole positions. He never finished lower than third place in a stretch of 13 races. The Buick was the first of the smaller, short-wheelbase cars (down from 115 inches to 110 inches) and Johnson used tire stagger as a trick to improve handling. Because of the new rules in NASCAR, the Buick was able to run tried-and-true Chevrolet small block engines, as they were considered corporate power plants. Soda sponsor Mountain Dew came from PepsiCo and, ironically, the term was Southern slang for moonshine. Many trackside observers considered the Mountain Dew sponsorship of Johnson's team as being the first corporate NASCAR team, as in being non-automotive and one with a large mainstream advertising and marketing budget and a fancy truck, fancy uniforms and a lot of overall pizzazz. In 1982 when Waltrip was on his way to his second straight 12-win season, a news- paper reporter came around the Johnson camp and started asking questions, one directly to Junior: "You must go up to Detroit and see those Chevrolet engineers a lot to learn how to get all that power?" Johnson, a man of few words, simply replied: "No, they come to me." DOUBLE THE SUCCESS In 1984 when Johnson decided to run a two-car NASCAR team with Waltrip and Neil Bonnett (#11 and #12 with Bud- weiser sponsorship), some thought it was too bold of a move to field a multi-car operation, with twice as much to worry about. However, it proved to be a success Even though Junior was the team owner, he wasn't afraid to step in and do any job in the pits, including being the jack man in 1975. He had a unique style of flinging around the car with the floor jack flying like a hockey player with his stick. He was eventually outlawed from doing that job after knocking over a NASCAR official. A Mountain Dew sponsorship in 1981 was quite ironic, as the original meaning of "Mountain Dew" meant "moonshine" and "bootleg" and "white lightning." The advertising campaign started out as being "Yahoo! Mountain Dew, it'll tickle your innards." It was a unique sponsor for sure. The color green previous to this was not a favorite of Junior's, as it was thought to be bad luck.

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