December '18

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16 THE SHOP DECEMBER 2018 Junior Johnson: From Moonshine to Racing Pioneer At his farm Junior was always serving and entertaining friends and guests for weekend breakfasts, southern-style, with ham and biscuits. He has gone on to sell those items (Junior Johnson Brand Foods) at Southern grocery stores. and became known as Double Thunder. This was during a time that Johnson took in a partner—a successful real estate developer named Warner Hodgdon. Johnson set up the race shops near each other, separated only by a creek. To provide motivation to his teams, he would create a special type of competi- tion between the two crews and drivers. For example, when at the team head- quarters he'd walk over to the #11 shop and tell the guys, "Man, the #12 bunch said they are going kick your butt this weekend." Then, later in the day, he'd razz the #12 garage with the announce- ment that "the #11 guys tell me they are really gunning to beat you this weekend." It worked and both teams enjoyed success. During this era Johnson took the chess game of racing one step further by playing a clever game with certain suppliers. According to Darrell Waltrip, who spent a lot of time at the shop in- between races, Johnson would order parts from selected vendors that he'd never actually install on his cars—things like pistons and connecting rods that were not of top quality. He'd call the manufacturers and order large amounts of their items, which were inferior pieces, knowing the vendors would go and tell other teams. Mean- while, he would actually make his own, higher-quality pieces and, over an eight- year span, Johnson the owner won six championships with Yarborough and Waltrip driving Chevrolets. PAPERWORK In 1991, Johnson was running a Ford with Budweiser as the sponsor. It was discovered that the engine was too large, and NASCAR suspended Johnson for four weeks. Because he was the car owner, Johnson had to keep active in racing (because of points and to keep the sponsors happy), so the paperwork was changed to his wife, Flossie, as a loophole to keep the team on the track. Johnson was a savvy businessman and throughout the years he made a for- tune in the chicken farming and road construction equipment leasing busi- nesses, in addition to his huge successes in NASCAR. As a driver he won 50 Grand National events, plus 140 races and six Winston Cup season championships as an owner before retiring from the sport. At the end of the 1995 race season he sold his famed organization and never looked back. At 62 he became a father to Robert Glenn Johnson III with his new wife, Lisa, and they also have a daughter, Meredith. In 2012, Junior had some health issues following back surgery. "For 35 minutes or so I was essentially dead," he said of the incident. "The doc- tors worked desperately with me and finally I came back around." Since then the Johnson family has moved to the Charlotte area and Johnson has come full-circle as part owner of Piedmont Distillers of Madison, North Carolina, producing legal moonshine. The company tagline is: "Few family recipes carry a jail sentence, but to the Johnson family, it was a way of life." Well, a small part of an important life in racing as it turned out. JAMES MAXWELL is an automotive writer and historian based in southern California. He can be reached at A Monte Carlo SS was campaigned during the 1983 racing season, with sponsorship shifting to the Pepsi brand. Darrell Waltrip had six wins that year and placed second in the season-ending points race. The SS version of the Monte Carlo incorporated a special sloped nose to help slice through the air on the superspeedways.

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