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Junior Johnson Goes in Hall of Fame

Junior Johnson won six championships as a car owner
There's an amusing side to Junior Johnson, who's well known for his witty, self-deprecating sense of humor.

Don't let that fool you. The drivers who have spent time in Johnson's cars will tell you that there is no one more tenacious or committed to winning than the bootlegger-turned-racer from North Carolina's Wilkes County.

Johnson is the living embodiment of NASCAR racing's ascension from a tightly contained regional sport for hardcore fans to a mainstream national and international phenomenon. During his 14-year career as a driver, he won 50 Cup races, a number that doubtless would have been higher, were it not for Johnson's propensity to destroy his equipment.

"Junior was one of the most aggressive drivers the sport ever has seen, and he probably blew up and had more DNFs while leading races than anyone in its history," said Jimmy Spencer, who notched his only two Cup victories while driving for Johnson in 1994.

"He defined 'checkers or wreckers.' But I think he learned from those mistakes and was able to pass those lessons on to drivers like me. You can't contend for the win if you're not around at the end. No one battles for the win from the back of a tow truck."

The lessons Johnson learned in the racecar became food for thought for a succession of drivers who left deep imprints on the sport. The list reads like a Who's Who of racing—and not just stock cars.

Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, LeeRoy Yarbrough, Neil Bonnett, Geoff Bodine, Terry Labonte, Bill Elliott, Sterling Marlin and Spencer were among those who ran for Johnson full time. The list of drivers who took at least one ride in a Johnson car includes NASCAR stars Bobby Isaac, Curtis Turner and David Pearson, as well as open-wheel legends A.J. Foyt, Gordon Johncock and Lloyd Ruby.

Yarborough and Waltrip each won three championships with Johnson, who had the well-deserved reputation for stretching NASCAR's rules to the limit—and sometimes breaking them.

"Junior was an innovator, and he would take the rule book and he would find out all the things it said you couldn't do, and he'd figure out all the things that you could do," Waltrip said.

Johnson's backwoods roots aside, it was through his instigation that NASCAR landed the title sponsorship deal that would ensure NASCAR's explosive growth for three decades. Johnson opened the dialogue between NASCAR and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, and that ultimately led to Winston's title sponsorship of the Cup series from 1971 through 2003.

Initially, Johnson used his mechanical aptitude to modify cars that could outrun revenue agents bent on shutting down his moonshine business. When Johnson began racing cars, that skill set translated to the racetrack.

Johnson will be inducted into NASCAR's Hall of Fame on Sunday. One of his old moonshine stills preceded him as an exhibit in the Hall and was on display on opening day, May 11.

As it should have been.


The Johnson file
* 50 Cup wins as a driver
* 132 Cup wins as an owner
* 6 Cup championships as an owner
* Legendary innovator; discovered practice of drafting
* Brought R.J. Reynolds Tobacco into NASCAR



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JUNIOR JOHNSON AT HALL OF FAME INDUCTION
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, races to win Sunday, August 17, 2014 in the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan. Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmy Johns Chevrolet SS finished second. This was Gordon`s third win of the season. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, celebrates with a burnout after winning the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race Sunday, August 17, 2014 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan. This was Gordon`s third win of the season. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
With General Motors CEO Mary Barra, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, holds the Michigan Heritage Trophy after winning the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race Sunday, August 17, 2014 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan. This was Gordon`s third win of the season. In 2013, MIS began awarding the Michigan Heritage Trophy as a recognition and celebration of the automobile and it`s importance to the race track and the manufacturers competing in NASCAR. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, celebrates with his crew after winning the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race Sunday, August 17, 2014 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan. This was Gordon`s third win of the season. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 17, 2014 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 17, 2014 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 17, 2014 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
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Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, and Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell-Pennzoil Ford, lead the field to start the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 17, 2014 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell-Pennzoil Ford, races Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 17, 2014 in Brooklyn, Michigan. (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
Chris Buescher, driver of the #60 Nationwide Children`s Hospital Ford Mustang Ford takes the chequered flag to win the Nationwide Children`s 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on August 16, 2014 in Lexington, Ohio.  (Photo Credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Chris Buescher, drives the #60 Nationwide Children`s Hospital Ford Mustang Ford during the Nationwide Children`s 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on August 16, 2014 in Lexington, Ohio.  (Photo Credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Chris Buescher, driver of the #60 Nationwide Children`s Hospital Ford Mustang Ford, celebrates in victory lane after winning the Nationwide Children`s Hospital 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on August 16, 2014 in Lexington, Ohio.  (Photo Credit: Sarah Glenn/Getty Images)
Chris Buescher, driver of the #60 Nationwide Children`s Hospital Ford Mustang Ford, celebrates in victory lane after winning the Nationwide Children`s Hospital 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on August 16, 2014 in Lexington, Ohio.  (Photo Credit: Sarah Glenn/Getty Images)
Sam Hornish Jr., driver of the #54 Monster Energy Toyota, leads the field at the start of the Nationwide Childrens`s Hospital 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on August 16, 2014 in Lexington, Ohio.  (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Johnny Sauter, driver of the #98 Nextant/Curb Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Careers For Veterans 200 at Michigan International Speedway on August 16, 2014 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo Credit: Will Schneekloth/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Johnny Sauter, driver of the #98 Nextant/Curb Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Careers For Veterans 200 at Michigan International Speedway on August 16, 2014 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo Credit: Will Schneekloth/NASCAR via Getty Images)

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