Junior Johnson - 1931-2019
(CONCORD, NC – RIS – DEC 21, 2019) The racing world has lost another superstar in Junior Johnson's passing Dec. 20 in a hospice center in Charlotte, NC. Starting his NASCAR racing career at Darlington in 1953, he won five races two seasons later and added 45 more victories to his career total. He is credited with discovering how to draft and slingshot and named one of NASCAR's 50 greatest drivers in 1998 and inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame as a member of the inaugural class of 2010.
Rather than repeat the many lists of his accomplishments, I would rather tell of my first meeting with him. I was volunteering as a corner flag marshal at the October, 1976 Charlotte NASCAR race, where an IMSA Radial Sedan Challenge event was a support race, hence the need for corner marshals. The rainy weather almost all day Friday meant that the stock cars only got on track briefly, but the road racers, being road racers, still participated in their scheduled sessions. During the lunch break, a couple of other flaggers and this writer were sitting in the infield cafeteria when someone walked up to our table and asked if he could sit with us because there weren't any other seats. "Sure," we said, and we chatted a little about the weather and running in the rain.
After the SCCA contingent finished lunch, I signaled a question to our guest, to see if it was OK to introduce him. I asked the other two flaggers if they'd read any Thomas Wolfe essays in Esquire. "No." Had they seen the movie "Last American Hero?" Yes, but they didn't remember much about it.
I stood, explaining that we had to leave to get back on station, and introduced them to our guest, saying that we'd better hurry. "Guys, let me introduce you to Robert Glenn Johnson, you know him as 'Junior Johnson.' We have to go now." Allen and Michael were impressed at our luck in meeting a celebrity like that.
Several years ago, I got to relate this story to Junior at another event. He lit up, obviously remembering the incident and asked if we were still playing on corners.
Rest in peace, Junior. You were one of the best drivers and practical engineers it's ever been my privilege to meet.
Long-time RIS staffer, beginning in the mid-80s. Charlotte, NC area local contact.