NASCAR leg­end Ju­nior John­son dead at 88

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - SPORTS - By Jenna Fryer AP Auto Rac­ing Writer

Robert Glenn “Ju­nior” John­son, the moon­shine run­ner turned NASCAR driver de­scribed as “The Last Amer­i­can Hero” by au­thor Tom Wolfe in a 1965 ar­ti­cle for Esquire, died Fri­day. He was 88.

NASCAR an­nounced the death of John­son, the win­ner of 50 races as a driver and 132 as an owner. He was a mem­ber of the in­au­gu­ral class in­ducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2010.

“From his early days run­ning moon­shine through the end of his life, Ju­nior wholly em­bod­ied the NASCAR spirit,” NASCAR Chair­man Jim France said in a state­ment. “He was an in­au­gu­ral NASCAR Hall of Famer, a nod to an ex­tra­or­di­nary ca­reer as both a driver and team owner. Be­tween his on-track ac­com­plish­ments and his in­tro­duc­tion of (spon­sor) Win­ston to the sport, few have

con­trib­uted to the suc­cess of NASCAR as Ju­nior has.

“The en­tire NASCAR fam­ily is sad­dened by the loss of a true gi­ant of our sport, and we of­fer our deep­est con­do­lences to Ju­nior’s fam­ily and friends dur­ing this dif­fi­cult time.”

From North Wilkes­boro, North Carolina, John­son was named one of NASCAR’s great­est driv­ers in 1998 af­ter a 14-year ca­reer that ended in 1966 and in­cluded a win in the 1960 Day­tona 500. He honed his driving skills run­ning moon­shine through the North Carolina hills, a crime for which he re­ceived a fed­eral con­vic­tion in 1956 and a full pres­i­den­tial par­don in 1986 from Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan.

His was first im­mor­tal­ized by Wolfe in 1965 and later in a 1973 movie adap­ta­tion star­ring Jeff Bridges.

As a car owner for driv­ers that in­cluded Dar­rell Wal­trip, Cale Yar­bor­ough, Bill El­liott and Terry Labonte, John­son claimed six Cup cham­pi­onships. His last race win as an owner was the 1994 South­ern 500 with El­liott.

Wal­trip said he grew up only dream­ing of one day meet­ing John­son, but sur­passed that by get­ting to drive for his hero.

“He be­came my boss and made me a cham­pion, I loved that man, God Bless Jr and his fam­ily. You were the great­est!” Wal­trip said on Twit­ter.

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