Hall-Of-Famer Allison Helped Make The ’72 Season What It Was

After the 1971 season, during which Junior and Richard Howard brought Chevrolet back to NASCAR, the two determined that, rather than special appearances for the car, they would campaign it for the NASCAR Winston Cup championship in 1972.

But they needed two things: A sponsor and a driver. As fortune would have it the driver they hired also happened to have a sponsor.

He also had a lot more, as Junior thought he might. Thus the 1972 season was one of the most successful, and tumultuous, of Junior’s career.

Junior’s contributions to www.motorsportsunplggged.com will appear every other Friday throughout the season.

 

I have already said this but I think it bears repeating. I am very proud that a man who drove for me, Bobby Allison, will be a member of the next class of inductees into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

He came around at a perfect time – when he was needed.

After the 1971 season, during which Richard and I enjoyed so much success with the Chevrolet, we decided rather than charge promoters $10,000 to have our car enter their races, we’d just go for the whole thing.

We’d try to win the Winston Cup championship. That meant we would run every race, which, in turn, meant we had to have sponsorship.

We both knew about Bobby. He could drive anything and win in it. He knew all about cars and engines and had maintained his own stuff.

Turns out that he was with the powerful Holman-Moody team in 1971. However, that team folded at the end of the season and Bobby was out of work.

Now Bobby had $80,000 in sponsorship from Coca-Cola in his pocket. That, and the fact that he had the skill and determination to win races, made him an easy target for Richard and I.

We talked to him at Rockingham at the end of the season. We needed a driver and a sponsor. Bobby had a sponsor. Our regular driver, Charlie Glotzbach, didn’t. It wasn’t that we were trying to dump Charlie. Bobby had a sponsor and Charlie didn’t. It was that simple.

I felt the combination of Bobby and our Chevrolet was going to be hard to beat in 1972. Bobby was a cagey driver. When he could lead a race, he did. But more times I’d see him stalk someone else and just hunt him down, then go and pass him.

It was like whatever obstacle was in front of him, he’d do his best to get around it. When it came to winning I knew it was just a matter of time.

That came in the sixth race of the year, the Atlanta 500 on March 26. Bobby was third, seven seconds behind A.J. Foyt with 30 laps left. With five laps to go, Bobby passed Bobby Isaac for second place.

A lap later Bobby got around Foyt and went on to win by 0.16-second. It was the first victory for Chevrolet on a superspeedway since I won the National 500 at Charlotte on Oct. 13, 1963.

Needless to say, long-suffering Chevy fans went nuts. Even though Charlie had won a year before, this was the first Chevy victory as a regular NASCAR competitive model in 10 years.

I knew we’d win more races. What I didn’t know is if we would win the championship. To do that, we had to overcome a sizable obstacle: Richard Petty.

The championship he won in 1971 was the third of his career and most folks thought he’d win again in 1972.

I didn’t have to say a thing about Richard to Bobby. He knew the man he had to beat. I always thought that Bobby figured that red-and-blue car of Richard’s was the one thing that stood in his way and he really wanted to beat it. I never told him to back off.

Which Bobby certainly didn’t as the season came to a close with mostly short-track racing. Bobby and Richard staged some of the most vicious battles I’ve ever seen.

It started at Nashville on Aug. 27. Richard got black-flagged for ignoring the stop sign on pit road and lost by 10 cars lengths to Bobby. Richard was furious.

Two weeks later at Richmond, Bobby and Richard were the only contenders for the championship. Richard won despite the fact he slid sideways along the top of the guardrail, dropped off and bounced back onto the track.

We were at Martinsville two races later. Over the last 50 miles, Bobby and Richard just couldn’t stay off one another. Richard tried to pass once, hit the curb and whacked Bobby. When that happened, it knocked Bobby’s gas cap loose. He got the black flag from NASCAR. He ignored it. Good for him.

But in the closing laps Bobby sideswiped another car and cut a tire. That allowed Richard to pass for the win.

The final short-track race of the year was at North Wilkesboro on Oct. 1. Again, Bobby and Richard pounded each other.

They crashed together into the wall. They separated and durned if they didn’t do it again with just two laps remaining. Richard won by two car lengths.

Both their cars were smoking wrecks after the race and neither driver had a good thing to say about the other. They were mad and I can tell you a good many fans, of both drivers, were too.

I never got in the middle of it. I’ve seen two or three occasions where, I think, certain people were madder at the car than they were the driver and I think that’s the way it was with Bobby. He resented Richard’s car.

We lost three of those four short-track races and that didn’t help our cause. Richard won the title by 127.9 points.

We didn’t lose the title because of the short tracks. As far as I’m concerned there were many other reasons.

Bobby was a headstrong guy with his own opinions about car performance. Although I disagree to this day, he claimed there was a huge lack of communication between us.

I think Bobby had his own agenda, too. I suspected he was going to run his own team in 1973, or at least run for Ralph Moody once his lawsuit with John Holman was settled.

And I wondered about his commitment, especially after the Winston 500 in May. We burned an oil line early but got it fixed in plenty of time to go back out and earn a lot of points.

But we couldn’t find Bobby. He had left the track.

Hey, that’s all in the past. None of it matters now. What matters is that without Bobby in 1972, I don’t think Richard and I would have won 10 races and finished second in championship points.

Bobby helped make Chevy’s return to full-time NASCAR competition very successful.

And he went right on winning races in his own cars, and for other team owners, for many, many seasons after 1972.

Yep, I did, too, starting in 1973 when Cale Yarborough came on board.

That’s another story.

 

How Chevrolet Made Its NASCAR Return in 1971

In 1971, Junior’s efforts to land R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. as a sponsor didn’t bring the results he wanted. Instead, the company became the financial backer of NASCAR’s top circuit, which became known as the Winston Cup Grand National Series. A new era began for stock car racing.

But not for Junior. He still didn’t have the money to go racing.

Then he got a phone call from Richard Howard, the enterprising promoter at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Howard had an idea – and he thought Junior was the man who could help him make it a reality.

 

Junior’s contributions to www.motorsportsunplugged.com will appear every other Friday throughout the season.

 

When it came to races at Charlotte, Richard always had schemes – and most all of them worked. He had helped bring the speedway out of bankruptcy and make it financially stable.

When he called me I didn’t have any idea what he wanted to talk about. He asked me if I wanted to build a Chevrolet to run at Charlotte in the World 600. He asked me if I would drive it.

I said I wouldn’t drive, but then, I thought about building one. Problem was, I didn’t know what was available. Where would I locate Chevrolet engines, chassis, components and other stuff?

Chevrolet hadn’t been in NASCAR since 1963. That was the biggest reason Richard wanted a Chevy to race at Charlotte.

Chevy was the most popular car in America. Richard knew fans would fill his grandstands just to see it race again.

I figured the Monte Carlo was the model best suited for NASCAR – but I had no idea what NASCAR would think about that.

The Monte Carlo was so wide its wheelbase had to be reduced. I met with NASCAR and asked them to let me use the Monte Carlo front snout, but cut it where it fit the wheelbase rule. They let me do that.

But it didn’t end there. Because it was a Chevrolet, there were no NASCAR rules about motors and other things. I had to get the car approved by showing NASCAR all that was going on with the motors, how it was built and that kind of stuff.

With the help of some good assistants, the Chevy was ready to race just five weeks after I first spoke with Richard.

We got Charlie Glotzbach to drive for us. They called him “Chargin’ Charlie” so that should tell you he had a driving style I liked.

We were ready for shakedown runs at Charlotte. I had no idea how the car would do. It was all brand new. Everything I had done to it was untried.

When got to Charlotte I was shocked an amazed at how fast the Chevy ran. But I realized that, being a driver in the past, I obviously wanted a fast car.

So did the guys who worked for me, Turkey Minton and Herb Nab. We were taking a shot in the dark, so we duplicated the best of everything we knew, and it worked.

Charlie won the World 600 pole with a speed of 157.788 mph. He led the race four times for 87 laps. He even put a lap on the field before the race was halfway over.

But then Charlie swerved to miss Speedy Thompson on the frontstretch and darned if Charlie didn’t hit the wall. That was the end for us. Charlie finished 28th.

As Richard expected, the fans showed up to see the Chevrolet. The attendance was announced at 78,000 – which told Richard and I that we had something really good.

Since we owned the only competitive Chevrolet, we knew that car carried a lot of clout. We thought that clout could help us regain the money we had spent on it.

So we offered to race the Chevy in other events if the promoters would pay us $10,000 in appearance money.

Some promoters jumped right in but others didn’t. The ones that paid, well, I made certain we went back to their second race of the season.

The ones that didn’t pay, shoot, we didn’t go to their second race – even if they wanted us after they had seen fans hanging off the fences earlier. They ticked me off.

You know, I believe the promoters who paid for us began to look at the whole thing in a different light.

They reasoned that if they paid $10,000 for us they could get eight to 10 other top teams for $2,000 or $3,000 apiece.

That type of appearance payment system became, I think, the basis for the “Winner’s Circle” program, which NASCAR used to assure that the top, winning teams would be at every race.

We had a successful year with the Chevy. We entered 14 races, won at Bristol and took four pole positions.

For 1972, Richard and I decided we were going to run the full schedule and go for the championship – with a Chevrolet, of course.

By the way, since 1971, Chevy has remained in NASCAR and, I reckon, done pretty well for itself.

 

About LeeRoy, The Historic 1969 Season And A Sad Aftermath

When Junior hired LeeRoy Yarbrough as his driver late in the 1967 season, he certainly had no idea of the things that were to come.

With two victories in 1968 Junior and Yarbrough fared well for a first-year team. Junior thought better things could happen in 1969. To say they did might be an understatement.

Junior and Yarbrough had one of the greatest seasons in NASCAR history. Not only did they win seven races, they also, for the first time ever, captured NASCAR’s “Triple Crown” with victories at Daytona, Charlotte and Darlington.

But what was a great beginning evolved into a sad ending.

Junior’s contributions to www.motorsportsunplugged.com will appear every other Friday throughout the season.

I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of success as a team owner and I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge so many of the men who drove for me.

One of them was LeeRoy Yarbrough. Together, he and I experienced quite a season in 1969. It’s often been described as historical.

I think some background is needed. Darel Dieringer was my driver in 1967. He did win the Gwyn Staley 400 at North Wilkesboro – my “home” track – and I had never seen him so excited.

But after that we just couldn’t get the job done. We had a lot of bad luck and it continued through the summer. Darel crashed at Martinsville in September and, as far as Ford was concerned, a change had to be made. So I had to let Darel go.

There were a lot of good young drivers coming along in 1967 and ’68 and, to me, LeeRoy was the best of them. He was very aggressive and I always liked that in a driver.

And he was fearless. At the time cars were getting so much faster on the big tracks. So you had to have someone with strong nerves to drive them.

LeeRoy had already won a race, the 1966 National 400 at Charlotte, and in 1968, he won twice for me, at Trenton and Atlanta.

We didn’t win again in ’68 but we had a good season for a first-year team. We saw enough to know that we could figure on a great year in 1969.

I had no idea how great it would be.

In the Daytona 500, LeeRoy handled the draft expertly. He pulled a slingshot pass on Charlie Glotzbach on the last lap to win the race.

Actually, LeeRoy had a little help. On his last pit stop we put on right-side tires with a very soft compound. They were called “gumballs,” and because they were softer, they had more track adhesion and were faster. However, they weren’t very durable.

Glotzbach used regular tires. So he was a sitting duck.

To win the Daytona 500 was a great start to the ’69 season. I couldn’t have imagined how much greater things were going to be.

We won the Rebel 400 at Darlington and then the World 600 at Charlotte. Then we made it a sweep at Daytona when we took the Firecracker 400 on July 4. In August we added win No. 5 at Atlanta.

By this time, as you might expect, there was a lot of talk about the “Triple Crown” of NASCAR, which consisted of victories in the Daytona 500, the World 600 at the Southern 500 at Darlington.

Since we had already won the Daytona 500 and the World 600 with LeeRoy, everyone was wondering if we could pull off the “Triple Crown” at Darlington.

We sort of downplayed all the talk but, as you might think, we really wanted to do it.

The Southern 500 started out as a mess. There were plenty of blown engines, wrecks and a thunderstorm brought out the red flag for a long period of time.

By the time the race restarted we all knew we would never finish 500 miles by nightfall. NASCAR knew it, too, and said the race would end after 230 laps, or 316 miles.

With about 30 laps to go, most of us pitted. David Pearson was driving for Holman-Moody at the time. On his stop, the team put on the “gumballs,” just as we did in Daytona.

But I figured tires wore a bit more at Darlington than at Daytona, so a harder-compound tire might be the better choice.

Sure enough David, the leader, began losing traction in the turns. LeeRoy had just enough time to overtake him in the third turn on the last lap. We won the race.

We achieved the first Daytona 500, World 600 and Southern 500 sweep. I’m very proud of winning those three races, even today.

In all, we won seven races in 1969. LeeRoy was named Ford’s Man of the Year.

I wish I could tell you there was a happy ending to this, but, sadly, there wasn’t.

LeeRoy ran only 17 races with us in 1970 and just seven in 1971. In April of ’70 we were at a tire test in Texas. LeeRoy crashed hard in the third turn. He was knocked out for about an hour. I was certain he sustained a concussion.

In 1971 he was knocked out again while driving one of Dan Gurney’s cars at Indianapolis. He was hurt badly this time.

A bit after that, LeeRoy came down with what we were told was Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. His health deteriorated very quickly.

In early 1980, many years after he last drove for me, LeeRoy was charged in Jacksonville, Fla., with trying to strangle his mother, with whom he lived. He was ruled incompetent to stand trial and was later acquitted by reason of insanity.

I was very upset by LeeRoy’s condition and paid to have him examined at two different psychiatric hospitals in North Carolina. They came up with the same diagnosis. There was no hope.

In December of 1984, LeeRoy died after suffering a seizure at a state mental hospital in Jacksonville.

People should always have respect for LeeRoy, and, I believe, the NASCAR community has. He would have become one of the greatest drivers ever if he hadn’t hit the wall a time or two too many.

 

I Didn’t Get My Sponsor, But NASCAR Got A New Era

Although he didn’t intend it, when Junior met with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. to see if it would be interested in sponsoring his NASCAR efforts, he helped usher in what would be a new era for stock car racing.

At the time, four decades ago, Junior’s racing was at a standstill because Ford had pulled out of NASCAR – again – and thus all his manufacturer support was lost.

He couldn’t race without a sponsor. So he targeted Reynolds. Of course, he had no idea how things would ultimately evolve.

 

Junior’s contributions to www.motorsportsunplugged.com will appear every other Friday throughout the season.

 

 

I get the credit for bringing R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. to NASCAR, which led to the creation of the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit that lasted from 1971 through 2003.

I’ll take it. But I can assure you that when I met with R.J. Reynolds, early in 1971, it wasn’t to extend the company an invitation to join NASCAR.

I was there for myself; for my business interests. At the time I was a NASCAR team owner without a team.

Let me give you some background. Back in 1966 Ford pulled out of NASCAR because it felt the rules were against it.

John Holman had a Ford team. He was stuck, just as the other Ford team owners. He asked me to build a car for Fred Lorenzen to race at Atlanta. He wanted a car that could compete with the Chrysler products, which seemed to benefit most from the rules at that time.

Bill France wanted to know what it would take to get Ford back into racing and I told him to let me build that Ford, race it in Atlanta and, well, he could take it from there.

When that car showed up at Atlanta it raised a ruckus. As I remember, the front end sloped downward, the roof was cut very low and the rear end was raised. Let’s just say it didn’t look anything like a Ford out of Detroit.

Because it was painted yellow – the primary color of Holly Farms, my sponsor – the car was called “The Banana.”

That car had a heckuva time getting through inspection. We had to take it to body shops all over Atlanta to make changes.

We ran the race. I recall, though, that we didn’t finish because a tire blew and Fred crashed.

But the point was made. Sure enough, France gave enough concessions to Ford that it got back into NASCAR.

The next three years with Ford were good ones for me – especially the 1969 season withHolly Farms I look forward to telling you that story.

But by 1970, Ford pulled out of NASCAR again. I did have support from an IndyCar guy who made parts for engine companies. He was around for two years.

But he decided to go back to IndyCar racing and so I didn’t have anything. I built a few cars and engines in my shop for other guys.

You might remember that in 1970, the tobacco companies were under fire from the government, which wanted to ban cigarette advertising on television – and it did.

When I learned that, I wanted to get a meeting with R.J. Reynolds – located in Winston-Salem, N.C., just a short drive from Ronda – as quick as I could.

I needed a sponsor and I knew that, since it could not advertise on TV, Reynolds would have plenty of money.

I started talking with Reynolds late in 1970 and got a meeting in 1971. I presented my thing and, to my surprise, they sort of laughed at me when I told them how much money I needed.

I had asked for $850,000. Were they giggling at me because that was too much? Nope, it was just the opposite. They told me they had a $570 million advertising budget.

I admit I was a bit taken aback. It occurred to me that NASCAR was struggling somewhat at the time and I just told the Reynolds officials, “You need to be with NASCAR because it is bigger than me.”

I had no idea what would happen. R.J. Reynolds, with NASCAR, created the Winston Cup Series, a point fund, a new schedule and a lot more.

It ushered NASCAR into a new era.

Me? I didn’t get that $850,000.

NASCAR would not allow any team to have the same sponsor it had. It would create a conflict of interest.

I was tore up. I needed the money more than NASCAR did.

NASCAR even told me that, although I had helped it get the Reynolds deal, it could not cater to me when it came to competition.

Thinking back, it kind of hurt me a little bit that a lot of people thought I got favors out of NASCAR because of the Reynolds deal. That was never the case.

So, for a while, I was right back where I started.

But then I got a phone call from a man named Richard Howard, who was the promoter at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

He thought that, if he could put a competitive Chevrolet in the World 600, people starving to see the most popular car in America race would come to his track in droves.

He asked me if I would build one. I agreed.

What happened after that is another story.

 

When It Came To Car Prep, Haulin’ And Racin’ Were The Same

One of the traits of being a good moonshine hauler was, of course, how well a man could drive along the small, twisting roads through the hills and mountains of the southern countryside. But, as Junior tells us, as good as any driver was, unless his car was prepared for the punishing nightly ordeals, things were not going to go well. That’s one reason why bootleggers had to become as adept at modifying cars and engines as they were at driving. And that’s a direct link to stock car racing.

Junior’s contributions to motorsportsunplugged.com will appear every other Friday throughout the season.

I think it’s common knowledge that guys like me who hauled moonshine were able to hone our driving skills to the point where racing stock cars wasn’t a big transition for us – hardly.

But bootleggers also were prepared for racing for another reason. They already knew how to make cars go faster. And making cars go faster is what racing is all about.

I started working on cars at a very young age. Actually, I worked on pickup trucks and two-ton trucks daddy used on the farm. I also worked on the vehicles he used to make whisky back in the mountains.

When I started hauling I knew that my car was my most valuable asset. It had to be fast but, more important, it had to be prepared so that it was able to do the job. Remember, it was going to be filled with cases of moonshine and that would greatly increase the weight the car had to bear.

The first thing I did to a car was take off the shocks and springs. Then I looked at the wheels to see if they were stout enough to bear the load. If I didn’t think they were, I’d buy another set of wheels, cut the center out and weld in another. That way I had two centers where there was only one to start with. The wheels would be twice as strong.

I put stiffer springs in the back so they would hold the load when I was on the roads. I put two shocks at each wheel to make the car twice as stable.

Everything I did with a whisky-hauling car was almost exactly what I did when it came to a race car.

I learned to build an engine from scratch. All bootleggers started modifying motors as we moved forward.

You might not believe this, but the best parts and pieces came from California, which was a bit ahead of the South when it came to motors and stuff.

When the war came along California was where most of the ships, wartime vehicles and equipment were made. There were many more machine shops there.

At those shops they worked on engines to make them faster for service vehicles and things like that. They were modifying motors like the bootleggers around home. But in California, because it was done in many more machine shops, they gained more knowledge than we had at the time.

So if you knew someone in California, and you got pieces like camshafts, manifolds, crankshafts and cylinder heads, most of the time you could come up with a faster motor than anyone else had.

But it reached the point where you could come up with a faster engine and not know anyone in California. When overhead valves came out, that’s when engines really began to pick up horsepower.

Earlier, the valves were in the motor rather than in the cylinder heads. That meant you could work on the cylinder heads, but pretty much leave the block alone. When the valves were in the block there was only so much you could do. But when they were in the cylinder heads you could go about as far as you wanted.

The start of all this was the Cadillac engine, which was put into Fords and other cars. Eventually, though, all motors were the same.

Here’s something interesting. For a long time, you could find overhead valves in ambulances. So whenever I heard about an ambulance involved in a crash, I’d take off and buy the engine out of that wrecked ambulance. That motor was great for hauling whisky.

The basic rule of hauling moonshine was to take care of your car. When I came back from a run I’d check over the car. I made sure everything was where it was supposed to be. Then I’d fill it up with gas, check the oil and things like that.

Then I’d put it into the shed, wait until dark and pull it right back out again.

You would think this is just common sense, but you didn’t want to be riding around in the same car you were using to haul moonshine. You didn’t
want folks to recognize you or your car and put things together. You kept your car as much of a secret as you could.

You might not believe this, but some guys would drive around in their hauling cars during the daytime.

If you ask me, they were just advertising. They weren’t very good bootleggers.

Daytona 1960: I Won, But Only With The Discovery Of The Draft

Few expected Junior Johnson to be competitive in the 1960 Daytona 500. He had picked up a ride at the last minute and his Chevrolet was woefully underpowered.

Junior tried every way he could to get more speed out of the car but to no avail. He thought about pulling out of the race but his team owner, Ray Fox, asked him to stay. Fox said he’d work on the car to get more power.

Junior went back on the track and decided to follow one of the faster cars. To his surprise, he discovered that he could keep up, unlike earlier.
Junior had uncovered the secret of the draft.

Junior’s contributions to motorsportsunplugged.com will appear every other Friday throughout the season.

I can understand why we saw all of that two-car drafting in this year’s Daytona 500.

With the way the cars are configured today one car can easily latch on to the rear bumper of another, which creates the draft. But when there’s a third car it just doesn’t work.

The third car gets the wind off the first two cars but the wind can’t stay over the third car. It just comes down on the windshield. That creates so much drag the third car can’t stay in there.

So two cars work better than three – and we saw plenty of evidence of that in the Daytona 500.
The draft has been a big part of racing at Daytona almost from the start.

The first Daytona 500 was held in 1959 and everybody thought it was all about horsepower at that big place. Nobody wanted to follow anyone else. They wouldn’t stay behind anybody.

They never really hooked up. They’d always pull out and try to pass. That’s the main reason no one had any idea about the draft in that first race.

But it was different in the second race in 1960. And I had a lot to do with that.
At the start of the season I didn’t have a ride since Paul Spaulding, my team owner in 1959, had gotten out of racing.

Then I got a call from Ray Fox, a car builder and crew chief in Daytona Beach, Fla. He had gotten what was a spur-of-the-moment sponsorship deal from a guy named John Masoni, who owned the dog track in Daytona.

Ray asked me if I would drive his Chevrolet. I’ve always liked him so I told him I’d come down and see what we could do.

At that time Pontiac had the fastest cars and several good drivers, among them Fireball Roberts and Paul Goldsmith. Since Ray had a Chevrolet, I knew we were going to have our hands full.

That might be an understatement. We were 30 miles per hour slower than the Pontiacs.
I was ready to come home. I didn’t want to stay down there and watch the Pontiacs lap me every 10 or 11 laps.

Ray asked me to stay. He made some adjustments to that Chevrolet and I went back on the track. This time I decided to run along with Pontiac. Maybe I could learn something.

Cotton Owens came by and I got behind him; I got right on his rear bumper. I thought he might pull away, but to my surprise, I stayed right there.

When we got off the track Cotton told me that I really had that Chevrolet hummin’. What he didn’t know was that I had discovered the draft – quite by accident, I might add.

Just to be certain, I went back on the track and, sure enough, the car was very slow. I came to pit road and waited for some Pontiacs to come by. I got in with them when I took to the track and I stayed with them.

I knew then that what was happening. We were creating a slipstream type of thing in which a slower car could keep up with a faster one.

I started ninth in the Daytona 500 and once the race started I got to the Pontiacs ahead of me as fast as I could. I stayed with them and did everything they did. When they pitted, I pitted.

In the closing laps of the race Bobby Johns had the only competitive Pontiac. The others had experienced various problems.

Bobby was getting a push from Jack Smith’s Pontiac – Jack was down and had no chance to win – and got around me. But then, with 10 laps to go, something happened that I had never seen before.

The back glass popped out of Bobby’s car and flew into the air. With the speed and traffic situation I reckon we had created a vacuum that sucked that glass right out.

The change in the airflow around Bobby’s car caused him to spin into the grass along the backstretch. By the time he got himself back on the track I was long gone.

I won the race by a good distance over Bobby. And I know for a fact I never would have if I hadn’t figured out the draft.
And, as you know, the draft has been a part of Daytona ever since.

Drivers? There Were Many Among The Best In My Day

Junior Johnson raced against some of NASCAR’s legends and he obviously did pretty well for himself. But he’s willing to tell you who some of the toughest, and hardest to beat, were. Of course, they had also a hard time getting past him.
In their era they earned his respect and he theirs. He has long since known how racing and NASCAR have changed. As they have done so, it has made the competitors of today, certainly all with talent, a different breed from those of his years. He tells you why.

Junior’s contributions to motorsportsunplugged.com will appear every other Friday throughout the season.

I’ve often been asked who some of the best drivers of my era were; the guys I found it most challenging to race against.

Believe me there were many. But when I first started, at the top of the list has to be Curtis Turner. He was probably the toughest guy I ever raced against. He showed a car no mercy. He was a driver who wanted to go to the front and lead every lap – and if his car held up he could do it. That was just his nature.

I’d say Fireball Roberts, to me, was probably second to Curtis – in fact, he was in line with him as he raced the same way. But there were other guys whose success proved they knew how to drive. They include Herb Thomas and Tim Flock. But Curtis, I think, was the most aggressive driver at the time I came into racing.

Then there was Ralph Earnhardt. I’ve always said he was a better driver than his son Dale. Like Curtis, Ralph was one of the toughest competitors I ever raced against.

I think he had a big advantage because he could work on his own cars. He was as great a mechanic as he was a driver. As much as he knew how to drive his car, he also knew how to make it run and handle. And he was just rough enough that he could get you out of kilter then go on and beat you.

If you beat him you had really done a day’s work.

I guess it could be said that I had something of a rivalry with Lee Petty. But as years passed it reached the point where I was friends with just about everybody I raced against. That became, for me, the way it was at that particular time.

Guys like Fireball, Herb, Marvin Panch, Glen Wood, Dink Widenhouse, Buck Baker and many others, we weren’t enemies.

Well, not at least as far as I’m concerned. Now, as far as they were concerned, they might have been ticked off at me from time to time. But when you outrun somebody, basically, they have to come up with some excuse as to why you outran them. They might have just believed I roughed ‘em up a little bit when I went by.

I think the biggest difference between drivers of my era and that of today is simple. The drivers of the past were tougher and rougher. I also think that, day-to-day, they were better.

Don’t misunderstand me. I acknowledge the skills of the competitors of today. Their talents can’t be denied.

But in the past it was simply a harder game that required more raw ability. A driver wasn’t nurtured. He raced because he thought he could.

There were no established developmental leagues. You learned how to drive a fast car by yourself. If you didn’t learn it by the time you decided to race, you’d finish dead last – or worse.

As talented as they are, and even with their competitiveness, the drivers of today race for money. It used to be you raced from the heart. There wasn’t any money.

In the past the vast majority of drivers didn’t make their living in racing. I know I didn’t. Even Curtis didn’t. He had a lot of business enterprises – some good, others not.

Me? Well, I’ll say that my job – and you know what it was – gave me the best experience for racing.

Again, times have changed. I think racing is now as much a business as it is a sport. I can see it both ways. I was around as an owner when racing became a business.

To me, professional football is the closest thing to racing now as far as business goes. I’ll admit that, athletically, football may be more of a sport. But, while each sport has its elements of danger, racing is far more hazardous.

Now that I’ve said that, you know what? Even though they are both part of pretty tough sports, football players get hurt more often than racers do.

That, to me, is one positive result of how times have changed.

Junior Johnson Biography

Junior Johnson 1985
Special Contributing Editor: Junior Johnson….Junior Johnson is an iconic figure in American motorsports. After years of hauling illegal liquor across the Southeast as a young man, he pursued a NASCAR driving career in which he won 50 races. Later, as an owner, his teams won 132 races and three championships. He was named one of the 50 greatest drivers in NASCAR and in 2010 was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame as a member of its inaugural class.

 

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