Get Biofuel: Honoring the Last American Hero

Feature in Esquire Magazine, March 1, 1965

Corn whiskey, moonshine, liquor or just plain whiskey were all terms used to describe a coproduct that came from the Robert Glenn Johnson farm back in the 1950s. Robert’s corn whiskey was known as the finest in the state of North Carolina. Due to the economic and traditional crop circumstances at that time, homemade whiskey production was the only alternative to poverty in the area. With the timber, brush and back bent winding roads, Wilkes County, North Carolina was the perfect spot to hide a whiskey operation. Robert Glenn Johnson II, also known as Junior, became the delivery specialist for the family industry. It was a career he honed into perfection. He expected a car chase from the tax revenuers every night and every night he got one. Not once did they ever catch him with a car. Not even close. Junior was known in the county for a 180-degree turn with his car known as a bootleg turn or about-face. According to him all you had to do was throw the car into second gear, cock the wheel, step on the gas and the rear end would slide around in a perfect 180-degree arc. It’s a great move if you are coming up on a roadblock or someone’s got you pinned down. Having to learn the car inside and out, fix the car, soup up the car and drive the car made him into a perfect candidate for the newly formed NASCAR™ circuit. “Moonshiners put more time, energy, thought and love into their cars than any racer ever will. Lose on the track and you go home. Lose with a load of whiskey and you go to jail,” Junior once said. 

Junior with his 1963 Impala

He once said. After a night driving back from a win in Pennsylvania, Junior arrived at the family farm. His father was going to bed and asked him to fire up the still. Little did he know Tax Revenue Agents laid in wait. After a year in a federal penitentiary, Junior never ran moonshine for his father again. He became a full-time NASCAR™ driver.

Junior came to Daytona in 1960 with an older Chevy and a speed in the double digits slower than the fast Pontiacs. He almost turned tail and headed home but discovered something on race day. When he would tuck in close behind the faster cars his speed increased to match theirs. That was how he discovered the aerodynamic draft, a major part of modern-day racing. He ended up winning that day and changed NASCAR™ forever. In 1965 metropolitan author Tom Wolfe from Esquire Magazine was assigned to do a feature story on Junior. The NASCAR™ phenomena and the people were not at all what he expected to encounter. As a result, Wolfe published a legendary story which boosted the sport to a national level. He also came away with a lifelong friend in Junior who he coined “The Last American Hero”.

2020 American Ethanol Throwback Paint Scheme at Darlington

Junior Johnson racked up 50 wins over 14 years in the NASCAR Cup Series™. He is the only driver to win that many races and not win a championship. As an owner, he won the championship 6 times and was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame™ in 2010. He passed away in December at the age of 88.




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