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Hall of fame's first class: Junior Johnson

ThatsRacin.com
Thursday, Oct. 08, 2009

Robert Glenn “Junior” Johnson won the second Daytona 500 in 1960, one his 50 victories in NASCAR's top series, then surprised many by retiring from driving to become a team owner.

Starts: 313

Wins: 50

Poles: 46

Robert Glenn “Junior” Johnson won the second Daytona 500 in 1960, one his 50 victories in NASCAR's top series, then surprised many by retiring from driving to become a team owner.

Johnson never missed a beat. His drivers won 132 races. There also were six series championships produced with Cale Yarborough (1976, 1977 and 1978) and Darrell Waltrip (1981, 1982 and 1985).

Tom Higgins on Junior Johnson

Motorsports writer and historian Tom Higgins shares a standout memory of each of the 10 nominees we're featuring as we count down to the NASCAR Hall of Fame vote and announcement.

Daytona Beach, Fla. – February, 1960

Quitting never has been part of Junior Johnson’s nature.

However, in February of 1960 Johnson was on the verge of giving up his ride in the Daytona 500 and returning home to Wilkes County, N.C.

“My car, a Chevrolet, simply wouldn’t seem to run,” recalls Junior. “And that’s no slam on Ray Fox, who was fielding it. In a special deal, Ray had been given only two weeks to build the car. It’s a compliment to Ray that he even got it to the track.”

In practice for the second 500-miler at Daytona International Speedway Johnson found that his Chevy was nearly 30 mph slower than several factory-backed Pontiacs.

“I was hinting for Ray to get another driver,” continued Johnson. “I had no enthusiasm for seeing the Pontiacs lap me every 10 laps.”

Fox talked Junior into staying another day or two.

“I decided to try and run with the Pontiacs,” said Junior. “Cotton Owens came by and I got right on his rear bumper. And I stayed there!”

Johnson had discovered the phenomenon of the aerodynamic draft, in which a faster car tows a slower machine that is following very closely.

Johnson used his new-found knowledge of the slipstream effect to maintain pace during the 500.

He was running second to Bobby Johns with 10 laps to go when the back glass popped out of Johns’ Pontiac, causing him to spin.

Johnson took the checkered flag 23 seconds ahead of Johns, who recovered to finish second.

It ranks as the most memorable victory in a colorful career that was to make Johnson a legend both as a driver and team owner.

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