Johnson to owners: If you can't replace, you can't race

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Before every Nextel Cup race, NASCAR This Morning on SPEED Channel brings you news and interviews, live from the track. Before Saturday's race at Bristol Motor Speedway, host John Roberts and analysts Jimmy Spencer and Kenny Wallace caught up with several guests, including legendary driver and owner Junior Johnson. John Roberts: One win as a driver, 21 wins as an owner. Junior Johnson, what does this track mean to you? Junior Johnson: Well, it's one of my best racetracks and a I had a lot of good drivers here. I won it myself one time, but I won it 20 more times with different drivers. I don't think it was one driver that won it for me. It was a combination of just having good drivers, and me knowing when I drove it myself what it took to win here and how to set the car up. I think it all worked out to be a great thing for the teams, me and all of the drivers that I had. Jimmy Spencer: Junior, I was very fortunate to drive for you. It was an honor. But as an owner and a very successful owner — many time champion — how did you pick your drivers? Today you're seeing a lot of the drivers being shopped around and everything, but how did you pick your drivers? You picked Darrell Waltrip, the Cale Yarboroughs. What made you pick those certain type of drivers? Junior Johnson: Well, when I started out, I picked LeeRoy Yarbrough — bravest race driver I've ever seen in my life. The reason I picked him [is] I knew I could slow him down, but a lot of the drivers, you can't speed them up. So I wanted one that I thought could replace what I'd been used to doing myself. And I went on from there to Cale and Darrell was a great race driver and he's a charger when he wanted to. And he had what it took. You know, Charlie Glotzbach [was the] same way. He won here for me. I have a knack for knowing what's in a guy's heart and what he'll give you when time comes to put out. Kenny Wallace: Junior, your team was legendary out of North Wilkesboro. What a great town. All of the stories about running moonshine. But one thing that you were legendary for was going to Wilkesboro and always testing with your cars and drivers. Did you come to Bristol a lot? Did you test here or did you just show up? Junior Johnson: Showed up 99 percent of the time with the same combination that I won here with. And I went to Wilkesboro simply because of this factor. You could go to Wilkesboro and set your car up. Go to Martinsville and win that race. You'd go to Richmond and win that race. You'd go to Rockingham and win that race. And go to Darlington and win that. And you could just guarantee Atlanta was perfect for it. John Roberts: Most likely back in your day, I'd imagine you just had a handshake with your drivers when they came to race with you. And looking at what's been going on over the past couple of months, as an owner and a former driver, what are your thoughts on guys signing other contracts with other owners two years out? It just seems like there's such a shuffling right now, and that real big money is starting to get involved in NASCAR. And it's almost starting to look like some of the other contracts in some of the other major sports. Junior Johnson: Well, I think you only need a contract for how much money you're going to pay your driver and what he's going to do for you. If he's not going to do the job for you and he wants just to ride it out and stuff like that, you can't change what he's going to do. He's got to want to do it himself, and you've got to be able to pick him and say, "This guy will give me 100 percent. I'm going to give him 100 percent. And we're going to win 100 percent." If his word ain't no good, he ain't no good. Kenny Wallace: We always talk to people like you that are retired from racing, and we always say what don't you like about the sport. Well, I want to flip it around. What do you think is so great about our sport? I mean, look at these grandstands. As soon as we start to dig on NASCAR, we come to the racetrack and it's sold out. Why is NASCAR so good right now? Junior Johnson: Well, it's a people sport. That's what it's been ever since I started. The people can get to the drivers. They can get to the mechanics and stuff, and they mingle. There ain't no other sport like that. You go to try to talk to somebody in a football or baseball game, you'd better be the president of the United States just about. So I think it's more of a people sport than any sport there is. Jimmy Spencer: I don't think a lot of our fans out there can even understand this but tell us some of the people that came through your [shop] in North Wilkesboro. Robert Yates, Gary Nelson... Tell us some. Junior Johnson: I've had Travis Carter, Yates, [Jeff] Hammond. It wasn't nothing strange for a young guy to come to me, and I'd take him on if all he knew was his name, basically. I could teach about anybody to do what I wanted them to do, and I was smart enough that I could follow him up and make sure he did it. I was a hands-on person. I didn't leave nothing I'd done to one person and trust him to do it. Jimmy Spencer: I remember when I drove for Junior that the motor was... They thought the motor was good, and Junior made them take the motor back off. Take it apart and say, "Boys, it didn't seal right." And he taught me a lot of things, too. He also taught me you can't win the race if you lose a lap early. You've got to stay on the lead lap, and that's why I was fortunate to drive for Junior and win two races. John Roberts: You were never upset if anybody left you, right? If they wanted to go on to greener pastures or what they thought was a better situation, you let them go. Junior Johnson: That's true. If you've got people you can't replace, you can't race because somebody is going to leave you. Ninety percent of your good contract people might stay with you until the end of the contract, but a hired hand... as quick as you've got a secret that nobody else has got and you're winning all the races, all they've got to do is raise his pay $100 a week and he's gone and [so are] your secrets.

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