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Junior Johnson earned success with innovative style
This Sunday, Junior Johnson will be part of the first class inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. When you look at his total body of work, there is no question why Junior is iconic in our sport.
Junior was always an innovator. He always seemed to be one step ahead of the competition. For example, in the early-to-mid 1980s, he was one of the first owners in the modern era of NASCAR to form a multi-car operation. He had already won championships with Darrell Waltrip in the No. 11 Mountain Dew car, but then when the team switched sponsorship to Budweiser in 1984, Junior added Neil Bonnett. DW and Neil drove the Nos. 11 and 12. Both were sponsored by Bud and they were dubbed Double Thunder.
People at the time thought Junior was out of his mind. Ask DW, he will tell you that he was one of those people who questioned the move. Junior also handled the multi-car deal differently. He actually created competition between the two teams.
Now both shops were literally separated by a creek. DW tells me all the time how Junior would walk in his shop and say “Boy, that No. 12 bunch says they are going to kick your butt this weekend.” He would then walk across the creek to the No. 12’s shop and tell those guys, “Man, the No. 11 bunch says they are gunning for you guys this weekend.” So he created competition between his two teams which I believe made those two teams better.
The thing that always intrigued me about Junior was that there was absolutely nothing on that race car he didn’t know about or understand. You could bring him a problem with a car and he would find a way to fix it. It didn’t matter if it was engines, chassis, aerodynamics or anything else, Junior had expertise in it.
The other cool thing about Junior was even if he made something good, he would work to make it better. He was never satisfied with the status quo. How could he make it more durable? How could he make it faster? Durability was a big thing with Junior. He worked endlessly to make his cars bulletproof.
You knew every week when you pulled into the track that you had the Junior Johnson cars to beat if you wanted to win the race. From 1976 to 1985, Junior’s team won six NASCAR Cup championships. That included three straight by Cale Yarborough and then of course DW in ‘81, ‘82 and ’85.
I loved the fact that Junior would take the NASCAR Rule Book and read it. He would know clearly what it did say and in most cases what it didn’t say. He would maximize everything to his advantage. Like DW is always fond of saying, they were rule breakers; they were rule makers. They would figure out a way around a rule and then NASCAR would have to write a new rule.
He has 50 wins as a driver. He has 180-plus wins and six championships as a car owner.
Junior is credited for discovering what we call the draft. He brought R.J. Reynolds into NASCAR as the title sponsor.
Now I realize there was some controversy as to why Junior was selected ahead of David Pearson for the first class into the Hall of Fame, but his body of work in our sport is incredible.
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