‘NASCAR Race Hub’ special reunites Junior Johnson, Tom Wolfe
"NASCAR Race Hub" reunites Junior Johnson, one of NASCAR’s biggest icons, and author Tom Wolfe, one of the greatest writers of the 20th Century, in a short film premiering Wednesday, Oct. 7 (6 p.m. ET) on FS1. "The Last American Hero is Junior Johnson. Yes!" is the third of four episodes in a short-film series under the "Beyond the Wheel" banner airing on "NASCAR Race Hub" and produced by NASCAR Productions.
"The Last American Hero is Junior Johnson. Yes!" pays homage to the 1965 landmark Esquire article written by Wolfe that introduced the country to stock car racing, the New South and one of NASCAR’s most infamous outlaw heroes, Johnson. In the film, Johnson and Wolfe are reunited at Wolfe’s home in the upper east side of New York City in a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the story’s publication. Their meeting in New York marked the first time the two have been together for an extended period of time since Wolfe immersed himself in the racer’s world five decades ago.
Interviewed in the 18-minute special are: Johnson;Wolfe; Ken Welborn, The Record (Wilkesboro) reporter; Michael Lewis, author, "Moneyball" and "The Blind Side"; Douglas Copeland, photographer; Mark Warren, Esquire Executive Editor; and Larry Webster, Road & Track Editor-in-Chief.
Quotes from the "The Last American Hero is Junior Johnson. Yes!":
Wolfe: "There was a good ol’ boy working for Esquire as an editor who knew the world about Junior Johnson. Frankly, I had never heard of NASCAR at that time. And so I took this assignment to go write a story about Junior Johnson . . .
"When I finally got a look at North Wilkesboro (N.C.), where Junior lived, I realized this was something that was real Southern . . . I was dressed fairly low-rent by New York standards, but I was an alien creature when I got there."
Johnson: I thought he (Wolfe) was a crank, to tell you the honest truth (laughing). Wool suit on, and it was 101. It was just funny . . ."
Darrell Waltrip, FOX NASCAR analyst and three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion driver for Johnson regarding his former car owner: "When Tom Wolfe wrote that story, most people didn’t think about race car drivers as heroes. They considered them a bunch of moonshine-running Southerners with no talent — not the highly regarded athletes many of them are today. The article really opened people’s eyes to the fact that they’re not only great drivers but also characters with amazing and entertaining life experiences. Junior was the last American hero. He made and ran moonshine, went to jail, got out and became successful in spite of all of it. Junior embodied the great American success story.
"Junior did so much for so many people. Richard Childress, for example, wouldn’t be in racing today if it weren’t for Junior, and a number of others fall into that category. Junior was willing to help anybody — heck, he helped me. He’d loan other teams and drivers his cars, engines and crews. The man has a huge heart and has always been very charitable. At the same time, he demanded respect. Of all the things he said to me over the years, one of the most impactful was when I first went to drive for him. Junior told me, ‘Boy, here we work our hands; not our mouths.’ And I kept that in mind when I worked for him. When he spoke, you better listen."
Jeff Hammond, FOX NASCAR analyst and championship-winning crew chief for Waltrip and Johnson
"Junior Johnson was a unique blend of the common, blue-collar man with a ton of determination, the desire to understand the unanswered questions and the savvy to manage a business as well as a lifestyle. That combination makes him so unique to the legends that helped define America and NASCAR during his era. If he started a race team tomorrow, I’d quit my job and go back to work for him, even at my age. Junior completely defined my career, and if he hadn’t given me the opportunities he did, I don’t know where I’d be today. The man truly is the last American hero."
The fourth and final "Beyond the Wheel" film airs on Wednesday, Oct. 21 at 6 p.m. ET on FS1. "White Knight" explores the story of Dick Trickle, whom many consider to be the winningest race car driver in history. Trickle won an estimated 1,200 races and became NASCAR’s Rookie of the Year at age 48 before ending his life in 2013.