Farewell to an American whiskey hero

Farewell to an American whiskey hero

Jim Leggett and Claude Mabes pay tribute to NASCAR driver and whiskey hero Junior Johnson

News | 24 Dec 2019

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My cell phone rings, old pal Claude Mabes calling urgent-like… “Hey Jim, sad news – Junior died! NASCAR just announced ‘racing legend Robert Glenn "Junior" Johnson passed away Friday, December 20, 2019, at the age of 88 years old…!”

We’d spent much time with Junior over the past few years, drank a few jars sharing memories, off the record jibes and more.

Suddenly, tributes roll in from around the world. NASCAR, whiskey distillers, politicians and more, folks who never met or had the pleasure hanging out with Junior Johnson.

Claude and I did, recalling modestly fast drives with Junior from his plush mansion in Charlotte to beloved mountain-fretted roads, much more in tune with Junior’s colourful past.

“I found a wrecked helicopter” Junior tells us, “I noticed it had a seat-belt, and I’m wondering, seat-belts? Might work better than whiskey crates!

Ever easy-going, Junior relived those hell-raising days us the last true American Hero, a who treated all authority with the suspicion, disrespect even, all of us probably should.

A native North Carolinian, Junior spent years hauling illegal liquor through his home state, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida included, his driving during his notorious moonshine days taking him to local dirt tracks where fellow whiskey runners showed off their fast cars…none faster that young Johnson.

“We’d hunt down big Cadillac V-8 motors from salvaged ambulances, slip then under the hood…no one had engines like those. Then, using tune-up skills and modified carburettors that California hot-rodders were perfecting we had some real fast cars. None of the local boys – especially the law- had a chance.”

Even as a kid aged 14 Junior smiles “I never had a driver license. Didn’t need one, no one was ever gonna catch me!”

Way before seat belts, roll-bars and the likes Junior’s idea of safety were unique. “I’d stack a few cases of whiskey piled three high in the right seat, so’s not to get thrown about too much.”

Claude reminds me of one conversation few - even avowed NASCAR fans - ever knew, Junior recalling a junkyard find which changed car racing forever.

“I found a wrecked helicopter” Junior tells us, “I noticed it had a seat-belt, and I’m wondering, seat-belts? Might work better than whiskey crates! So, I fitted one in my race car, worked real good and I win my next race, - only to be disqualified for “using an unauthorised piece of equipment!”

Within months, seat belts were compulsory in all race cars.

Junior’s passing marks the end of moonshine whiskey’s most colourful era, America’s fastest whiskey cars, and true life adventures the likes of which will never be seen again.

Proud we got to know him.. RIP

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