NASCAR Hall of Famer Junior Johnson dead at 88

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

A Brief History of NASCAR

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

NASCAR Hall of Famer Junior Johnson, immortalized as “The Last American Hero” by author Tom Wolfe, died Friday. He was 88.

Johnson's death was announced by NASCAR, which said he had been in declining health. Johnson entered hospice care this week, ESPN reported.

Robert Glenn "Junior" Johnson originally ran moonshine through the North Carolina foothills but found his calling running races on the stock car circuit. He won 50 races as a driver -- the most of any driver without a series championship -- and added 132 victories and six championships as a team owner, NASCAR said. He won the Great American Race as a car owner in 1969 and 1977.

“From his early days running moonshine through the end of his life, Junior wholly embodied the NASCAR spirit,” NASCAR Chairman Jim France said in a statement. "He was an inaugural NASCAR Hall of Famer, a nod to an extraordinary career as both a driver and team owner. Between his on-track accomplishments and his introduction of (sponsor) Winston to the sport, few have contributed to the success of NASCAR as Junior has.

"The entire NASCAR family is saddened by the loss of a true giant of our sport, and we offer our deepest condolences to Junior’s family and friends during this difficult time.”

Johnson was an inaugural member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2010, along with Bill France Sr., Bill France Jr., Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Richard Petty.

Johnson debuted in NASCAR's top division in 1953 at the Southern 500. He finished 38th in the 59-car field at Darlington Raceway, but showed his grit when his Oldsmobile hit the guardrail, NASCAR reported. Johnson emerged from his wrecked car unharmed, then opened the hood of the vehicle and put out an engine fire with his shirt.

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