NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony: Junior Johnson (Part 5/6)
Topics: NASCAR, Junior Johnson
Robert Glenn Johnson III
May 23, 2010
CONCORD, NORTH CAROLINA
DARRELL WALTRIP: First of all, I'd just like to congratulate all of the inductees today, their families, Linda Petty, especially you, nice to see you here today.
This room is full of NASCAR royalty today. This truly has become and will become the Mount Rushmore of our sport. I don't think we can give Winston Kelley, all the people that have put this thing together in a very short period of time, done an amazing job, I don't think we can give them a big enough hand often enough. I would love to give Winston, everyone that worked on this thing, a hand.
So many people have dreamed about someday that NASCAR would have their own Hall of Fame. There are a lot of great Hall of Fames around the country, but none that was NASCAR's Hall of Fame. So it's an honor to be here today. It's an honor to induct Junior Johnson into the Hall of Fame.
I'd be a little remiss if I didn't tell a few Junior stories. I had some really good ones. I spoke to Junior a little bit ago. He said, Darrell, don't forget I get the last word. So with that, thought I might ought to get rid of those and basically just tell you about the man that I have admired, respected, and truly was my childhood hero.
When I think about Junior, when I was growing up, the mystique around this guy. I mean, he was from the moonshine capital of the world in Wilkes County. He got caught stoking a still. I didn't know what that meant at the time, but it sounded interesting to me. But he got caught and he went to prison and he served a little time.
He came back out. When he did, he really dedicated himself to racing. Junior became 'The Last American Hero'. Everybody in this sport, we got a lot of nicknames, The Intimidator, The King, but Junior was 'The Last American Hero'. That always in and of itself told me a lot about Junior Johnson.
The first time I went to his shop to meet Junior, to talk about possibly me driving for him, we went downtown north Wilkesboro, a little office, he and his attorney, I had my attorney with me. I was coming out of a deal I had about a 150-page contract that I had been involved in. When I sit down with Junior, I was expecting a long, drawn out affair. In five minutes, he and his attorney wrote them out on a piece of paper, slipped them over, said, There's your deal. Basically Ed and I looked at each other like, Wow, this is weird. No negotiation, no anything.
Junior says, I'll pay you this much money, you'll drive my car, we'll win races. It was just that simple.
As my attorney was sitting there, we had been in some pretty heavy negotiations with some others at the time, my attorney looked over and Junior and said, One last thing, I need to ask you something. What are you going to do for DW if he wins the championship? Junior never batted an eye. Had on a little pair of half glasses. He looked over the top of them, I'll tell you what I'm going to do to him if he don't (laughter).
That was part of the big deal about driving for Junior. Of course, everybody knew he had the best car in the sport. Cale had won three consecutive championships in it. I was chomping at the bit to get in that car. Can you imagine that one of your biggest rivals would come to you and say that, Junior wants to hire you. That's what Cale Yarborough did for me.
He came to me in 1980. He said, I'm going to leave Junior. He wants to hire you. If you're smart, you'll find out a way to get in that car because you'll win a lot of races and a lot of money. I wasn't that smart, but I did figure out how to get that done. The rest is pretty much history.
I go to the shop for the first time out behind his house. I have this vision that it would be a factory, like 'garage-mahal,' like what some of the shops are today. It's not. Just a little shop behind Junior's house. I had a vision of hundreds of employees. But it wasn't. Only 10 or 15. I walked through the shop. I looked around and I said, Hammond was with me, I said, Who built that? Hammond, where did that come from? Who thought of that? Who is the mastermind behind all this stuff? Hammond said, Junior Johnson.
I looked out down the hill. There was a man with a pair of bib overalls on, a mule and a plow, plowing his garden. I said, Hammond, is that Junior Johnson?
That was Junior Johnson.
I said, Why would he plow his garden with a mule when he has a brand-new tractor over here? But that's who Junior was. Junior was a simple man, but he had an amazing mind. He was a genius. He could look at something, take something, feel it, could watch it work, and he could make it better.
Junior, he could improvise. He created the bootleg turn. Now, I didn't have any idea that he was the first guy that ever did that. Do you know what a bootleg turn is? Oh, c'mon. A bootleg turn is when you're flying down the highway with a load of shine in the back and the road is blocked and you got to get going the other direction in a pretty big hurry.
So Junior learned when he saw that happen, he locked that thing down, turned it around 180 degrees, head back the other way. That became known as the bootleg turn.
Junior also, when he went to Daytona, he had a car that was not as fast as everybody else's. Junior didn't like that. Junior never liked to have a car that was not faster than everybody else's. On this particular occasion, had to figure out a way to hang with the guys that were faster than him.
He learned about the draft. Junior Johnson, the thing that we all use today to huge advantages, Junior Johnson discovered the draft at Daytona.
Junior was an innovator. He always thought outside of the box. The things that he did were first. Let me tell you, if you want to make Junior Johnson happy, just do something first before anybody else does.
Junior was not a follower. Junior was a leader. When NASCAR said they were going to have the awards banquet in New York. It wasn't a matter of if we win the championship, we will win the championship and we will sit at that head table in 1981.
So many other things that Junior did. He has a highway named after him. He's not in this hall just because he's a great driver with 50 wins, but he's also a great car owner. Most of us probably know him best as a car owner. But he's also an intelligent, great businessman.
Junior Johnson is a humble man. I don't think I ever heard him brag on himself. Just always telling other people what they should do and how they should do it. If they did it his way, they'd be successful like him.
He's been a great friend of mine. I can't imagine, my six years of driving for Junior define my career.
I'll tell you a quick story. This is kind of like after the fact. But I left up there and I went to drive for Rick. Somebody asked me what it was like to get out of Junior's car and get in Rick's car. I said, Shucks, that's like getting off a mule and getting on a thoroughbred. They went back and told Junior what I said. Junior said, I don't know nothing about that. Had a jackass up here and I ran him off. That was Junior Johnson.
The other thing, after I started my own team, and this is why when he tells you I get the last word you have to be really careful, but when I had my own team, somebody asked Junior how he thought I'd do. He said, Well, he finally got an owner as smart as a driver.
The Junior Johnson stories go on and on and on. The man is quick-witted, lots of one-liners. I don't know if this is appropriate or not, but he looks better to me today than he did when I was driving for him. He really looks in great shape. He's got his young son over here, Robert. He says he wants to get back in racing. Brian, sorry, brother, but if he does, you got your hands full. That's all I can tell you.
Lisa, Meredith, Robert, what do you say we take a look at a video about Junior.
DARRELL WALTRIP: Before I bring Winston up. This is priceless. I got to share it with you. I'm sitting by Robert. He said, DW, You hear about the 20 million they are offering to the SOB that can win Indy and Charlotte. What do you think about that?
He said, I'd run everybody out there for that 20 million dollars. Apples don't roll too far from the tree.
It's my privilege to bring up the executive director of the NASCAR Hall of Fame Winston Kelley.
WINSTON KELLEY: Got to be somewhere to put a dollar bill changer.
Good afternoon, thank you very much for that kind introduction. Since taking this position nearly four years ago, I've had so many incredible experiences getting to work with and honor my childhood heroes like Petty, Johnson, Pearson, Allison, Jarrett and many more. Those of you who know me know I'm very seldom speechless. Those of you who work with me wish I were a bit more often.
I was completely speechless, however, but incredibly humbled and honored the day that Lisa and Junior Johnson asked me to do the induction of the next honoree. There may be many of you who worked more closely with Junior over the years than I, there are none that have any more admiration for Junior than I do.
I'm not here today as the executive director of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. But I'm here as one of you, one of the fans, and someone from within the industry who has an incredible appreciation for all that Junior Johnson has done for the sport of NASCAR.
Following the selection of this year's class, the debates over who got in and who did not permeated all forms of the media, debates that will no doubt occur and continue each and every year. There was clearly no right or no wrong in selecting from so many deserving nominees.
Following the selections, one person's perspective on this class was that this class is about what these people did for NASCAR as well as what they did in NASCAR. And Junior's contributions both for and in NASCAR are literally staggering.
In this position, I'm will not publicly discuss who I voted for out of respect for all of the nominees as each is clearly deserving and each, in my humble opinion, will eventually be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. I must say from the beginning, I believe that Junior should be in our inaugural class.
As you've seen from the video and heard from DW and others, not for one reason, but for a whole host of reasons. His prowess as a driver, as an owner, as an innovator, a selfless contributor to NASCAR is well-documented. Although Junior admittedly redirected R.J. Reynolds to NASCAR when they came to him to talk to him about sponsoring his team, it didn't stop from the good-natured needling of him stealing the sponsor, deferring to sponsor Junior's team for a few years later. While I've known and been around Junior for over 25 years, I've come to really appreciate him and his insights over the last four years.
When we wanted to provide an exhibit design team, a NASCAR 101 course, among the first we sought out were Junior and The King. He not only openly welcomed us, he actually invited us up to have breakfast. If you can picture the faces of these New York exhibit designers, in an Armani suit, that we walked into this old shop that DW talked about, Junior standing there in the overalls personally scrambling the eggs. He spent the next three hours listening, but more importantly learning. If we were learning about the piano, we clearly would have been siting with Beethoven.
Among Junior's trademarks as an owner were innovation and attention to details. Early in the project we asked him if he could provide us a small replica of a moonshine still to make the connection between moonshine runners, fast cars in the early years of racing.
Well, he proceeded to build us a full-sized still, then he personally delivered it. In January of this year, we were a bit confounded with how to connect some of the pipes. So we called Junior and requested that he perhaps talk us through it by telephone. That wasn't good enough. Instead, less than three hours later, JR shows up to connect it himself.
Again, the looks on the faces of the construction crew, if you can just imagine, they were priceless as Junior walks through this construction site with hard hat, safety vest and glasses like you may have seen earlier, a pipe wrench in hand, steps inside the exhibit to install it himself. With apologies to our great partners, these tools were not clearly ones recently purchased down the road at Lowe's. They have been around the block a time or two.
I must admit that I mistakenly told people that this still doesn't work. I must clarify that. It's just not currently operational. I have been advised by the master itself that it would work with a little bit of fire and maybe a little bit of mash.
I follow up about how to describe Junior Johnson. There's so many words: champion, winner, innovator, leader. If I had to start with a couple, I would start with genuine. Webster's describes genuine as free from pretense or hypocrisy. Then I would go to authentic, which Webster's says is true to one's own personality, spirit, or character. I can think of no better way to describe our next inductee than genuine, authentic, and sincere.
At this time I would like to ask a very special person to join me on stage who will introduce his father as our next NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee. If you would please join me in welcoming to the stage Junior's son Robert Glenn Johnson, III.
ROBERT GLENN JOHNSON, III: Thank you. It is an honor to be here with my dad, celebrating his induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. It's great to see him being recognized for all of his accomplishments in racing.
And to all of you racers out there that have raced for or with my dad, you know there are two rules to follow when around him. Rule number one, he's always right. Rule number two, if he's ever wrong, just refer back to rule number one.
I would just like to finish by saying that although my father may be going into the NASCAR Hall of Fame today, he's always been a Hall of Fame dad in my heart. Please join me in welcoming our next inductee, my father, Junior Johnson.
On this day, May 23rd, 2010, it is my honor and privilege to induct my dad, Junior Johnson, into the NASCAR Hall of Fame and present this Hall of Fame inductee ring.
I love you, Dad.
JUNIOR JOHNSON: Well, I was up here with two, and now I'm by myself.
You know, I've come along with a lot of people that I had things that didn't go right between us and stuff like that. But talking about Bill, Jr., we were in a clash, but then it was the best friends you ever been with anybody. He would invite you to go get a sandwich.
I have to say that what he meant to the sport and what he brought to the table, it didn't make no difference if he was right or wrong, it was his way. And he didn't try to make you believe what he thought. He would just tell you what he thought. He wasn't going to do this, he wasn't going to do that, he would do it, stuff like that.
Big Bill, I always had a good relationship with him also. In fact, you know, I've had relationships where I would hear somebody was wanting to get into racing, stuff of that nature, sponsor the races and stuff. I'd tell him about it. He'd go get 'em.
He needed the motor companies in the sport. If I got an in to them where I could do the stuff I needed to do to race, I'd tell him, he would need to go court them a little bit and bring the whole thing in. We did that on several people: Ford, General Motors. I never did work with Chrysler. That was Richard Petty's stuff. I didn't fool with it.
You know, I had Oldsmobile, Pontiac, all those people I could go talk to, get them to do stuff for the sport. When I was first starting to drive, I run a race or two, I'd get back into my whiskey business, making money I need to run another race or two (laughter).
One time I was down at Atlanta. I was at the Holiday Inn. I hadn't raced in three or four races. Big Bill came down and sat at the table. I sat down and ordered my breakfast. He come over and sit down and said, Junior, I want to talk to you. I want you to run all the races, and you're committed to run all the races. I sit there and thought a minute. I looked down at my plate. I had bacon and eggs on my plate. I said, No, Bill, I ain't committed to racing. For instance, I'll tell you how it works. Look at my plate when I'm telling you. I said the hen that laid that egg was involved. The hog that that bacon come off from was committed (laughter).
Every time I'd see them from then on, he said, Are you committed or are you involved? Sometimes he would catch me cheating. I said, Now, I'm just involved, I ain't committed. He would burn me up, let me go. I'd take off and do something else. I had a great relationship with both of them. I wasn't trying to fight them for what they were doing. I tried to help them. I think I got more out of it, telling you the honest to God's truth.
Talking about the race like you ran last night. Me and Jerry, we would meet once a week out at the steakhouse. Jerry, he's kind of a gung-ho type of person that wanted to do something special for racing. He would get me and Roush out there. Both of them would get about two-thirds high. I would sit there and argue with them. He wanted us to come in with something that would excite racing. Me and Roush figured out, we just kept talking and talking about it, then we come back. That's how that race was put in gear with me and Roush and Jerry.
Like going to New York. We was down at Daytona. The air-conditioning went out wherever we were at. Jerry was sitting there. He pulled his coat off. He was sweating, he was hot really when the air-conditioning went off. I said, Let's move this place somewhere where they got air-conditioning. He said, Y'all come up with a place and we'll move it. That's how we got to New York. That's a true story also.
But I thought it helped racing. It took us a lot farther in the sport to be in New York. You want to promote anything, you really need to go to New York to do it.
In all respect, my family is over here, Lisa, Meredith, Robert is the greatest thing that ever happened to me. Being inducted into this Hall of Fame, it could never, never do anything I appreciate anymore. With that I'll just thank you. Glad to be a part of this Hall of Fame. Thank you.
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