Junior Johnson, NASCAR Hall of Famer and former moonshiner, dies at 88

NASCAR Hall of Famer Junior Johnson has died at 88

Junior Johnson, a moonshiner turned NASCAR legend, has died at the age of 88, according to NASCAR's official website.

Born 1931 as Robert Glenn Johnson Jr.in Wilkes County in North Carolina, the NASCAR legend honed his racing talents in his early years through transporting untaxed whiskey in hopped-up cars.

Johnson won 50 races at a driver, including the 1960 Daytona 500, and six top-level championships as an owner.

"Junior Johnson truly was the 'Last American Hero, ' " NASCAR chairman and CEO Jim France said in a statement.

Johnson had been in declining health and had entered hospice care prior to his death, according to the racing association.

In fact, NASCAR owes Johnson much of his success, as he negotiated the deal between the series and R.J. Reynolds for sponsoring the "Winston Cup" title in the 1970s, which finally ended in 2003.

France's statement concluded, "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 hard time". He was named one of NASCAR's 50 greatest drivers in 1998. "What a Legend. Rest easy Junior", two-time Daytona 500 victor Dale Earnhardt Jr., son of the late hall of famer Dale Earnhardt, said on Twitter.

In 2010, Johnson was a member of the inaugural NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee class.

He was taken ill early this week - Johnson suffered from Alzheimer's - and submitted to hospital, before passing away on Friday December 20.

As an owner, Johnson won three consecutive championships with driver Cale Yarborough from 1976 to 1978 and three more championships with Darrell Waltrip in 1981, '82 and '85.

Johnson retired after the 1966 season and remained active as a auto owner in the sport. "His mountain man drawl and tricks were legendary", former race promoter Humpy Wheeler said. In the 1950s, he began racing in the fledgling NASCAR Grand National Series (now Cup Series).

Johnson never ran a full schedule in his NASCAR driving days. Johnson even spent a year in prison after he was arrested for having an illegal still.

Although a lifelong Democrat, Johnson was pardoned by Reagan.

Growing up, Robert Glenn Johnson Jr. was involved in the alcohol business, producing whiskey and participating in bootlegging, the latter of which were the seeds of stock vehicle racing.

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