By 1960, Junior Johnson, a member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s inaugural class of 2010, had already been racing for seven years – and had been running moonshine for many more years than that.
For him, racing in NASCAR was still a hobby. Making and transporting illegal liquor, a family tradition begun by his father Robert Glenn Johnson, provided nearly all his family’s income.
And it was a healthy income. The elder Johnson had established what was estimated at over 1,000 stills throughout the Wilkes County, N.C., area.
“We had reached the point where we could transport our liquor in 18-wheelers if we needed to,” Johnson said. “Fact is, we did that a lot.”
Despite the sometimes lengthy hard – and clandestine – work required in the moonshine business, Johnson found the time to race. It was never enough to compete for a championship – he rarely competed on a full season’s schedule – but it was enough to become successful.
By the start of the 1958 NASCAR Cup Series season, Johnson had won five races competing on limited schedules. When the campaign began, Johnson was teamed up with car owner Paul Spaulding of Syracuse, N.Y.
During the next two seasons Johnson’s reputation as an elite stock car driver skyrocketed. He won 11 times in 55 starts, giving him 16 career victories as the 1960 season approached.
In 1959, Daytona International Speedway, the 2.5-mile, high-banked racetrack conceived and built by NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., conducted its first race. In a nail-biting finish, and one properly recorded as part of NASCAR lore, Lee Petty won by inches over Johnny Beauchamp.
In Spaulding’s No. 11 Ford, Johnson wound up 14th, 11 laps down.
Johnson eagerly anticipated another crack at Daytona. But there was a problem. After just two starts in 1960, Spaulding quit as a car owner.
And Johnson, who was scheduled to drive for Spaulding in the second annual Daytona 500, was out of a job.
“I didn’t have a ride and it looked like I wasn’t going to get one,” Johnson said. “I was gonna have to stay home.”
But something happened.
Johnson got a last-minute phone call from the established, and reputable, crew chief and mechanic Ray Fox, who asked Johnson if he would come to Daytona and drive a Chevrolet owned by John Masoni, owner of the local dog track.
Originally, Fox did not accept the task of preparing a car for Masoni. But Masoni was determined to have one in the Daytona…