NASCAR legend Junior Johnson had died at the age of 88. The bootlegger turned Hall of Famer known as the "Last American Hero" was revealed to have passed away by NASCAR after suffering from declining health and entering hospice earlier this week.
"Junior Johnson truly was the 'Last American Hero,' " NASCAR chairman and CEO Jim France said in a statement to ESPN. "From his early days running moonshine through the end of his life, Junior wholly embodied the NASCAR spirit. 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 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 won 50 races as a driver and, 132 races and six championships as a car owner in the organization's Cup Series. He was also one of the members of the inaugural Hall of Fame class inducted in 2010. 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, 1982 and 1985.
The publication writes Johnson's life story made him a NASCAR legend along with his impressive record. The driver grew up in Wilkes County, North Carolina, where he ran moonshine and worked at his father's still. After he was found working there by federal agents, he served 11 months of a two-year federal sentence following a 1956 conviction for manufacturing non-tax-paid whiskey.
The racer received a full and unconditional pardon from President Ronald Reagan in 1985.
Johnson got out of the ownership game in 1995. His Hall of Fame induction is remembered for his memorable speech.0comments
"This is a big, big deal to me," Johnson said during his induction. "This is probably the greatest thing that's happened to me, you know. I was really proud of the pardon that Reagan gave me, but this is ...
"You know, I'm almost speechless to even think that you could talk about, 'Well, I just went into the Hall of Fame.' It's so big, and it's so honorable that you just don't know how it feels to be selected as one of the first five people."