Thursday, October 7, 2010

Junior Johnson’s Midnight Moon

Junior Johnson autographing bottles of Midnight Moon
Junior Johnson was born ‘Robert Glenn Johnson, Junior’ on June 28, 1931. Although he is better known as a NASCAR superstar of the ‘50s and 60’s, many have forgotten that Junior Johnson was first a moonshiner from the rural south.

Running shining in North Carolina developed his driving expertise and the local police cruisers were never able to catch him as he was delivering moonshine to the family’s customers. In fact, Johnson is credited with inventing the "bootleg turn," in which a driver escapes a pursuer by sharply putting his speeding car into a 180-degree turn on the highway, then speeding off in the opposite direction before his pursuer can turn around.

After his first season as a NASCAR driver (1955), federal tax agents arrested Junior Johnson for working at his father's still in Wilkes County. He was convicted of moonshining and was sent to the federal prison where he served eleven months of a two-year sentence. *

Junior returned to the NASCAR scene full-time in 1958, and the rest is NASCAR history. From his very first race in 1953 to his retirement in 1966, Johnson participated in 313 races with 50 wins, 46 poles and 148 top-ten finishes. Johnson is also credited with discovering the now common tactic of “drafting.”

Coming full circle, in May 2007, Piedmont Distillers, a folksy distillery in North Carolina, and Junior Johnson teamed up to introduce a product, called Midnight Moon. “We called it Midnight Moon, because, we would always move our moonshine after midnight,” Mr. Johnson explained.

It was my honor to meet Junior Johnson before a bottle signing in Temecula, California. “The original family recipe was 100 proof,” Junior Johnson recalled, “we had to tone it down a bit . . . . Midnight Moon is triple stilled to remove all impurities and is 80 proof.”

Junior Johnson’s southern charm revealed itself quickly. Who was his favorite driver as a team owner? “Junior Johnson,” he stated with a charming smile and no hesitation, “Running that moonshine gave me the more driving experience over the other fellows.”

To all the young NASCAR Drivers, Mr. Johnson offered this advice, “Treat your fellow drivers with respect and drive clean.”

Junior Johnson’s Awards:
  • He was named one of NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998.

  • He was inducted in the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1991.

  • Johnson joined N.C. greats Michael Jordan, Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty by having a stretch of highway named in his honor in 2004. An 8.5.-mile (13.7 km) stretch of U.S. Highway 421 from the Yadkin and Wilkes county line to the Windy Gap exit is named "Junior Johnson Highway."

  • He was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on May 23, 2010.

*On December 26, 1986, President Ronald Reagan granted Johnson a presidential pardon for his 1956 Moonshining Conviction.

NASCAR Race Mom and Junior Johnson

A personal taste of Junior Johnson’s Midnight Moon confirmed an ultra-smooth quality that was very pleasing to the palate. Midnight Moon, with its unique flavor is great alternative to vodka. Be sure to purchase your own bottle of NASCAR antiquity on your next visit to your local grocery story.

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