Friday, July 11, 2008

Who is Junior Johnson?

Posted By on Fri, Jul 11, 2008 at 9:35 PM

click to enlarge JJPressConfCar.jpg

The more you know about NASCAR the more likely you are to know who Junior Johnson is. A former moonshiner and bootlegger, he went legit not with booze but in NASCAR racing. He’s one of the sport’s early legends and after his retirement from driving in 1966 went on to hire a slew of famous drivers to race his cars (including Bobby Allison, Cale Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip). And he’s still coasting on the fumes first generated by his still. 

Johnson’s moonshine and driving exploits were written about in Tom Wolfe’s Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby. Wolfe even hailed him as the last American hero. Johnson was a guest of Jimmy and Roselynn Carter at both the Georgia governor’s mansion and the White House. And in 1986, President Ronald Reagan issued a pardon for all his moonshining exploits.

Johnson now lives in Virginia and has a line of foods, including country ham and an array of pork skins named for him. He was recently approached by Joe Michalek, founder of Piedmont Distillers, who is producing legal moonshine in Winston Salem, N.C. He released Catdaddy Carolina Moonshine in 2005 and soon after that tinkered with Johnson’s family recipe. Michalek has targeted NASCAR fans with the brand, approved by Johnson himself with the simple words, “I’m good with that.” (It is not yet available in Louisiana, but Catdaddy is.)

Michalek will be in town for Tales of the Cocktail and his distillery is sponsoring two talks about distilling and the emerging craft-distilling movement, both on Thursday afternoon at the Hotel Moneteleone. See the Tales Web site for times and ticket information.

For more on moonshine, see Gambit Weekly’s July 15 issue, “Contrabrand” (p. 28).

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