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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Junior Johnson, June 4, 1988. Interview C-0053. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Stock car racing in the 1950s

Johnson talks about what it was like to be a stock car racer during the 1950s, before NASCAR became a huge commercial industry in the South. He explains that there were very few sponsors, that racetracks tended to be made from dirt, and that drivers were driven by competitive spirit.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Junior Johnson, June 4, 1988. Interview C-0053. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

PETE DANIEL:
Well, I think anybody that is going back and study the early days of racing, would kind of be interested in what kind of an operation those early racing days were, back in the '50s. That is, did people have, I know they didn't have the support they do today but what kind of support did they have? Did you have a garage, you have a sponsor, or anything like that?
JUNIOR JOHNSON:
Well, it was a rarity to see somebody with a sponsor. What you'd do, you would get some friends and y'all would start either a race operation, or you would basically put a bunch of guys together and each guy would put x amount of dollars in it, and you'd go racing. You more or less raced because you wanted to. You couldn't afford to, and you couldn't make no money out of it. It was just basically because you wanted to.
PETE DANIEL:
Were the tracks any good back in those days?
JUNIOR JOHNSON:
Well, most of them was dirt. They pretty well proved that if you had a good enough car and a good enough driver, you could take dirt and show your talents and overcome most of the other competitors.
PETE DANIEL:
Driving on dirt must be a lot different than driving on a track like this.
JUNIOR JOHNSON:
Yes, it takes a lot of, a different style or type of driving. You broadside a car quite a bit when you're running dirt. When you're running asphalt, you basically have to take a car down in the corner, and kind a finesse it through the corner to keep it from getting sideways or doing anything like that. On dirt you run it sideways all the time.
PETE DANIEL:
I think I saw you drive in '57 or so, '56. I grew up in a little town close to Wilson, North Carolina. Ya'll were at the Wilson fairgrounds, and I'm pretty sure you were there.
JUNIOR JOHNSON:
I run Wilson a lot. It was a good dirt track, and it put on a good show.
PETE DANIEL:
You ever think about the influence that you and all those people you were driving with had on people like me who would come to races. You ever think about what we thought of you?
JUNIOR JOHNSON:
Well, not so much back in the early days. It was basically trying to prove to the other drivers that you was a better driver than they was, and you could outdrive them. The fans back then weren't, you know, they weren't figuring in what we do today, back then. Cause today the fans are what brings us to the race track, what supplies the money to pay the bills. The fans are basically our financing. Back then, they weren't so much because we was doing it for the fun of it, more than anything else. And we didn't need financing much. We just, all we needed was a place for somebody to say, "Just come and race," and we'd go. [Laughter]
PETE DANIEL:
Well, just to get off the subject just a little bit here, almost every book you read on the early days of stock car racing talks about not just the legendary drivers but all the hell that was raised by those drivers on Saturday night and probably during the rest of the week. Was it really that wild back in those days?
JUNIOR JOHNSON:
Well, it was because that was part of the reason that we went to the race track. You know, seeing who was the best partier was just as important almost as seeing who was the best driver. And I don't think people was partying just to see how much hell they could raise. I think it was more a way of life with them. let's go have a drink and have a good time and so on and so forth. And it grew into something that was kind a exposed. I don't know if everybody wanted it exposed or not but that's what it kind a grew into.