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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 >>

Technological innovations, building cars, and running a race team

Johnson talks about his role in the evolution of NASCAR, first as a driver and then as the owner of a racing team. Johnson retired from driving at the early age of 31, having accomplished his racing goals. At that point, he shifted his focus to building cars and running his own race team. His comments here are revealing of the ways in which the race car industry was changing, partly due to technological innovations.

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, you retired at what would be a relatively young age for a driver. You want to explain that a little bit.
JUNIOR JOHNSON:
Well, the biggest reason I retired when I did, I'd won all the super speedways that we had on our circuit at the time that I retired. And I'd won all the other, you know, basically half mile and mile race tracks that we had. For me to keep racing when I'd win another race, I was duplicating what I'd already done, and it wasn't long 'til I lost interest in it. And I had a real good opportunity to get off in the car owner field of the thing and make much, much more money doing that than I was driving. So when that opportunity came along, and already having won most all the races that I could win, I felt like, and I still feel that way, that I made a good decision by retiring. I had never got hurt up in a car to the extent that I was broke up and banged up, and I had accomplished what I set out to accomplish in it. I took that as success and went into another field of it. I'm glad I did. I was young when I quit but I still don't have no regrets.
PETE DANIEL:
How old were you, just for the record?
JUNIOR JOHNSON:
Thirty-four years old.
PETE DANIEL:
Well, part of what y'all learned was that safety was very important. And of course, NASCAR has a record, probably the best record in the world, for having safe cars. Did you encourage that?
JUNIOR JOHNSON:
Well, our team has been one of the most contributive, innovating team to the sport. We basically have been big innovators of a lot of the safety equipment that we have out here today. We still continue to work on safety. That's one reason, I think, we've been lucky, and we've never had a driver hurt in one of our cars. We're proud of that, cause I don't reckon anything can hurt a race team worse than having one of its drivers to get banged up or hurt up in a race car.
PETE DANIEL:
Can you just tell some of the things that you did to help safety?
JUNIOR JOHNSON:
The fuel cell that we have today is a big factor. We had a big hand in that. Our brakes that we have today, we basically helped design and build them. The wheels we have today were basically part of our influence in the sport. What we call safety hubs and stuff is, we totally invented that stuff. It's what we call a full floating hub. You can break an axle and the wheel won't come off. The real heavy, beefed up suspension is, basically, a lot of that come from us. The roll cage, safety belts and stuff, we was a big part of developing that. The cars don't have hardly anything on 'em that we weren't a part of innovating. We either did it or had a big hand in it.
PETE DANIEL:
Did they even have seat belts when you were driving?
JUNIOR JOHNSON:
Not when I first started. But it wasn't long until we had seat belts plus shoulder harnesses. And we was the first to ever run shoulder harness.
PETE DANIEL:
Well, when you started off as a car builder, were you in partnership with somebody or was this your iniative? Could you explain how you got into that?
JUNIOR JOHNSON:
Well, I always built my own cars and raced them. When I was running for Holly Farms, basically owning my own car. Every once in a while I would quit building cars and go drive for somebody else because I had things that would interfere with me building cars. I was still driving then but I still liked to build my own car. So I finally quit driving and when I quit driving, I started building my own cars, and I've been able to do that ever since.