Son Of A Moonshiner
Born Robert Glenn Johnson in 1930 in Ingle Hollow, Wilkes County, North Carolina, Junior Johnson learned how to drive when he was only eight or nine years old. By the time he was fourteen, he was making bootleg liquor deliveries in his father's pickup truck. His father, Robert Johnson, owned and operated what was considered the largest copper stills in North Carolina. "My dad was in the bootleg business and I was pretty much into it myself at that particular time," he told Andy Clendennen of The Sporting News. "I had two brothers and all three of us was [sic] helping him on the farm and helping him in the moonshine business.… Everybody we'd grown up with was doing the same thing we was and we didn't really think basically it was against the law as far as we was concerned, because everybody was doing it," he told Clendennen. While running illegal corn liquor across the mountain roads of North Carolina, Johnson often was chased by local law enforcement agents. His evasive driving abilities, however, became legendary, and he was never caught as long as he was behind the wheels of his souped-up Oldsmobiles and Chevrolets. It was during this spell that Johnson invented and perfected what became known as the "bootleg turn," a 180-degree turn implemented by dropping the vehicle into second gear and jarring the steering wheel to the left.
The family business resulted in other altercations with the law. In 1956, a federal raid of the Johnson home seized the largest inland cache of illegal whiskey in U.S. history. Johnson himself was foiled when legal officers arrested him at the site of his father's still. He was sentenced to two years in the federal reformatory at Chillicothe, Ohio, an experience that he recalled to Clendennen: "I learned a lot of discipline, and to listen to people and evaluate their ideas and stuff I didn't do that before I went there. I learned that you had to do what you was supposed to do when you was doing something for somebody else, and of course in there you was always doing something for the prison system. Obedience is a great thing if you take it and use it in the right direction, and I learned a lot in that respect." He was released after eleven months, and turned the majority of his efforts toward stock car racing.