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Woody: Will Junior Johnson’s Son Also Rise?

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, January 7 2011

Junior Johnson is helping to launch the driving career of son Robert. Don't bet against them. (Photo by RacingOne/Getty Images)

By Larry Woody | Senior Writer

Junior Johnson is generally credited with the classic quip: “Know how to make $1 million in racing? Start with $2 million.”

A lot of folks who stumbled into the sport with illusions of grandeur over the years would have been wise to have heeded Junior’s advice. More men have gone bust trying to strike it rich in racing than all the old Klondike gold prospectors in history.

Yet apparently Johnson is defying his own logic – and at the worst possible time, economically – by getting back in the “racin’ bidness.”

According to a story on SPEED.com by Mike Hembree, Junior is in the process of hiring several employees for the Junior Johnson Racing team he is building on the family farm in Hamptonville, N.C.

Junior plans to field cars for his 17-year-old son Robert.

Robert, a high school junior, has often expressed interest in following in the tire tracks of his Hall of Fame father and has already run some lower-level races.

If it were anyone else I’d say this is a classic case of a doting dad letting his heart over-rule his head. But Junior Johnson is not anyone else. He knows what he’s doing.

During his driving days, Johnson was as good as there was, and became equally successful as a team owner. Junior was tough and competitive as driver and shrewd and businesslike as an owner. That’s a hard combination to beat – and few did.

I’ve always been a Junior Johnson admirer. I agree with Tom Wolfe who immortalized Junior in the famous Esquire article tiled “The Last American Hero.”

Forget Junior’s Snuffy Smith façade. He can look, talk and act like a backwoods mountaineer

Robert Johnson and his Hall of Fame father, Junior. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images for NASCAR)

when he wants to, but beneath the act he’s as money-smart as a Wall Street banker and as marketing-shrewd as a New York advertising executive. Remember who brought R.J. Reynolds Tobacco to NASCAR, opening up a gold mind that forever changed the sport? Junior Johnson, that’s who.

Don’t let the hounds-on-the-porch routine fool you; Junior is city-slicker savvy.

Even though he’s been out of the sport for sometime, I suspect that Johnson hasn’t forgotten what it takes to woo corporate sponsors and make cars go fast. Just because a beagle rests under a shade tree for awhile doesn’t mean he forgets how to chase a rabbit.

I say all that to say this: if Junior decides to get back into NASCAR on a serious basis – and if Robert inherited his dad’s driving talent and competitiveness – Hendrick, Roush, Gibbs, Childress and other bullies of the block better look out. There’ll be a new kid in town.

Granted, that’s looking fairly far down the road. According to Hembree, Robert plans to run the K&N All Pro Series this season, along with some Late Model races. If things go well he expects to move on up in the ranks.

Right now Dale Earnhardt Jr. is carrying the legacy of a legend, bridging racing generations and anchoring the sport’s Southern roots. Imagine the impact if the son of another legend – the immortal Junior Johnson – rolls out at Daytona some day?

That time may a long way off – if ever. But don’t you get goosebumps just thinking about it?

– Larry Woody can be reached at lwoody@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, January 7 2011
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