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NASCAR Loses It’s ‘First Lady’

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, April 14 2020

The woman behind the men of Junior Johnson’s race teams passes away last week. (Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Four days before Easter NASCAR lost one of its icons – Flossie Johnson.

She never drove a race car, but there were more important business decisions made in her kitchen than any board room that was privy to the sport of stock car racing. Everyone who worked for Junior Johnson and Associates was just as welcomed at her dining table as were the sport’s VIPs. 

Her ranch-style house sitting atop a hill in Ronda, N.C., always had a manicured lawn and beautiful blooming flowers. The driveway leading to the house from Somers Road wound passed a peaceful pasture where cattle often grazed. A gazebo in the backyard beckoned to anyone wanting to relax with a homemade milkshake at the end of a hard day’s work. Bricks comprising the fireplace just inside the front door were rescued from a former school in the county. A grandfather clock chimed the time and books lined the shelves in her homey kitchen. 

The race shop where championship cars were prepared for Cale Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip was just a few steps from the kitchen door. No one needed a place to go for lunch because there was Flossie’s kitchen. Flossie was a warm, congenial woman, who never strayed from her farm girl roots. Frequently referred to as “The First Lady of NASCAR”, she also was as tough as nails and possessed a down-home business savvy that always gave her the upper hand.

Race weekends at North Wilkesboro Speedway were special because there was a breakfast spread on Saturday morning that lasted for hours. First the crew was served since they had to eat before the track’s garage opened. Next up for an unbelievable breakfast were the drivers, media and corporate executives. No one ever lacked for bacon, scrambled eggs, biscuits, cooked apples, sausage, gravy and homemade jams and jellies as Flossie kept preparing the items in her kitchen. In the house’s downstairs kitchen, then husband Junior Johnson cooked country ham and pork loin. 

Flossie eventually put together two cookbooks at the urging of long-time friend Kathy Virtue. The recipes aren’t fancy, but, dang, they’re good. And why shouldn’t they be? Flossie had been cooking since she was a little girl, standing on a chair to reach the pots and pans. The first book published in 1992 was “Flossie’s Favorites.” Ten years later there was “Flossie’s Favorites Too”. It was dedicated to her mother and included a photo of Flossie with team owner Richard Childress, Sterling Marlin, Terry Labonte and Bill Elliott, all who once had business ties with the famous Ingle Hollow-based race team.

After Flossie and Junior divorced, she continued to attend the NASCAR Cup Awards banquets with Jane Allen, whose husband once worked for Johnson. The shop behind her home remained untouched, but she converted the one across the creek at the foot of the hill into a meeting hall that hosted wedding receptions and other events, including a Christmas party and a birthday party annually. She also volunteered each year at the Main Stage dining area at Wilkes Community College’s Merlefest in Wilkesboro, N.C. 

Flossie and Junior never had any birth children, but as far as she and everyone who knew her were concerned she had more children and grandchildren than anyone could count. She “adopted” everyone who came into her life, sat at her kitchen table and shared a meal. Flossie taught be the best place to purchase water-wheel ground corn meal and gave me insight into some of the biggest deals in racing. After all, those deals were finalized in her kitchen. But the best gift she gave me was her friendship and a wise approach to life that only country folk possess. Perhaps she said it best in her first cookbook when she wrote: “Sharing a meal means sharing of self. To take time for others is an intimate celebration of life.”

And Flossie Johnson – The First Lady of NASCAR – always celebrated life. 

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, April 14 2020
One Comment

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  • Brian Skeens says:

    I was introduced to NASCAR by neighbors who took me to Bristol in 1983. They were diehard Waltrip / Johnson fans who pledged their allegiance every single time they could! As a result, I immediately pulled for ANYONE else and joined the legion of people who despised Darrell! In hind sight, I see as NASCAR changed, so did my allegiance. As new owners and drivers began to steal the spotlight, my heart soften to Waltrip and Johnson as their dominance faltered. By the end of their careers, I was actually rooting for them. In 1991 I moved to Boone, NC. Only about 30 min. from Ingles Hollow. For many years, I drove through Wilkes County without evening knowing how to get to Junior’s. It wasn’t until the fall of 2015, I got interested knowing what (if anything), was left of the old race shops. I wrote a letter to Flossie asking to come visit. To my delight, she called back and I still have the voice message she left inviting me down. I met Flossie at her front door thinking it would be a short tour of the shops, but she insisted I come in and sit and talk and get to know each other. She placed me at the head of the big table (in her kitchen), and we talked for over two hours about our family’s, our faith, her break-up with Junior and just life. She took me on a tour of the house and through all the building where all those race cars were built. I spent almost 4 hours with her before I left to go home. Flossie was every bit as down to earth, yet regal, as anyone I’ve ever met. When I left, I couldn’t help but feel ashamed of myself for those adolescent boo’s and wishes for Junior and Darrell to fail. Considering how inviting and warmly she treated me, I’ve concluded Flossie was Junior Johnson Racing’s, ‘home field advantage’. By more than just one account, their are countless stories of how she ‘mothered’ the crewmen, fed them each day, and not at the shop, but her own kitchen table. She unified them as family, not employee’s. In fact, I don’t think it’s coincidence the race teams failed shortly after the marriage and her separation from the business. I’ve been hearing Flossie referred to as, ‘The First Lady of NASCAR’. Maybe that’s true or something that others could debate. I just know this. Flossie Johnson, if nothing else, was indeed, a lady. R.I.P. Flossie.