Junior Johnson’s Daytona 500 Legacy
Written by 'Midnight Moon Moonshine' on Legacy
Junior Johnson’s 1960 Daytona 500 win changed the world of NASCAR forever. He was the first to invent and win with a technique called drafting, which still dominates superspeedway racing today.
As the Daytona 500 approaches, it time to crack open a jar of Junior Johnson’s inspired Midnight Moon Moonshine, take a sip, and relive Junior Johnson’s 1960 Daytona 500 win. Johnson’s win in Daytona Beach is legendary for many reasons, though the largest takeaway still in use today is drafting.
The rich history behind the Daytona 500 race has fans touting it as the “NASCAR Super Bowl.” However, rather than being the season finisher, the Daytona 500 kicks off the NASCAR season every February at the Daytona International Speedway. Winning at Daytona is about more than the money – it’s about the prestige, honor and making history.
Junior Johnson played a large role in the Daytona 500’s legacy, both as a driver and a team owner. He won the second ever Daytona 500 race by drafting and led his team to victory after he retired.
Junior Johnson’s Contributions to the Daytona 500
Junior’s selection into the inaugural NASCAR Hall of Fame class underscores how much Junior Johnson contributed to NASCAR throughout his career. This inaugural class included NASCAR legends, Bill France, Sr., Bill France, Jr., Richard Petty, and Dale Earnhardt. While Junior’s contributions to the sport run deep, racing history sees the 1960 Daytona 500 race as a major turning point in the sport.
Junior Johnson Drafting His Way to Victory in a Chevy
In a world where Pontiac had the fastest cars on the track, Junior Johnson’s Chevy was a iron workhorse, but not extraordinarily fast. Junior Johnson knew he needed an advantage to keep up with the faster cars, but he felt confident his Chevrolet could last the full 500 miles.
As he was driving behind the faster cars, Johnson discovered he could slide-in right behind the faster cars and draft inches off of their back bumpers, allowing him to keep up with the faster pace without overworking his engine and then slingshot out to pass them when the time was right. He didn’t call it drafting then, but he explained how he won and was credited with inventing the technique and for being the first NASCAR driver to win a race implementing it.
Funny enough, Johnson claims to have “stolen” the win from Bobby Johns as opposed to having won the race of his own accord. A gust of wind unrelated to any drafting threw off Johns’ car, and he spun out. Johnson, who consistently used his newly discovered drafting technique to keep him close to the lead, was able to maintain his lead after Johns’ setback and crossed the finish line first.
While Johnson’s drafting technique gave way to one of the most significant advances in NASCAR history, Chevy didn’t have another winner in the Daytona International Speedway until 1975.
Junior Johnson & Associates
Junior Johnson’s win in 1960 didn’t end his legacy at the Daytona 500. When he transitioned into owning teams, Junior Johnson & Associates won two more races in Daytona. In 1969, LeeRoy Yarbrough won in a Ford, and in 1977, Cale Yarborough won in a Chevy.
Fast forward six decades and the cars might not look the same, but the Daytona 500 has only grown in prestige and popularity. So, as you prepare for The Great American Race, make sure to grab a jar of Junior’s Midnight Moon moonshine, crank it open and raise a toast to the Last American Hero, the legendary Junior Johnson, in honor of all he’s done for NASCAR.