This Week in Ford Racing: NASCAR Ford Drive to 600
January 18 2011
Ford Racing enters the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season needing only one victory to reach 600. Over the next four weeks, leading up to the Daytona 500, Ford Racing will present a weekly recap of the milestone wins and other tidbits that have helped shape the manufacturer's history in the sport. This week's feature focuses on Junior Johnson, whose win at North Wilkesboro Speedway in 1965 marked his 50th career checkered flag and Ford Racing's 200th.
Junior Johnson's Win At North Wilkesboro
Gives Ford Racing 200th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Victory
There are tracks that some drivers like to call home and then there are tracks that are home. In the case of Junior Johnson, he considered North Wilkesboro Speedway to be part of his personal backyard.
As a youngster running moonshine through the winding roads of Wilkes County in North Carolina, Johnson knew a thing or two about driving fast. And when he brought those skills to NASCAR there was one place and one place only that mattered more than any other.
"It's my home territory. I grew up around here," said Johnson recently. "The speedway was a big part of me getting into racing because with hauling moonshine like I was doing back in those days, hearing people talk about this guy outrunning that guy, I felt like I had cars that were better and faster than anybody and I sure didn't give in to anybody being a better driver than I was, so North Wilkesboro Speedway is basically a race car drivers' dream for me."
The race track opened in 1947 and hosted races for 50 years before closing after the property was sold to Bob Bahre and Bruton Smith in 1996. The facility re-opened last year to host some touring series events and is schedule for more races in 2011.
"I saw that track go through all the changes from start to finish. In fact, as they were building the thing and it kind of took shape, when they quit working in the daytime with the grating equipment, a lot of us bootleggers would slip in there and run on it until they ran us off," recalled Johnson. "They finally started putting the bulldozers across it after they would leave so we couldn't go up there and run on it, but North Wilkesboro Speedway was one of a kind. It kind of set the example for a lot of other race tracks because I could go to North Wilkesboro Speedway to set my car up and run 12 other race tracks that the combination worked on. It was a dream for me because I could set my car up for Martinsville, Richmond, Darlington - all of those kind of race tracks - and I'd go to those race tracks already set up while others had to set up for that track. I could do it just by going to North Wilkesboro, so it was a great deal for me."
Johnson ended up winning four times at the speedway, which was known for a quirky feature of having the backstretch run uphill and the frontstretch downhill, but it was the last of those that became the most memorable. The date was Oct. 3, 1965. Johnson had just come off a win at Martinsville the week before, which was his 12th of the season, but put more emphasis on winning at his home track because of a decision he had made leading up to that event.
"I pretty much made up my mind that I was gonna quit after that season and I wanted to win that race more than any other race," said Johnson. "I put a lot of effort into going up there and practicing and working on my car and changing the setup. I built A-frames and all kind of suspension parts to make sure that I had the best car that was there. I knew that was gonna be my last race. It was my hometown and I just didn't want to get beat there."
Johnson was one of only three race leaders on the day. Fred Lorenzen led 190 laps before blowing an engine on Lap 219 and Cale Yarborough held the top spot for six laps, but Johnson led the other 204 en route to a two- lap victory, which was the 50th of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Hall of Fame career and 200th in the series for Ford Racing.
"It was an emotional thing for me to defend my territory," said Johnson, who took home $4,675 for winning that day. "It was really rewarding to know that I could outsmart everybody and outdrive them at that place."
Johnson, who ranks tied for sixth with Lorenzen on the all-time Ford win list with 26, finished the 1965 season winning 13 times, and even though he drove in seven races the following season, he eventually turned his attention to becoming an owner.
"Racing was never really exciting for me. It was something that I could do and I felt like I could do it better than anybody because I'd been in it on the highways. It didn't excite me like it did other people and it was getting to be where I wanted to go into some sort of business," said Johnson. "I was working with Holly Farms and had a poultry company of my own, and I just wanted to get off and get away from it, basically. But I ended up getting more involved when I got out of the driving side of it and into the owner's side of it. I've stayed in it forever, almost.
"I got into that side of it and the more I did, the more intriguing it was as far as putting my wits against other people. That's what kept me in it so long, and then I got to where I loved to try and outsmart, outwork and beat everybody that was out there. I always got a good feeling about going to the race track and saying, 'I got you.'"
Johnson went on to win six championships as a car owner, including three consecutive with Yarborough behind the wheel from 1976-78, and was a member of the inaugural class inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame last year.
FORD FUN FACT:
There are five families who have had multiple members win a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race driving a Ford.
Ned and Dale Jarrett
Bobby, Donnie and Davey Allison
John and Mario Andretti
Richard and Kyle Petty
Buck and Buddy Baker
-source: ford racing