NOTEBOOK: Junior Johnson Has His Night

FAST FRIENDS: Eldora Speedway owner Tony Stewart and Eldora Speedway founder Earl Baltes pose together at the banquet for the Ohio dirt track. (Rich Sherer Photo)

HARRISBURG, N.C. — Junior Johnson was the guest of honor at the annual North Carolina Motorsports Ass’n banquet Friday in Concord, N.C. After being recognized with a video tribute and an impromptu roast featuring stories from writer Tom Higgins, historian Buz McKim, driver Jimmy Spencer and track promoter Humpy Wheeler, Johnson took the stage and talked about what he called “a great life.” Having made his name running moonshine and now producing his own brand of vodka (Junior Johnson’s Midnight Moon), Johnson was always exploring the gray areas of NASCAR’s rulebook. “I put more into racing by doing the things that nobody else could figure out,” Johnson said. “They called it cheating. I called it innovation and I innovated a lot of stuff.” Johnson, who was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2010, also talked about fielding a NASCAR late-model team for his son Robert Johnson, Jr. this season. “My son is starting to get into racing a little bit and I am going to help him. I think he is going to have the best damn race car there.”

In presenting an NCMA Industry Award to North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway, former Penske Racing General Manager Don Miller spoke for most NASCAR racing fans. “If we had a couple more Wilkesboros and Bristols, it [NASCAR racing] would be a hell of a lot more interesting than it is.”

Among those seen at the NCMA banquet were NCMA Chairman and Rockingham (N.C.) Dragway owner Steve Earwood, Rockingham Speedway owner Andy Hillenburg, former sprint-car racer Perry Tripp, longtime NSSN friend and Richard Childress Racing PR executive David Hart, Charlotte Motor Speedway Vice President of Communications Scott Cooper and zMAX Dragway General Manager Christian Byrd, elected officials Karen Ray and Beverly Earl, Bowman-Gray Stadium’s Gray Garrison, drag racer Doug Herbert and the night’s emcee NASCAR Hall of Fame Director Winston Kelly.

NASCAR President Mike Helton believes that fans and critics alike should remember that the folks who work in and govern auto racing are also its fans. “One of the things we might have overlooked for a while is that we’re all fans,” Helton said during testing this past week at Daytona Int’l Speedway. “Everybody in this room in some form or fashion is a fan of NASCAR, and not NASCAR as a company but NASCAR as a lifestyle or a sport. The guys in the garage area are fans. They got in it because they like to be competitive, whether it’s a driver or a crew member or a guy on pit road that’s changing tires. They’re energized to get into it from being a fan.” He’s right, you know.

Former Indianapolis 500 winner Sam Hornish, Jr. is without a full-time ride this season. Hornish plans to run 10 NASCAR Nationwide Series races for Penske Racing with which he had driven the past three Sprint Cup seasons. Hornish told the Indianapolis Star that he would like to run the Indy 500, but that no good rides are currently available. Interestingly, Hornish told the Star he doesn’t need to race for a living as he, his wife Crystal and two daughters are on sound financial ground. “I want to race,” Hornish told the Star. “It’s not that I need to.”