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Junior Johnson: Take Two? Meet Junior Jr.

  Junior Johnson: He's always done it his way....whether NASCAR liked it or not. Now his son wants a shot at racing (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   Ol' Junior Johnson, in his heyday, wasn't really one of NASCAR's favorites, and he wore his outlaw status like a badge.
   But now that he's a legend without a car, retired to his Yadkin County (NC) farm, he's suddenly back in NASCAR's good graces.
   Sort of an elder statesman, a link back to the hard-scrabble basics of the sport...and maybe some of those fans who have felt abandoned by the new waves of the sport's marketers.
   And maybe there's something else at play here: while accurate stats are hard to come by, according to one report the demographics of NASCAR's fans has been changing, and the average age has climbed significantly over the last few years to about 43 now. And according to a report, the fastest growing segment of this sport's fans are 45-to-54 and 65-and-over.
   If those reports are accurate, well, what to make of it?
   Well, first, maybe some NASCAR fans still remember the Ronda Roadrunner, The Last American Hero. (And can you believe that Jeff 'Crazy Heart' Bridges was the guy who played Junior in the movie?)
   Last fall Johnson, who is in every Hall of Fame NASCAR has, was given the royal treatment at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
   And here Sunday Johnson was again toasted, and given the Grand Marshal's hat.

  Ah, back when men were men in NASCAR, and just staying alive on Sunday was a hard job at times: Junior Johnson (R) and Big Bill France Sr. (L) (Photo: Ford)

   It's been a long time since Johnson ran his first race, over in Darlington, S.C., in 1953....his first win (1955, Hickory, N.C.)...his first superspeedway victory (1960, Daytona)....50 tour wins as a driver, 132 wins as a team owner...
   Since retiring and selling his team in 1995, Johnson's life has become much more mellow.
   But that may be about to change. His son, Robert Glenn Johnson III, has started racing.
   And the prospect of a Junior Jr., well, could be some marketing there.
   "The first time I watched him race, to be honest, it scared me to death, the way he was scooting in there beside people," Johnson was saying moments before the start of the Daytona 500.
   "I had no idea he'd be able to run like that.
   "But he's a good, level-headed boy, very smart. And won five races last year, in Sportsman...and never been in a car. And he'd have won two more if he hadn't gotten wrecked.
   "But that's the experience you have to go through in this sport.
   "I think he's got a great mindset to do good in racing, if he wants to go that way."
    Johnson is moving III up to UARA (United Auto Racing Association) this season (opening March 13th at Hickory). "I'll bring him along all the way through lower class racing, up to the big-time stuff.
  "I'm not going to rush him. He's got to do it year by year. I'm going to take him to school."
   And when you get schooled by Junior Johnson, well, they didn't call his championship operation the University of Ronda for nothing. Just ask Cale Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip...



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  The Robert Glenn Johnsons, Jr. and III (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

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