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Forever immortalized by Tom Wolfe’s abbreviate adventure “The Last American Hero is Junior Johnson. Yes!” appear in his book “The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine Flake Streamline Baby,” Junior Johnson, 19312019, was the prototypal NASCAR hero. We’re all acquainted NASCAR started as a abode for the actionable liquor (moonshine) runners in the Southeast to attempt adjoin anniversary added on racetracks instead of windy, clay abundance roads. Junior began as a accepted ‘shine abettor until “Big Bill” France assertive him to drive his 1940 Fords and added liquor cars at his events.
Junior was instantly one of the antecedent stars of the series, acceptable 50 NASCAR contest in the 1950s and 1960s, and activity on to run his own aggregation with drivers including Darel Dieringer, LeeRoy Yarbrough, Cale Yarbrough, Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip, Neil Bonnet, Terry Labonte, Geoff Bodine, Sterling Marlin, Jimmy Spencer, and Bill Elliott, all of whom are domiciliary names today. Junior was a affable behemothic that you didn’t appetite to blend with on the clue or off, and was so accepted that President Ronald Reagan pardoned him for his 1956 moonshining confidence (for which he did a year in prison).
Back in 2005, HOT ROD did a adventure on the ‘shine-running cars of Junior and his constant acquaintance Willie Clay Call, and we anticipation it was a acceptable time to cavalcade it again. RIP, Junior, you were absolutely one of a kind. —Rob Kinnan
From the October 2005 affair of HOT ROD: Like old thoroughbreds in their stalls at a antagonism stable, the crumbling moonshine-hauling cars of Willie Clay Call sit at the accessible in the barn abutting to his home in the Appalachian foothills of Wilkes County, North Carolina. Their rear suspensions are still ultra-stiff and accessible to burrow the weight of added than 100 gallons of white lightning that the cars would booty out of the foothills to Winston-Salem, Lexington, or added credibility east.
They delay for endless that will never appear from creek-side stills that no best exist. The barter are gone, too. The booze ability is dead—killed not so abundant by the chain of law administration as by the advance of acknowledged liquor and ABC food into ahead dry Southern states and counties. The backcountry still, an American attitude that predates the founding of the United States, has all but abolished from the ravines and hollows of the southern Appalachians.
On the border of its demise, afterwards blooming aback colonial times, the booze business went out in a bonfire of iconic celebrity and real-life ball built-in of its affiliation into addition abnormally American custom—the hot rod. Big loads, fast cars, and boxy law all came calm in the 1950s and 1960s in a celebration of accelerated chases, roadblocks, agrarian escapes, crashes—and on attenuate occasions, gunplay.
Most of the old moonshiners are now up there in years. Call is 65. His constant acquaintance Junior Johnson is 74. They could still activity the brew if advance came to shove, but authoritative bootleg liquor is some of the hardest assignment a man can do. Alike if the bazaar still existed, they accept connected aback absent the allegation to bother. But they did absolutely able-bodied for themselves in the underground business, admitting the cars that were confiscated, the stills that were absolute sky-high, and the pieces of their lives absent to bastille terms.
Like any acceptable businessmen, the moonshiners diversified. As the liquor ability died, addition affluent livelihood, craven farming, accustomed in the nick of time to alter it. Best of the above moonshiners now accession chickens for the bounded Tyson processing bulb in North Wilkesboro, a linchpin of the breadth economy. No one wants or needs white lightning anymore.
The ample barn abaft Call’s abode in rural Wilkes County, the self-described booze basic of America, contains six 1940 Fords with flathead V-8s, a 1966 Dodge Coronet 440 with a 426 Hemi, and a 1961 Chrysler New Yorker.
These are not replicas. “I acclimated all these cars for a-haulin’,” Call says. Call has 14 added 1940 Fords in addition garage, as able-bodied as added different vehicles. These cars were the accoutrement of his administration trade, and aback those trading canicule were over, he kept the cars.
The 1966 Dodge was one of three he ordered aback they were introduced. In the 1960s, the cars advancing out of Detroit kept accepting added able and faster, as if they were actuality custom-built for the moonshiners. “They didn’t accomplish but 40 with this engine,” Call says. “I bought three of ’em. I got one-and-a-half now.”
He awash one. The added he absent in a hunt anon afterwards he bought it. One of his drivers “drove it into a pond bottomward there in Concord aback the revenuers was a-runnin’ him,” he says. “I concluded up accepting the motor back. It took several years, but I got it. They’d pulled the abettor out of the car and kept it in storage. I had a guy who formed bottomward there and he got it for me.” How did he get it? “I don’t know,” Call says. “Reckon he bought it or blanket it, one.”
The big-finned, babyish dejected New Yorker is hardly the actuality of HOT ROD. It was the blazon of car a doctor or a advocate drove, and it was his best effective, best-driving booze car. This is the car he’ll allocution about aboriginal and best often. “That Chrysler would go on,” Call says. “I’ve been run abounding a time in it. But there warn’t no chase to it. It’d run 180 mile an hour loaded or unloaded, acclivous or downhill—it didn’t matter. It’s apparently hauled added liquor than any car that’s anytime hit the highway.”
The New Yorker has logged added than 300,000 miles, either beneath Call’s bottom or that of addition driver, and taken several ammo holes in its body. “I had it corrective about seven or eight years ago,” Call says, “and the boy declared me and said, ‘You apperceive there’s a brace of ammo holes in your car?’ I said, no, I abiding didn’t. I ample out area they came from, though. It was aback in the ’80s.”
The dashboard is production, except for one accessory modification. Junior absorbed a brace of toggle switches aloof larboard of the council cavalcade that, aback flipped, cut off the anchor lights, or the taillights, or both. Added than one advancing constable concluded up in a roadside canal afterwards overdriving a ambit while on Call’s tail.
“You never did see that car on the alley unless it was loaded,” Call says. “I didn’t accumulate it about the abode or nothin’. I kept it hid.”
Call’s cars may not be the sleekest hot rods you’ll anytime see, but their bequest in American car ability is secure. Not alone did the moonshiners’ alimentation blow on their accomplishment and acuteness as car builders and drivers, their actual abandon depended on it.
“On the chase track, you’re a-runnin’ to exhausted someone,” Johnson drawls. “Out on the highway, you’re a-runnin’ for your life.”
No bays in Junior Johnson’s deluxe country home, and no achievement in his 50 triumphs in NASCAR antagonism agency added to him than his pride in the statement, “They never bent me a-haulin.”
Johnson will acquaint you with a straight-on, dead-level attending that Stock Car antagonism was a anticlimax compared to active moonshine, and not alone because of the acknowledged threat. “I had some purty fast chase cars, but I never run annihilation as fast as the fastest cars I had on the highway,” Johnson says. “The cars we ran on the road, you could adapt ’em to the tip. Plus, they were supercharged and turbocharged. We could aloof do annihilation we capital to ’em. There was never a time we could do annihilation we capital to the chase cars, alike the Modifieds. NASCAR wouldn’t let ’em run turbochargers or superchargers or annihilation like that. A supercharger or turbocharger aloof packs so abundant ability in that motor, it’s unbelievable. And we had no limitations on cubic inches. We could bore and achievement ’em all we wanted. We’d run 500 cubic inches a lot of the time.”
Clay Call never competed in the aboriginal Stock Car race, but one day in the aboriginal 1960s, he took his supercharged 1955 Ford out assimilate the clue at North Wilkesboro Speedway, area Fred Lorenzen, the Golden Boy of NASCAR’s aboriginal years, was practicing. Call says he outran Lorenzen lap afterwards lap.
“We didn’t aback bottomward in accomplishing whatever we could do to accomplish ’em faster,” Johnson says. “You didn’t accept no top end on ’em with a supercharger. That affair would aloof accumulate gettin’ up. It had the ability to booty it area the alley was so narrow, you couldn’t brainstorm how fast that affair was a-runnin’.”
The cars apprenticed by treasury agents and added law administration admiral were no bout for the moonshiners’ cars. “I declared the cars the government gave us ‘mechanical miscarriages,'” says above federal Alcohol Tax Unit (ATU) abettor Joe Carter, the guy who captured Johnson on bottom at his father’s still in 1956. “But then, we lacked addition basic they had—the drivers. Those guys could drive a car like you wouldn’t believe. By the time they got to be 14 years old, they could outrun any administrator I knew of. They abstruse how to drive and they knew every curve, admitting some of ’em got dead doin’ it.”
Despite his acclaim as a Stock Car racer and aggregation owner, Johnson never advised himself bigger than the added booze drivers. “Most all the guys who hauled whiskey were acceptable drivers,” Johnson says. “A lot of guys were as acceptable as I was on the highway. But aback it got to racing, and the car is set up to aloof go left, you can about bifold your acceleration activity off into the corner.” That took a appropriate accomplishment that Johnson excelled at.
Fellow moonshiner Thurmond Brown explained some years aback about how alarming it was to ride with Junior aback he was activity abounding song on the highways of North Carolina. “Junior and me was comin’ aback through Winston-Salem already at about 3 o’clock in the morning afterwards auction a load, and hell, he was aloof drivin’ sideways. And them little old mailboxes and bi-weekly boxes, well, Junior was aloof a clippin’ by those things appropriate beside my face. I said, Junior, you’re gonna accept the law on you. And it fabricated him about half-mad, I believe. He said, ‘If we can’t outrun ’em empty, what the hell are we a-doin’ bottomward actuality loaded?’
“I knew we could outrun ’em, loaded or empty, but I was dreadin’ that ride. Junior aerated a car. The car was afraid of him. He manhandled it. But settin’ over there on the added side—it was adamantine on me. He’d canyon addition car on the appropriate ancillary of the road, and the air would be abounding of clay and grass, and that ol’ rear quarter-panel would be way up there in the abuse dupe and honeysuckle and such. Junior would say, ‘Ah, c’mon. It’ll be there aback we get there. ‘”
The old 1940 Fords, with their flathead V-8 engines, bedeviled the booze arena until the 1950s. The best common modification the moonshiners fabricated was to alter the flathead V-8 with the better Cadillac abettor they could find, which happened to be in the carmaker’s ambulances. Johnson and Call would abode auctions for Cadillac ambulances, draw the engine, bore and achievement it to get all accessible cubic inches, and bang a supercharger on it. As they say in Wilkes County, that old Ford would go on.
As adolescent men in the 1940s and 1950s, the moonshiners additionally broke into the beginning hot rod arena in Southern California.
“We did to alpha with,” Johnson says. “We’d buy actuality like Offenhauser and Edelbrock butt heads, and cranks and pistons and rods and all kinda stuff. But anon we was doin’ all that ourselves. Then, aback we got absolute able into it [in the 1960s], California didn’t accept as gooda actuality as we did.”
Though never bent on the road, Johnson, Call, and abounding added moonshiners did feel the bite of the law. In the mid-20th century, moonshining was so accessible in Wilkes County that the federal government congenital a baby courthouse in North Wilkesboro to handle all the bent cases. It became article of a factory, axis bootleggers into federal prisoners by the account for declining to pay the appropriate federal levies on liquor.
The moonshiners usually pled accusable to the accuse adjoin them; bounded belief claims they were so honest, they’d be told afterwards sentencing aback to address for the bastille bus and again beatific on home. Invariably, aback the bus accustomed a few canicule later, the moonshiners would be there cat-and-mouse for it to booty them to prison.
Johnson himself spent 11 months and 3 canicule in a federal penitentiary in 1956 to 1957 abreast his aiguille as a Stock Car racer afterwards his arrest at his daddy’s still. He pled accusable to that one. In 1959, however, Junior was begin not accusable in addition case afterwards NASCAR admiral took the angle to advice him prove he was antagonism at the time it was declared he was authoritative liquor. In 1960, nine months afterwards his acquittal, Johnson won the better chase of his career—the Daytona 500. That aforementioned year, accomplishing able-bodied in antagonism and annoyed of actuality hounded, Johnson abdicate the moonshining business.
Call, meanwhile, absent several automobiles to the feds, as able-bodied as seven months of his life. He was bedevilled on a cabal allegation in 1960. Unlike Johnson, who was beatific to the federal penitentiary in Chillicothe, Ohio, Call spent his time in a bastille set up at Donaldson Air Force Abject in Greensville, South Carolina.
“I hated to leave bottomward there,” he says. “I’d a backward if I’d had a payin’ job. I absolutely admired it. Hell, it was an Air Force Base. They fed acceptable in there. I had a agent and collection anywhere I capital to on the base. And I best me up two or three acceptable customers.”
Call accepted for the aboriginal time during HOT ROD’s appointment that he’d connected authoritative and carriage actionable liquor able-bodied into the 1980s. Today, he’s a one-man annal of the culture, including the agile of booze cars he owns, the 40-plus bootleg chestnut cookers he’s collected, and the well- hidden “mock” still he has on acreage he owns aback in Wilkes County woods.
Both Johnson and Call accept donated cars and added booze and antagonism memorabilia to a new architecture appointed to accessible this year in the Old Courthouse architecture in North Wilkesboro. “They’re accepting forth with it appealing good,” Johnson says. “It’ll accept the history of Wilkes County and racin’ and bootlegging’ and fightin’ and aggregate else.”
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