Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Junior Johnson, June 4, 1988. Interview C-0053. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Evolution of stock car racing with the rise of NASCAR

Johnson talks about the changing nature of stock car racing under the jurisdiction of NASCAR. Johnson does not offer an explanation for why stock car racing became so popular, especially among southern audiences, but he does attribute the growing success of NASCAR to its thriving fan base. According to Johnson, the fans were solely responsible for the growth of NASCAR, though the increasingly important role of sponsorship contributed as well. Johnson also addresses the impact of growth on stock car racing, arguing that it had become less "colorful" which he feared might jeopardize the fan base.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Junior Johnson, June 4, 1988. Interview C-0053. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

PETE DANIEL:
Awhile ago, we talked about the fifties and you said that when you were going through it, you probably weren't really aware of how significant what you were doing was. But when you look back on it now, you're sitting up here on a race track in Dover, Delaware, and stock car racing is one of the biggest things in the country - one of the biggest spectator sports in the whole country - and it was you and men like you that really got it started. Do you look back on that as being as significant as say, people who were starting up rock and roll at the same time or people who were in the movies like James Dean? How do you see your self in all that?
JUNIOR JOHNSON:
Well, I basically look back over it now, and I can see how my career and people like Curtis Turner's career, Fireball Roberts' career, were so devastating in promoting and pushing racing to the point it is now. We did it with bullishness, use our nerve to present to the public our skills that people could not understand and believe that people would do some of the things we was doing. Why would you want to go out and try to kill yourself to prove that you could outdrive another guy, or you have the best racing team or the best car, whatever? To start with, it was like we was all crazy, and we might have been cause, like I said before, we did it mostly for fun to start with because we all enjoyed the challenge. And we didn't make that much money, so the crews, the guys that we's friends with, would pool their money. We'd put it all in a car and go see if we could beat the other guy. So it was definitely a challenge to us more so than the money cause wasn't that much money in it.
PETE DANIEL:
You think the fans came because they knew that y'all were out there and you were going to race. Why do you think fans come to watch it?
JUNIOR JOHNSON:
Well, to start with they came to watch, what I would call, a bunch of fools. But in the same reality, it was disbelief to the fans that you could take a car and do with it what we could do with cars. Basically, we'd run 'em sideways and backwards and about anyway you wanted to see one, in whatever position you wanted to see it in. We could get 'em in that position and still save 'em and not wreck 'em a lot of times. A lot of times we would wreck 'em but it was a disbelief to the fans to start with, I think. It brought them out to the race track. Then it become, as time went along, it started to be a sport because it was their favorite driver against somebody else's favorite driver. So, it just kept growing. They started following certain people and going to certain race tracks, seeing what was entertainable to them. The sport raised itself up. It just kept growing by leaps and bounds. Then we got television, and it wasn't long before we got national sponsorship. It's just beyond where anybody ever thought it would go to. And I don't think it's close to being over with or how far it'll go.
PETE DANIEL:
Couple of years ago we had another conversation about this, and you made the statement that it's all been tamed now. And I kind of picked up in your voice that you were kind of ambivalent about that. You weren't sure that was all together a good thing or all together a bad thing.
JUNIOR JOHNSON:
Well, I think it's good that we have a control atmosphere on it where we can stop a crisis or something of that nature. It's not as colorful now as it was then because, regardless of how you look at it, if the sport is rambunctious, exciting, a lot of controversy, I guess you could say, going on all the time, it makes for good entertainment. And for that reason, I think, it might be getting to the point where we're taming it down. It could hurt the fans' interest in it.