Remembering Junior Johnson: The 1960 Daytona 500 in his own words

Charles Bradley

It was luck. I didn’t have a fast car, and was way off the guys running up at the front, like Jack Smith and Cotton Owens in high-powered Pontiacs, in my Chevrolet. My car didn’t have a race motor design – it was a 348 cubic inch engine that you’d put in a truck or somethin’!

But I had Ray Fox on my team, and he’s a great motor builder, so it lasted like it ’sposed to, but it just wasn’t up to speed. The key to winning that race was I was drafting all day long. I didn’t really know what I was doing – I didn’t know what ‘the draft’ was! I just knew that when I ran close behind somebody, I could keep up with them, even though my engine was much less powerful.

The moment I realised this was in practice. Cotton Owens came by, maybe 20-30mph faster than me, but in half a lap I was runnin’ right with him. I could even bump him if I wanted to! I didn’t know what it was, but I knew it was something I could take into the race and do something good with it. Nobody else had really figured out what I was doing.

Scroll to continue with content

Lo and behold, after doing it all day long, and it put me in a position to win the race near the end. Bobby Johns was the only competitor I had to beat for the win, and he spun out when his back glass blew right out because of a freak gust of wind. I went on to win the race.

Would I have won without that happening? I don’t think so. I couldn’t draft up to him, so I couldn’t keep with him, never mind pass him. Basically I stole the race. I didn't win it.

After the race, nobody believed that I’d won! It was just so awesome that a car as slow as I had was in Victory Lane. Drafting was something that was discovered that day, and it’s still something that is key to winning races today. It’s helped a lot of people win a lot of races.

Watching the guys today with their bump-drafting is pretty hairy. Sometimes they get by with it…sometimes they don’t.


NASCAR Hall of Famer Junior Johnson dies, aged 88

What to Read Next