NASCAR Hall of Fame driver and owner Junior Johnson dies at 88

Junior Johnson is shown before the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., Sunday, Feb. 14, 2010. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WTHR) - Junior Johnson, a pioneering NASCAR driver and inaugural member of the sport's hall of fame, has died at the age of 88.

The NASCAR Hall of Fame, to which Johnson was inducted in 2010, confirmed his passing Friday. Johnson had entered hospice care earlier in the week.

Johnson won 50 races in the top level of NASCAR, the most of any driver who hasn't won a championship. He then won 132 races and six championships as a team owner.

Known as the "Wilkes County Wildman," Johnson was known for his all-out driving style learned while running illegal liquor across North Carolina. He later earned the nickname "The Last American Hero" from a 1965 essay in Esquire, written by author Tom Wolfe.

“Junior Johnson truly was the ‘Last American Hero,’” NASCAR Chairman and CEO Jim France said in a statement. “From his early days running moonshine through the end of his life, Junior wholly embodied the NASCAR spirit. He was an inaugural NASCAR Hall of Famer, a nod to an extraordinary career as both a driver and team owner. Between his on-track accomplishments and his introduction of Winston to the sport, few have contributed to the success of NASCAR as Junior has. The entire NASCAR family is saddened by the loss of a true giant of our sport, and we offer our deepest condolences to Junior’s family and friends during this difficult time.”

He raced for the first time in NASCAR's top division in 1953, joining the circuit full-time two years later, when he won for the first time, then added four more wins during his rookie season.

He won the Daytona 500 in 1960 in his second time running the race.

He joined Bill France Sr. and Jr., Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty as members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame's inaugural class in 2010.

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