RPW Column: The Champ Trail; New SK Blood At Stafford, Remembering Junior & More…

RPW Column By: PHIL SMITH / RPW – WESTERLY, RI – The count down to Speedweeks in Florida continues. In six short weeks central Florida comes alive with the sound of racing engines as the 2020 auto racing season begins.

The week plus of speed in the sunshine state will culminate on Sunday, February 16 with the running of the Daytona 500 at the Daytona International Speedway.

The infusion of new blood into Stafford Speedways lead division continues as Bryan Narducci and Mikey Flynn announced that they will move up to Stafford Speedway’s premier SK Modified® division in 2020 where they will challenge for Rookie of the Year honors. Both are graduates of Staffords SK Light division.

The 2020 Stafford Motor Speedway season kicks off with the 49th Annual NAPA Spring Sizzler® on April 24-26. Tickets for the “Greatest Race in the History of Spring” are on sale now by calling the Speedway Box Office 860-684-2783 or online at www.staffordspeedway.com.

Congratulations to third generation driver Jacob Perry who has landed a Modified Racing Series ride for 2020. Perry came to an agreement to drive the No. 47 car for team owner Jack Bateman. Perry will replace Bateman’s grandson Dylan Rock in the ride. Rock has opted to step away from the ride. Perry will be a teammate to Donnie Lashua in the Bateman two-car team.

Perry, who will be 18 the day after Christmas follows his dad, Dennis and his grandfather Roger as a driver. He brings new blood and a fan base that the series can surely use.

On a sad note, Robert Glenn “Junior” Johnson, a moonshine runner turned NASCAR driver described as “The Last American Hero” by author Tom Wolfe in a 1965 article for Esquire, died Friday. He was 88.

NASCAR announced the death of Johnson, the winner of 50 races as a driver and 132 as an owner. He was a member of the inaugural class inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2010.

“From his early days running moonshine through the end of his life, Junior wholly embodied the NASCAR spirit,” NASCAR Chairman Jim France said. “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 (sponsor) 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.”

A native of North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, Johnson was named one of NASCAR’s greatest drivers in 1998 after a 14-year career that ended in 1966 and included a win in the 1960 Daytona 500. He honed his driving skills running moonshine through the North Carolina hills, a crime for which he received a federal conviction in 1956 and a full presidential pardon in 1986 from President Ronald Reagan.

His was first immortalized by Wolfe in 1965 and later in a 1973 movie adaptation starring Jeff Bridges.

As a car owner for drivers that included Waltrip, Yarborough, Bill Elliott and Terry Labonte, Johnson claimed six Cup championships. His last race win as an owner was the 1994 Southern 500 with Elliott.

Waltrip said he grew up only dreaming of one day meeting Johnson, but surpassed that by getting to drive for his hero.

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