This Date In BMS History: Johnson Wins First Of Twenty-One
MAY 2, 1965 – As a car owner, no individual or organization has won more NASCAR Cup races at Bristol Motor Speedway than the legendary Junior Johnson.
The first-class member of the NASCAR Hall-of-Fame practically could have gained induction by the gaudy statistics his teams posted on the high banks of Bristol alone.
Of the 76 times Junior Johnson-owned cars took the green flag, they started 15 of those from the pole position, finished in the top 10 38 times, 36 times in the top five and wound up in Victory Lane 21 times – one of those with Johnson himself as a driver.
It was that one, the first one, which seemed the hardest to earn.
In the first race at Bristol, July 30, 1961, Johnson started on the outside of the front row and was in the lead by the time the first lap was complete. He stayed there for the first 124 circuits and led another 46 later in the race. A broken rear end gear, however, ended his day after 340 laps and he finished 22nd.
When the tour returned in October, he led 124 more laps than July – for a total of 294 – and managed to finish two spots LOWER in 24th after another broken part spoiled his chances.
Two races later, driving for another Hall-of-Famer, Cotton Owens, Johnson led 166 laps, more than any other driver, and finished 29th after being involved in a crash.
And so it went. In his first eight races at Bristol, Johnson paced the field in five of them – four times leading more than 100 laps -- but managed to finish better than 15th only once.
So “finally” may have been what Johnson was thinking as years of tremendous runs and less-than-stellar finishes came to an end as he led 240 laps and earned his first win at Bristol, clipping Dick Hutcherson by one car length in the Southeastern 500 of 1965.
Ned Jarrett finished third, the only other driver on the lead lap. Pole sitter Marvin Panch was fourth, 13 laps behind the winner and Wendell Scott was fifth, 32 laps down.
It not only was Johnson’s first, and only, win at Bristol as a driver; it was his first as an owner as well. Others came with Hall-of-Famers Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough. He made history in 1971 with Charlie Glotzbach, winning Bristol in a caution-free event at a pace of more than 101 mph. It remains the fastest 500-lap event in BMS history.
But the first one was all his. And a happy crew helped him celebrate by piling onto the car for the much-deserved ride to victory lane.