Junior Johnson, a Hall of Fame stock car driver and successful car owner, has been granted a presidential pardon for a moonshining conviction in 1956.
Johnson, 54, a lifelong resident of nearby Wilkes County in the Brushy Mountains, was convicted of manufacturing non-tax-paid whiskey after being arrested at his father's still.
He served 11 months, until October, 1957, in the federal penitentiary in Chillicothe, Ohio.
"I filed a request for a pardon just over five years ago," Johnson said. "I hadn't given up hope that it would come through, though I was told when I filed that it probably would take quite some time."
The pardon, granted by Ronald Reagan on Dec. 26, is full and unconditional, retroactive to completion of the sentence. It does not erase or expunge the record of conviction and does not indicate innocence, but generally restores basic civil rights, which are lost upon conviction on a felony charge.
Johnson, from a generation of moonshine runners in the North Carolina hills, was never caught on the roads. He said his arrest came when his father sent him to the still to light a fire.
"They (revenue officers) found the place somehow and staked it out," Johnson said. "When I got to the still, they came out of hiding and charged me with manufacturing non-tax-paid whiskey."
After getting out of prison, Johnson began racing on speedways and won 50 of 310 races before retiring in 1966. He then became a team owner and, since 1967, his cars have won 119 races, more than $9 million and five Winston Cup championships--three by Cale Yarborough and two by Darrell Waltrip.
Johnson, who was inducted into the National Motorsports Press Assn. Hall of Fame in 1972 and into the North Carolina Hall of Fame in 1982, was the subject of a movie, "The Last American Hero," in the late '70s.
The film was inspired by Tom Wolfe's story in Esquire magazine by the same title, written about Johnson's driving exploits.
"I didn't think it was possible to feel any happier than getting into the North Carolina Hall of Fame, but I feel that way now," said Johnson, who was in Charlotte for a National Motorsports Press Assn. convention.