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Corn – from moonshiner trunk to NASCAR tank

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Call it what you want – moonshine or ethanol. Back then, they put it in the trunk. Today they put it in the tank. Well, 15 percent of it anyway.

“Those guys could drive a car like you wouldn’t believe. By the time they got to be 14 years old, they could outrun any officer I knew of.” Tax agent Joe Carter on Junior Johnson.

“He’d pass another car on the right side of the road, and the air would be full of dirt and grass, and that ol’ rear quarter-panel would be way up there in the damn woods and honeysuckle and such.” – Fellow moonshine runner Thurmond Brown on Junior Johnson.

Starting in 2011, NASCAR will fuel all races with E15, a 15 percent corn ethanol blend. Announced last week, it’s the start of a great relationship between the racing organization and the National Corn Growers Association and its state affiliates.

Truth be told, you could say the relationship actually goes back to NASCAR’s birth, when drivers like Junior Johnson ran moonshine distilled from corn, and drove super-charged hot rods to outrun the tax agents.

Call it what you want – moonshine or ethanol. Back then, they put it in the trunk. Today they put it in the tank. Well, 15 percent of it anyway.

According to David “Turbo” Thompson, an associate professor at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, and a former stock car driver, “Runners built their reputations by outsmarting and outdriving the law. For bragging rights, they held informal races to determine which runner was fastest.”

That was the genesis of stock car racing in the United States. Johnson was one legendary wheelmen who made the transition from moonshine runner to legal stock car driver.

An article in the October 2005 issue of Hot Rod brought Johnson’s colorful moonshine-running exploits to life. http://www.hotrod.com/thehistoryof/113_0510_moonshine_runners_cars_history/index.html.

“We didn’t back down in doing whatever we could do to make ‘em faster,” Johnson says. “You didn’t have no top end on ‘em with a supercharger. That thing would just keep getting’ up. It had the power to take it where the road was so narrow, you couldn’t imagine how fast that thing was a-runnin’.”

Alcohol Tax Unit agent Joe Carter had nothing but stunned admiration for Johnson. “Those guys could drive a car like you wouldn’t believe. By the time they got to be 14 years old, they could outrun any officer I knew of. They learned how to drive and they knew every curve.”

Johnson’s driving even terrified fellow moonshiner Thurmond Brown. “Junior and me was comin’ back through Winston-Salem once at about 3 o’clock in the morning after unloading a load, and hell, he was just drivin’ sideways. And them little old mailboxes and newspaper boxes, well, Junior was justa clippin’ by those things right beside my face.

“I said, ‘Junior, you’re gonna have the law on you, and it made him about half-mad, I believe. He said, ‘If we can’t outrun ‘em empty, what the hell are we a-doin’ down here loaded?’

 “He’d pass another car on the right side of the road, and the air would be full of dirt and grass, and that ol’ rear quarter-panel would be way up there in the damn woods and honeysuckle and such. Junior would say, ‘Ah, c’mon. It’ll be there when we get there.’”

So whether you’re planting corn or running on it, congratulations and a well-deserved victory spinout to NASCAR and NCGA for renewing their friendship.  

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