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Junior Johnson lived a long time. I reckon it was all right for me to ponder his life for a while before I wrote about it.

The death of a great man often amuses me. Once a man is gone, people feel free to enhance their relationship with him. This was true of Dale Earnhardt. Some seem to take the attitude that, well, he’s gone, I might as well get something out of it.

Had Junior not passed away at the age of 88, if I saw him tomorrow, I expect he’d recognize me but not remember my name. I’m sure I got more out of conversations with him than him from me. He seemed to enjoy them, though. When I was around him, he seemed to enjoy most everything.

I never had breakfast with him on the morning of a race at North Wilkesboro. I wrote about races there for the last four years that the grand old track was in existence. I heard about them. People told me I ought to go, but I tried not to go to places to which I wasn’t specifically invited.

Junior laughed and smiled easily. He talked as slowly as any man I ever knew, and not all Southerners talk slowly. I don’t, for instance. I’m one of the Southerners who is in love with the sound of his own voice. Junior had twinkles in his eyes. He didn’t have to tell anyone how smart he was. It was obvious. He hardly ever said anything to me that wasn’t interesting. He was one of few people with whom I ever dealt whose words required no note-taking or recording. I remember about every one, word for word.

At Richmond, Junior was talking with Travis Carter, for whom Darrell Waltrip was then driving.

“If Darrell is dragging, I’d go on the radio and say, ‘Hey, Cale, can’t you go no faster?’ He’d say, ‘This ain’t no damn Cale Yarborough!’ That was usually worth ’bout half a second a lap.”

In the Daytona press box after Jimmy Spencer won, Junior and I had a conversation about Terry Labonte.

“People always say me and Terry (‘Turry’) didn’t get along,” he said, smiling. “Turry didn’t never tear nothin’ up. I prob’ly made more money off Turry Labonte than anybody ever drove for me.”

Junior was a man of many legends and precious few myths. Tom Wolfe discovered that many, many years ago.