NASCAR Hall of Famer and ‘Last American Hero’ Junior Johnson dies at 88

Junior Johnson, a bootlegger turned NASCAR Hall of Famer immortalized as the "Last American Hero," has died, NASCAR announced. He was 88.

[9 Investigates: Illegal moonshine operations busted in area]

NASCAR said Johnson had been in declining health and had entered hospice care this

A member of the inaugural Hall of Fame class inducted in 2010, Johnson won 50 races as a driver and 132 races and six championships as a car owner in NASCAR's Cup Series.

The Wilkes County native not only ran moonshine but worked at his father’s still. Found working there by federal agents, Johnson served 11 months of a two-year federal sentence after his 1956 conviction for manufacturing non-tax-paid whiskey, ESPN reported.

Johnson received a full and unconditional pardon from President Ronald Reagan that was signed in 1985.

In March 1965, Esquire published Tom Wolfe's legendary feature, "The Last American Hero is Junior Johnson. Yes!"

The article went on to say: "Junior Johnson is one of the last of those sports stars who is not just an ace at the game itself, but a hero a whole people or class of people can identify with."

Johnson retired after the 1966 season, remaining active in the sport as a car owner.

He was credited with discovering the aerodynamic phenomenon known as the draft -- where two cars running nose-to-tail cut through the air easier than cars running separately and provided the trailing car an opportunity to “slingshot” past the lead car, ESPN reported.

As an owner, he's credited with suggesting R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company partner with NASCAR, which led to the company becoming the first full-season sponsor of the Cup Series via its Winston brand. Winston's backing helped the sport's growth on numerous fronts via its promotional and financial efforts.

As an owner, Johnson won three consecutive championships with driver Cale Yarborough from 1976 to 1978 and three more championships with Darrell Waltrip in 1981, '82 and '85.

Johnson got out of the ownership ranks following the 1995 season. His eventual Hall of Fame induction nearly left him speechless, ESPN reported.

Read more top trending stories on wsoctv.com:

· Missing Texas mom Heidi Broussard found dead, newborn safe, family says

· Mount Holly man charged with murdering wife more than year after her death

· Firefighters battle huge flames shooting from Mooresville home

· FORECAST: Clear skies and chilly temperatures for your Friday

· Group spreads holiday spirit, gives away money at Christmas Town USA