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Junior Johnson, ‘The Last American Hero,’ dies at 88

(AP) — Robert Glenn “Junior” Johnson, a moonshine runner turned NASCAR driver described as “The Last American Hero” by author Tom Wolfe in a 1965 article for Esquire, died Friday. He was 88.

NASCAR announced the death of Johnson, the winner of 50 races as a driver and 132 as an owner. He was a member of the inaugural class inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2010.

“From his early days running moonshine through the end of his life, Junior wholly embodied the NASCAR spirit,” NASCAR Chairman Jim France said. “He was an inaugural NASCAR Hall of Famer, a nod to an extraordinary career as both a driver and team owner. Between his on-track accomplishments and his introduction of (sponsor) Winston to the sport, few have contributed to the success of NASCAR as Junior has.

“The entire NASCAR family is saddened by the loss of a true giant of our sport, and we offer our deepest condolences to Junior’s family and friends during this difficult time.”

A native of North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, Johnson was named one of NASCAR’s greatest drivers in 1998 after a 14-year career that ended in 1966 and included a win in the 1960 Daytona 500. He honed his driving skills running moonshine through the North Carolina hills, a crime for which he received a federal conviction in 1956 and a full presidential pardon in 1986 from President Ronald Reagan.

His was first immortalized by Wolfe in 1965 and later in a 1973 movie adaptation starring Jeff Bridges.

As a car owner for drivers that included Waltrip, Yarborough, Bill Elliott and Terry Labonte, Johnson claimed six Cup championships. His last race win as an owner was the 1994 Southern 500 with Elliott.

Waltrip said he grew up only dreaming of one day meeting Johnson, but surpassed that by getting to drive for his hero.

“He became my boss and made me a champion, I loved that man, God Bless Jr and his family. You were the greatest!” Waltrip said on Twitter.

Johnson is also credited with bringing the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company to NASCAR, which then led to Winston sponsoring its premier series from 1971-2003.

Johnson is survived by wife Lisa, daughter Meredith and son Robert Glenn Johnson III.

“The Last American Hero is gone and so leaves a huge dent in NASCAR racing. Junior Johnson was one of American sports’ great characters and one of the best racer and car owners ever. His mountain man drawl and tricks were legendary,” former race promoter Humpy Wheeler said. “He’ll go down as one of racing’s great ticket sellers.”

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Missing toddler’s mother and grandmother are in same jail

BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The mother and grandmother of a missing 15-month-old girl are now in the same Tennessee jail after giving conflicting accounts about the toddler’s disappearance.

Authorities frustrated by their multiple versions of what happened to Evelyn Mae Boswell announced Wednesday that they’ll hold an afternoon news conference on developments in the case, which prompted an Amber Alert after she was reported missing on Feb. 18, at least seven weeks after she was last seen.

The girl’s 18-year-old mother, Megan Boswell, is in the Sullivan County Jail in Tennessee on a charge of filing a false police report. Her mother, Angela Boswell, is being held there as well, on charges of theft and violating probation in an earlier case.

One version Megan Boswell has repeated is that her mother took her daughter to a campground in Mendota, Virginia; authorities then searched multiple campgrounds in that area and found no sign of the girl, WJHL-TV reported.

Angela Boswell and her boyfriend, William McCloud, were arrested last week in North Carolina on fugitive warrants unrelated to the toddler’s disappearance. Before she was returned to Tennessee, Boswell told the judge she wanted to go home and resolve the situation with her granddaughter, news outlets reported.

Boswell was returned to the Sullivan County jail on Monday evening and arraigned on Tuesday on a theft charge, news outlets reported. The judge set her bond at $5,000 in the case, but Sullivan County Sheriff’s Capt. Andy Seabolt said she will remain incarcerated because a bondsman revoked her bond in another, unrelated case.

Megan Boswell joined her mother at the jail Tuesday night, and her bond was set at $25,000, the sheriff’s office said.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, meanwhile, said there are so many unanswered questions that it decided to post a video addressing what they don’t know.

The TBI said McCloud and Boswell are “believed to have information” regarding the girl’s whereabouts. The agency also said that while the Amber Alert said Evelyn Mae was last seen on Dec. 26, they can’t be sure of the date because of the mother and grandmother’s conflicting accounts.

The Bristol Herald Courier reported that the Amber Alert was issued after the sheriff’s office received a Tennessee Department of Children’s Services referral saying family members hadn’t seen the baby in about two months. The baby’s great-grandfather, David Jones, told the newspaper that he hadn’t seen the baby since about a week before Thanksgiving.

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