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Essential Reading: How a Moonshine-Smuggling Chicken Farmer Became the Last American Hero

The world's greatest stories only get better with age. With that in mind, we like to dig up canonical profiles, epic travelogues, and classic accounts perfect for reading on long subway commutes or in a sleeping bag under the stars. Here we look back at Tom Wolfe's 1965 Esquire profile of Junior Johnson—definitive proof that sometimes it pays to drive fast and make bootleg liquor.

During the golden age of NASCAR, a convicted moonshine smuggler from rural North Carolina named Junior Johnson drove laps around the competition. The not-yet legendary Tom Wolfe traveled to the bootleg capital of America (Wilkes County, North Carolina) to learn more about this semi-mythical professional race-car driver—and figure out where Johnson hid the juice.

The resulting 1965 Esquire travelogue careens into the shady hollows of Appalachia, over back-country byways, around and around the speedways of the emerging New South. The young Wolfe, powered by his signature blend of verve and volubility—and boosted by his subject’s breakneck momentum—tails the wheelman to catch a glimpse of how our distinctly American need for speed turned one outlaw into a souped-up hero for a new, car-crazy generation:

"In those wild-ass times, with the money flush and good old boys from all over the county running that white liquor down the road ninety miles an hour and more than that if you try to crowd them a little bit—well, the funny thing was, it got to be competitive in an almost aesthetic, a pure sporting way."

Read the full profile here.

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