Chattanooga Racing History: Joe Lee Johnson

Thursday, August 28, 2014 - by Steve Hixson

Joe Lee Johnson began racing in Chattanooga at the Alton Park and Warner Park Speedways in the 1950's. Born in Cowpens, South Carolina on Sept. 11, 1929, he moved to Tennessee living and maintaining a garage close to these tracks.

He began to run select NASCAR races from 1956 through 1962 and broke into what is now the "Sprint Cup" series in 1957. On June 6, 1954 at Lakewood Speedway (in Atlanta), he was victorious and nearly won many more at the Fairgrounds track. He gave every driver a challenge that raced against him and he was victorious at many other southern tracks where he became a dominating force. In 1957 he raced in the Daytona Beach Road Course, he won twice in Charlotte and also won the "Nashville 300" in 1959.

Driving in the NASCAR Grand National division he won the inaugural World 600 in 1960. He was a pioneer in the early days of NASCAR. Johnson also competed in the NASCAR Convertible Division in both 1958 and 1959, taking a pair of victories in 16 starts. In 1959 He was the NASCAR Convertible Division Champion and held numerous other racing titles. He made his last NASCAR start in 1962.

He was the owner of Cleveland Speedway in Cleveland Tennessee, where he and his wife Jean watched their son Ronnie develop into one of the Top Dirt Late Model racers of his generation and eventually a two-time Dirt Track World Champion.

Joe Lee passed away on May 26, 2005, with cancer. He was a Chattanoogan and a racing legend. He has no relation to NASCAR racer/former car owner Junior Johnson or to current multi-NASCAR Champion Jimmie Johnson. Remanents of Johnson's historical World 600 trophy from Charlotte Motor Speedway were confined to the Press Box building of the Cleveland Speedway which was sold at absolute auction this past July.

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