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.


PHOTOS: Meet The Coaches, Region 4-5A

Randy Smith: Eric Berry Wins Major Battle

Former Tennessee All-American safety Eric Berry reported today to the Kansas City Chiefs preseason training camp. This comes a little more than eight months since Berry was diagnosed with lymphoma. Berry will be joining the Chiefs' quarterbacks and rookies at a three-day mini camp at Missouri Western State University, with the entire team gathering Saturday for the teams' official ... (click for more)

County Taking First Step Toward Replacing County Jail Downtown With Workhouse Addition At Silverdale

County officials are taking the first step toward replacing the long-criticized county jail downtown with an addition at the workhouse at Silverdale. The County Commission is set to approve next Wednesday a $150,000 contract for the PFM government financial consulting firm to begin working out the details. County Mayor Jim Coppinger said he believes the move will save the ... (click for more)

Birchwood Residents Organize To Try To Keep Old School

Birchwood residents have organized to try to keep the old Birchwood School that serves as a community center. Jason Wright, who said he is an alumnus of the school and recently moved his family back home, said the community is concerned over the possibility of the county tearing the school down. He said he was advised that the boiler in the old school has stopped working and ... (click for more)

Chattanooga Strong

The hearts, minds and prayers of Tennesseans, and of the entire nation, have been turned toward Chattanooga this month.  We are sickened and saddened by the senseless tragedy, and we grieve for the families of the five service members who were killed, Gunnery Sgt. Thomas J. Sullivan, Sgt. Carson A. Holmquist, Lance Cpl. Squire “Skip” K. Wells, Staff Sgt. David A. Wyatt and ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Dr. Palmer, You’re Toast

America is absolutely furious! By 3 o’clock yesterday afternoon there were 36,000 people who had petitioned the White House to extradite Walter Palmer, who is today the most despised man in all of North America. On the Yelp.com website, that promotes his dentistry business in Eden Prairie, Minn, over 6,000 had posted violent, vulgar and vicious notes and, for the record, 60 of them ... (click for more)