Ever wonder what happens if a team owner is suspended? Well they simply write someone else’s name on the entry as owner and change the number. That’s what happened in 1991 when NASCAR dropped the hammer on Junior Johnson’s #11 team after The Winston All-Star Race.
Only nine races into the season and fresh off of a sixth place finish at Talladega, the good times came to a screeching halt. A practice crash for the non-points race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway left driver Geoff Bodine with a punctured lung and three cracked ribs. That put Tommy Ellis in the driver’s seat for the event on May 19th. Ellis turned in a decent run, finishing 14th out of 20 cars in the event.
It wasn’t until after the race did things get worse for the organization. The recap, from Greg Fielden’s Forty Years of Stock Car Racing, was after the race NASCAR officials announced that the car had an oversized engine. It measured 362.351 cubic inches, well over the 358 cubic inches allowed by NASCAR. For the infraction, NASCAR suspended owner Johnson, crew chief Tim Brewer, and driver Ellis for twelve races, along with fines.
The ruling was appealed and they were cut down. According to a May 23, 1991 article in the Orlando Sentinel, NASCAR Commissioner Semon E Knudsen cut Johnson’s suspension to four races and waived his $7,500 fine. The decision was made because of the engine oversight did not improve performance. Brewer was still suspended, but only for four races. Ellis had his total suspension lifted, but his fine of $18,000 (what he won in the event) was upheld.
To circumvent the suspension of the team, Junior Johnson’s wife Flossie was designated as the owner of the team for that time. To differentiate that it was a different owner, they switched from the familiar #11 to #97 for the four events. It was not until Michigan’s June race could Johnson and Brewer re-join the team.
During the run of the 97 car, Ellis finished 16th at Charlotte and 21st at Dover. Bodine re-joined the team for Sonoma, finishing eighth, and finished fifth at Pocono the next weekend. It is interesting to note that Junior remained the listed over of his other team, the #22 driven by Sterling Marlin during this time, so technically he could still be at the race track.
Unknown at the time was the clock was ticking on the marriage of Junior and Flossie, whose divorce was finalized in October of 1992. Written in Paul Hemphil’s Wheels, the divorce proceedings were civilized until Flossie caught wind of Junior’s infidelity with another woman. The result settlement not only cost Johnson a big chunk of his holdings (including the team), but also half of the 200,000 chickens he had on his property.
The record books are a bit murky on how to classify Flossie’s ownership. Official NASCAR record still shows Junior as the owner. Fielden classifies it as Flossie/Junior Johnson as the team. So on paper Junior didn’t own the 97 team, but history will tell you he did and it wasn’t just some promotion that led to the team changing numbers mid-season.