Wilkes County’s Flossie Clark Johnson, 90, frequently referred to as the “First Lady of NASCAR,” died Thursday morning. Funeral arrangements are incomplete.
Johnson was known for sharing her love through her cooking, and for sharing her knowledge and skills in published cookbooks.
“Sweet and special are words synonymous with her, but at same time, she was always grounded and true to her roots and teachings,” said Jeff Hammond, crew chief for Junior Johnson & Associates when driver Darrell Waltrip won his second consecutive NASCAR championship in 1982.
“Spending the amount of time I did (with Junior Johnson), it was a special time growing up in a fast-paced world, and you needed someone like Flossie to ground you out, so to speak,” said Hammond.
“She had the ‘grandmother effect’ on many who worked there. When I think of her, she was sweet but also rough as a corncob if you crossed her.”
Hammond said that whenever he visited Flossie, she always fixed him a meal and wouldn’t take no for an answer. “Even when I left (Junior Johnson & Associates), I was always treated like I was still up there. She made me feel like I always had a home in Ingle Hollow.”
He added, “Once you were a part of the family you remained a part of the community. The main thing was, she was such a good person to everyone.”
Hammond and Waltrip became the top driver-crew chief combination in stock car racing, winning 43 races during the 1980s, including the Winston Cup championship.
Charles Williams, retired editor of the Wilkes Journal-Patriot, called Johnson a “true angel who loved her family, her church, her community and the many friends she made over the years in racing.”
“If the weekend race was within driving distance, Flossie would get up early in the morning and prepare food that filled the trunk of the car. She would feed crewmen, friends and anyone who dropped by,” said Williams.
“Even after the race shops closed, many of the drivers and crewmen would return to the Hollow to visit with Flossie,” he added.
“One of the former racing garages at her Ingle Hollow home, which she converted into a meeting hall, was filled twice a year when Flossie hosted a Christmas party and birthday party. The facility was also used for wedding receptions and other events.”
Williams said Johnson assisted with many worthy causes and was a dedicated volunteer each year at the Main Stage dining area at Wilkes Community College’s MerleFest in Wilkesboro.
"I consider myself blessed to have known Flossie and her family for so many years. She will always have a place in my heart," he said.
Johnson, daughter of Julius McNeil Clark and Cordie Eller Williams Clark, talked about her life in an interview, recorded on video, in 2007. The recording is part of the Wilkes oral history project at Wilkes Community College’s Pardue Library.
She grew up on a farm near the North Wilkesboro Speedway, where her family raised hogs, chickens and milk cows. She said her mother went to town once every two weeks to buy a few things, “but mostly we raised everything ourselves.” The family attended Fishing Creek Arbor Baptist Church.
Johnson had two sisters and three brothers growing up, plus another brother who died in infancy. She graduated from Wilkesboro High School in 1947. “We had a good rivalry with the North Wilkesboro school,” she said in the interview.
Before she married NASCAR legend Junior Johnson, Flossie worked as a telephone operator in Winston-Salem. “I wanted to be a nurse before working for the telephone company. We rang the numbers for people, on what they called the incoming calls.”
Under terms of the out-of-court divorce settlement of Junior and Flossie Johnson in the early 1990s, Johnson kept his two NASCAR racing teams and she kept their home and poultry farm in the Somers community of southeastern Wilkes. Junior Johnson died on Dec. 20, 2019.
She continued operating the farm, which included raising chickens for Tyson Foods Inc. “I have real good help. I still have a garden and just had it plowed,” she said in the interview. Johnson noted then that race fans still came to see her and say hello, and she still heard from the men who worked in the race shop.
Johnson wrote three cookbooks. “I did real well with them, giving the money to charity. My local charities are hospice, nurse care and the Ronald McDonald House. I’ve sent my books to all the schools and libraries,” said in the interview.
The first cookbook resulted from a family member’s suggestion at the Thanksgiving dinner table in 1991. “So, we started (writing it) in November, it was published by Kathy Virtue. We sold out of the 20,000 copies ‘Flossie’s Favorites’ by July 1992. I sold 5,000 the first time I went to Daytona (International Speedway). We sold 40,000 copies of the first one,” she said.
In 2002 Johnson wrote a second cookbook, “Flossie’s Favorites Too.” She wrote a third cookbook in 2012, “Save the Fork.”
Johnson said the secret to good country cooking is “good stuff to start with. When you raise your own vegetables, you have the best. I learned how to cook on a wood stove from my grandmother.”
When asked about the growth of NASCAR racing in the 2007 interview, Johnson replied, “I’m not exactly surprised, but it has really advanced and will grow more. All the drivers that I knew have mostly retired or own their own cars. It used to be a fun sport but now it’s business and money.”
She said the late Benny Parsons, NASCAR Winston Cup series champion driver and commentator, “was a real nice person and was excited about coming back to Wilkes County.
“If there’s racing in heaven, he and (Dale) Earnhardt (Sr.) are up there together, maybe doing some bumping, too.” Parsons, a 2017 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee, was a Wilkes native.
Johnson said in the interview that her greatest joys in life were relationships with others. “It’s the people that I’ve met and the friends that I’ve made and the family I have,” she added.