NASCAR's return to moonshine roots

Junior Johnson, who is the "last by-God American hero" according to Ryan McGee. Racing One/Getty Images

This story appears in the November 16 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

As I turn off the paved road, following directions e-mailed to me under the subject line SHHHH!, two men in overalls step in front of my truck. "Hey, bud," one says, "you can't go any further until you give the pass code." In 15 years of chasing racers to questionable locales, this is the first time I've needed a secret phrase.

I stammer through "I see the moon, the moon sees me" and am waved into a small valley tucked into the Blue Ridge foothills near North Wilkesboro, N.C. A half mile into the woods, a secret meeting is underway. Four dozen folks sit on hay bales near a bubbling creek as they listen to lie-laced stories of illegal acts and hot pursuits. There's also talk of NASCAR. And why not? These guys did birth it, after all.