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Moonshine & Motor Sports

Thursday, 24 May 2007 | 9:46 AM ET

It's the way NASCAR began: dirt roads, fast cars and illegal booze.

Running moonshine, 'corn liquor,' to outrun the law was the training ground for most of the early NASCAR drivers: the Richard Petty's, the Junior Johnson's.

source: piedmontdistillers.com

Now it's all come full circle. Junior Johnson is helping sell legal moonshine. Piedmont Distillers in Madison, North Carolina, the only legal distillery in the state, is an 18-month-old business looking to wedge its way into the crowded world of premium spirits with its 'Catdaddy' moonshine and its Junior Johnson's 'Midnight Moon.' The price point is 19.99, but it's a small price to pay for a piece of Southern history and modern marketing.

Joe Michalek is the founder and president of Piedmont Distillers -- he's a businessman with a marketing background honed at RJR and NASCAR. The idea -- create a new category -- it's about the way to break into the spirits category. If it's not new, it's a money/distribution game -- a game in which you need a truckload of money to play. But if you can create something 'new' and can create 'buzz,' you can brand a whole new category and be a market leader by being number one.

It's smooth, it's crisp and with Junior Johnson (a NASCAR legend who really did cut his driving teeth while delivering his daddy's moonshine across North Carolina and Virginia) as an equity partner, you'll be seeing 'Catdaddy' and 'Midnight Moon' behind the bar soon.

Which leads directly to --

JKS Motorsports, the best example of the 'NASCAR Economy.' There's the 'on-the-track' NASCAR -- the mega-million dollar teams, drivers, sponsors and TV deals -- and then there's Will Spencer. He does everything else. No kidding. Starting in 1983, Will Spencer decided he wanted to be a part of NASCAR, so now he is -- a part of nearly every part.

JKS does the signage at the tracks, the signs in the garage, the champagne bottles in the winner's circle, the million-dollar cardboard checks, the 'show cars' you see at the local mall... a little bit of everything for everyone -- in NASCAR.

He's also the man behind the The Winston Cup Museum in Winston-Salem -- 33 years of sponsorship and racing history in one building in Winston-Salem. You've never seen him or heard his name, but he's a bigger part of NASCAR than most of the names you have heard.

Moonshine and motor sports -- this is North Carolina.

The Coca Cola 600 is this weekend at Lowes Motorspeedway here in Charlotte. Junior Johnson will drive lap to start the race, and JKS motorsports will be everywhere at the track.

Happy Memorial Day.

Questions? Comments? mikeonamerica@cnbc.com

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