Race car fabricator also modifies hot rods, builds furniture

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 26, 2011

By Emily Ford
SPENCER — John Junk’s been doing two things for as long as he can remember.
Racing cars and correcting people.
It’s not “Junk.” It’s “yunk.”
“That’s OK,” Junk says good-naturedly after yet another mispronunciation of his last name. “Everyone does it.”
An award-winning NASCAR crew chief who helped Alan Kulwicki clinch the Rookie of the Year championship in 1992, Junk talks fondly about his first race car. The coaster car didn’t have an engine, but it didn’t need one to give him a thrill.
“When you’re 6 years old, you’re going 500 miles an hour,” he said.
The love of speed and racing led to a career in NASCAR that has spanned 22 years and 300 cars, with no end in sight.
At age 61, Junk’s busier than ever.
He moved BodyCraft, his race car fabrication business, from Mooresville to Spencer about 18 months ago. In the old Southern Implement building at 1411 S. Salisbury Ave., Junk not only fabricates race cars and modifies hot rods but designs and builds high-end furniture from reclaimed wood from old Southern barns, vintage metal signs and found objects.
Prices range from $100 to $2,500. You can see pieces in his shop and High Point showroom, as well as www.stellageorgedesigns.com.
His family encouraged the sideline into furniture after Junk began making stunning but practical birthday gifts from leftover metal in his shop — mirrors, frames, chandeliers, candelabras.
With their help, he launched his line last year, dubbing it StellaGeorge Designs after the quirky nicknames daughters Sasha and Haley gave their mom and dad when they were little. They still call Junk “George” and Kathy Hansen “Stella.”
The furniture business will supplement the race-car work, which has suffered with the introduction of the Cars of Tomorrow, Junk said.
“The evolution of NASCAR has almost eliminated small independents like me,” he said. “It’s made it very difficult to stay in business.”
Hot rod modification, featured prominently in the shop, also supplements race car fabrication.
The move to Spencer fulfills a lifelong goal, Junk said, “to end up in an old building with a hot rod shop and sit around with a bunch of guys lying to each other about old cars.”
He hosted a cruise-in in June that attracted 70 cars. He may hold another in October. Lots of people have asked.
Walking into the building, which dates to the 1940s, is like stepping into another decade. Rare signs surround hot rods in various stages of modification. Oldies play on a radio.
There is no computer, no air conditioning.
“This is old school,” said Junk, smiling behind his thick moustache. “I like it clean and simple.”
He designs only with pencil and paper, both race cars and furniture.
Each high-performance aerodynamic race car body, each hot rod modification, each table, potrack and chandelier, is done by hand.
His “science experiment,” as Junk calls it, is a 1988 Caprice Classic station wagon converted to a two-door hot rod with a hand-fabricated hood scoop. His first truck, a 1984 Chevy C-10, stands nearby with Cadillac taillights, Volkswagen door handles and roll pans instead of bumpers.
“I love his new shop. It’s amazing,” daughter Sasha Junk said. “It fits his personality. It’s a perfect fit for everything he wanted to do.”
Junk was working as a construction contractor in Ohio when he decided to change careers. The family moved to North Carolina, the home of NASCAR.
Within a few years, Junk was Kulwicki’s crew chief.
“I respect and admire him very much for following his dream,” Sasha Junk said. “A lot of people don’t necessarily act on their dreams.”
Both parents encouraged Sasha and sister Haley to pursue their passions, Sasha Junk said. Both daughters traveled extensively before Haley, a surgical OR nurse, settled in Cornelius and Sasha landed a job as vice president of marketing for Kidz Bop in Manhattan.
Junk and Hansen have restored two historic homes, both featured on OctoberTour — 313 Thomas St. and 414 W. Bank St. Sasha Junk likes to say Stella and George never met a project they didn’t love.
Junk said he’s drawn by the craftsmanship and character of old cars and old houses.
“I’m not nostalgic or a history buff,” Junk said. “But I like to preserve things of aging value.
“I hate seeing cars crushed and I hate seeing old buildings destroyed. We can never replace them.”
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.