DICK JOHNSON Â PROFILE While he is now retired from driving, Dick Johnson has no intention of stepping away from the sport that has made him a major national sporting personality and one of the most successful racing drivers in ...
DICK JOHNSON PROFILE
While he is now retired from driving, Dick Johnson has no intention of stepping away from the sport that has made him a major national sporting personality and one of the most successful racing drivers in Australian history.
The Queenslander will again take a hands-on role with the team that bears his name in 2001, both at the track and at home in the workshop, offering insight and advice that only 35 years in the sport can provide.
Highly regarded for his exploits on the track and his laconic humour off it, Johnson is well known to even non-sports fans by his popular Shell Helix television commercials with former World Motorcycle Champion, Barry Sheene. The colourful Queenslander is today readily identified with Ford's proud blue and white oval badge, but Johnson actually started his long and successful career in the rival camp, racing a FJ Holden in 1964 in which he won his first race from only his second attempt. After several seasons of success, Johnson moved to an EH Holden and by 1969 had attracted support from Shell: the start of an association that has continued almost unbroken ever since.
Johnson first came to public notice in 1970, with a sixth place in the Australian Touring Car Championship (ATCC) race at Lakeside behind the wheel of a Holden Torana GTR, before stepping up to a new XU-1 model for the next five seasons, picking up many Queensland Touring Car titles and impressing in occasional national championship outings along the way. Dick also ran a modified Torana during this period and won several Sports Sedan titles at home.
In 1977, Johnson switched to the Ford camp with the backing of Bryan Byrt, using a new Falcon V8 to begin a series of attacks on major 'southern' events, including the Bathurst classic.
The laconic Queenslander then became a national celebrity in 1980 when, while leading the Bathurst race, he hit a rock rolled on to the Mt. Panorama circuit by a spectator and crashed out of the race. A flood of sympathy and donations from the Australian public rushed in and these, combined with a healthy cheque from Ford, had Dick's Palmer Tube Mills sponsored Falcon back at Bathurst and victorious in 1981.
Johnson also won the ATCC for the first time that year, and followed up with more titles in 1982 and 1984.
After a steady start in the new Group A Touring Car category with a Ford Mustang, Dick gave the revolutionary Ford Sierra Cosworth its world debut in 1987 under the new banner of the Shell Ultra Hi Racing Team.
A season of development followed (though two wins were recorded) and then in 1988, the team swept all before it to claim the Shell Australian Touring Car Championship (winning eight of the nine races). Johnson also finished an unlucky second at Bathurst that year with teammate, John Bowe.
Johnson dominated the Shell series again in 1989 to score a record-equalling fifth Australian Touring Car Championship title (this time with six wins from eight races), and together with Bowe led every single lap at Bathurst to win the classic for a second time. They then finished the successful 1989 season on a victorious note with a win in the Pukekohe 500 in New Zealand.
In addition to Dick's Touring Car program, the Queenslander also moved into NASCAR competition when it was introduced to Australia during 1988. After initial races here with a Ford Thunderbird he also ran a limited two-year program in America, proving very competitive on the 'road' courses.
After the dominance of the previous two seasons, 1990 and 1991 were tougher back in Australia. The new-generation Nissans kept Johnson to just a couple of race wins and pole positions, although together with Bowe, the pair led both Bathurst races until striking trouble.
Dick started the 1992 season in fine form with a strong second in the Winfield Triple Challenge at Eastern Creek, and followed that up with second in the 'Peter Jackson Dash' series. In the Tooheys 1000 at Bathurst, Johnson and Bowe were officially placed second, despite leading the field back to the start line after the leader had crashed in a rain storm and the race was stopped.
Australia's all-new V8 Touring Car era, introduced in 1993, could not have begun better for Johnson, when back aboard one of his beloved Falcon V8's, he won the opening heat of the Shell Championship.
Ultimately placed fifth overall in the championship, Johnson nonetheless took two heat race wins and a pair of pole positions during the ultra-competitive series and also claimed third place in the 'Peter Jackson Dash' series.
The endurance races at Sandown and Bathurst brought little ultimate reward though, with a fifth at Sandown following mechanical delays, while at Bathurst, Dick was lucky to escape with minor injuries in a mid-race crash which destroyed his car.
Dick Johnson went into the 1994 season with renewed enthusiasm and, after early problems in the national championship, bounced back to claim motor racing's grand prize, the Tooheys 1000 at Bathurst.
Johnson and long-time partner, John Bowe, won one of the closest and most exciting Bathurst classics in history, topping off a magnificent victory four weeks earlier in the Sandown 500 endurance event. It was Johnson's third Bathurst win, Bowe's second, the first for a Falcon at Mount Panorama since 1981, when Johnson himself had won, and the first time in a decade that anyone had won the Sandown/Bathurst double!
Johnson was a factor again throughout the 1995 Shell Australian Touring Car Championship, taking a dominant heat win at the Bathurst round of the series, and supporting team mate, John Bowe in his successful quest for the title. After their brilliant victory in the 1995 Eastern Creek 12-Hour Production Car race, the pair won the Sandown 500 for the second year in a row, but were crashed out of the lead at Bathurst.
Buoyed by strong performances in the V8 support races at the final Adelaide Grand Prix, Dick scored podium finishes at Bathurst and Phillip Island during the 1996 Shell Australian Touring Car Championship. This was followed by an impeccable performance at the Bathurst 1000; the wily veteran teaming with John Bowe for a well deserved second place in the gruelling eight-hour marathon.
Dick's services to motorsport and charitable organisations were then recognised by the community at the start of 1997 in the Australia Day honours list, with the awarding of an AM (Member of the Order of Australia). The 1997 season saw the new-look Shell Helix Racing Team at the front again, Johnson strongly supporting Bowe's quest for the national title in which he ultimately finished a close second. Johnson then created history at the Primus 1000 Classic, contesting the Top 10 Shootout for the 20th time. The racing veteran did not, however, get the opportunity to capitalise on his strong qualifying performance, the famous number 17 Shell Helix Racing Falcon retiring before Johnson's turn behind the wheel.
Early in 1999, Dick announced his decision to retire from driving at the end of the season and his plans to embark on a farewell tour to thank his legion of fans whose support had been fundamental to his survival in the sport. Armed with the all-new AU model Ford Falcon V8, Dick's final season as a driver was difficult as the team struggled with a car that was vastly different from its predecessor, and the introduction of the Bridgestone control tyre.
Previously running on Dunlops over the course of his entire career, the switch to Bridgestones was not an easy one for Johnson or the team, with a series of poor qualifying results reflecting the enormity of the change. Despite the set backs, Johnson soldiered on, finishing 10th in the Championship to preserve a statistic that has seen him finish in the top ten every year since 1981.
Johnson teamed up with son, Steven, for the end of year endurance races in Queensland and Bathurst, the pair putting in solid performances at both events. Dick's last FAI 1000 at Bathurst was an emotional family affair, with the father/son duo qualifying in 10th place before running at the front of the field all day. Despite an ever-worsening sinus problem, Dick refused to give in and struggled on in what he has since described as the hardest race of his life.
The famous number 17 Falcon took the honour of first Ford home as Dick took the chequered flag and crossed the finish line in fourth place for his last attempt at conquering The Mountain.
Although Dick did not take up his usual place in the team behind the wheel in 2000, he was still trackside at every V8 Supercar event, overseeing the team's Championship campaign.
However, although 1999 was intended to see his final stint behind the wheel, Dick made a one-off appearance at the Queensland 500 in 2000 with son Steven. Unfortunately, the pair failed to finish the race despite qualifying strongly.
Dick will be back in his role as Team Principal in 2001, keeping a watchful eye of the operation of his team from the sidelines, and their bid for Shell Championship honours. <pre> CAREER STATISTICS
Number of starts ATCC/SCS* 201 Sandown/Qld 500 20 Bathurst 26 AGP 28 Indycar GP 8
Number of pole positions ATCC/SCS 28 Sandown/Qld 500 5 Bathurst 2 AGP 2 Indycar GP -
Number of wins ATCC/SCS 22 ATCC/SCS C'Ships 3 Sandown/Qld 500 2 Bathurst 3 AGP 2 Indycar GP -
ATCC = Australian Touring Car Championship SCS = Shell Championship Series