A RACING LEGEND
Now retired from driving, Dick Johnson has no intention of stepping away from the sport that has made him a popular national sporting personality and one of the most successful racing drivers in Australian history.
Highly regarded for his on-track exploits and his off-track laconic humour, the Queenslander continues to take an ongoing hands-on role with the Dick Johnson Racing team and is also a highly sought after public speaker. The early years
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 to this day.
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 Rock
Dick Johnson came to public attention in 1980, when leading the Bathurst 1000 he crashed out of the race after hitting a rock allegedly rolled onto the track by a spectator.
So moved was the public by Johnsons plight, they jammed the Channel 7 switchboard with calls, pledging money to help him rebuild his Tru Blu Ford Falcon XD. With the telecast now a telethon, Edsel Ford called through with a promise to match dollar-for-dollar every public donation received. Over $84 000 was raised, which launched Dick Johnson Racing and turned Dick into a national celebrity.
The legend grows
Johnson returned to Bathurst the following year to win the race and take out the Australian Touring Car Championship for the first time, following up with more titles in ’82 and ’84. After a steady start in the new Group A Touring Car category with a Ford Mustang, Dick gave the revolutionary Ford Sierra Cosworth RS500 its world debut in 1987…running under the full sponsorship of Shell for the first time.
A season of development followed and then in 1988 the Queenslander raced to victory in the Shell Australian Touring Car Championship, with his team winning eight of the nine races.
Dick Johnson's skill at driving fast ensured success followed success. He dominated the Shell Series again in 1989 to score a record-equalling fifth Australian Touring Car Championship title. Together with Bowe, Dick Johnson led every single lap at Bathurst to win the classic for a second time. They then finished the successful ’89 season on a victorious note with a win in the Pukekohe 500 (NZ).
Persevering through tougher times shows the depth of Johnson's commitment to his sport and the strength of character needed to keep trying. After the dominance of the previous two seasons, ’90 and ’91 were difficult. The new-generation Nissans kept Johnson to just a couple of race wins, although together with Bowe, they led Bathurst in both years until striking trouble.
Dick Johnson found renewed enthusiasm when he 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 V8s, he won the opening heat of the Shell Championship. In the 1994 season, Dick Johnson claimed motor racing’s grand prize, the Tooheys 1000 at Bathurst.
Dick Johnson's dominance of Australian motor sports is unquestioned. His skill brought success and his personality brought respect. Recognition of his services to motorsport and charitable organisations came with Johnson being made a Member of the Order of Australia - Dick Johnson AM appeared prominently in the Australia Day Honours List of 1997.
The final laps
Early in 1999, Dick Johnson announced his retirement from driving. His 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 a control tyre for the first time. Despite the setbacks Johnson soldiered on, preserving 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.