40 years on: Johnson's first Bathurst win

  • Repco Supercars Championship
  • |
  • 29/11/2021
  • By James Pavey, Pics by Autopics

Seven Bathurst starts between 1973 and 1980 had reaped little more than heartbreak for Dick Johnson.

However, 40 years ago, everything changed for the iconic Queenslander.

On October 4, 1981, Johnson combined with John French to win the 1981 James Hardie 1000.

Of the 63 runnings of the Bathurst 1000 to date, the 1981 race will forever be known as Johnson’s redemption day.

Just 12 months earlier, Johnson launched from second and led the first 17 laps.

However, his race ended on the 18th lap when, exiting the Cutting, he hit a football-sized rock that had been kicked onto the track.

The outpouring of public support, coupled with Ford’s promise to match donations dollar for dollar, saw Johnson return a new force for 1981.

Johnson won his first of five Australian Touring Car Championships following a season-long battle with Peter Brock.

Johnson and Brock shared all 1981 wins between them - but the Great Race remained.

The damaged Falcon in 1980

Brock had already won the Great Race five times - and was aiming for a fourth straight win - when drivers and teams descended on Mount Panorama in 1981.

For the first time in 22 runnings of the Great Race, the race did not go the full distance.

The Johnson/French car was leading at the time of a six-car accident on lap 121, which blocked the track at McPhillamy Park.

Johnson and French were declared winners, with Ford victorious for the first time since Allan Moffat and Jacky Ickx led the Blue Oval’s famous 1977 one-two.

On the 35th anniversary of the 1980 accident, Johnson explained how acknowledging support of the fans helped his dream grow.

That, he said, made the 1981 victory all the more sweeter.

Johnson with the infamous rock

"I think the most important part about motor racing... unless you embrace the fans and the people that support you, you will not survive," he told Supercars.com.

"That's something I have always been conscious of… I’ll never ever forget the people, who helped me get where I am today.

"It takes an awful lot of work and things like that to make a race team and make it successful… but you've got to have the support of the people out there.

"Fortunately for me, it was just ordinary people that supported us during that particular time and I suppose then it seemed like a great thing.

"For the following year it put an awful lot of pressure on us really, me personally, to think that all those people that supported you.

The 1981 race-winning Falcon XD

"That was the motivation for me to really step up and put our best foot forward and be able to try and pay them back in some small way."

Mazda driver Moffat was third and a lap down on Johnson, with Bob Morris and John Fitzpatrick second, also in a Falcon.

To date, the 1981 race remains the only instance a reigning Formula One champion competed.

Australia’s own Alan Jones, the 1980 F1 champion, co-drove a Commodore with Warren Cullen. They didn’t finish the race.

Johnson, one of Ford’s favourite sons, would be the next man - alongside John Bowe - to win the Bathurst 1000 in a Falcon in 1994.

Sierras won in 1988 and 1989, with Holdens and Nissans doing the heavy lifting in between.

Pic: National Film and Sound Archive

The 1981 race was a bruising affair for Holden, with Garry Rogers and Clive Benson-Browne the marque’s first car home in fourth.

Brock and Jim Richards’ win streak for the Holden Dealer Team ended at three, with the duo classified 21st following a mechanical failure.

Scott McLaughlin and Alex Premat helped Johnson's famous team to a fourth Bathurst win in 2019, with McLaughlin winning three drivers' titles between 2018 and 2020.

With an eye on the future, the pioneering Ford team recently announced it has become the first carbon neutral team in Supercars.

The 2021 Repco Supercars Championship and Dunlop Series seasons will conclude at the Repco Bathurst 1000.

Every session of the event will be broadcast live on Foxtel (Fox Sports 503) and streamed on Kayo.

The Seven Network will provide live free to air coverage of the event. Tickets for the event are on sale now.

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