Happy birthday, Dick Johnson

  • Virgin Australia Supercars Championship
  • |
  • 26/04/2015
  • By V8 Supercars

The V8 Supercars community wishes a happy 70th birthday to Hall of Famer and pit lane personality Dick Johnson.

The five-time Australian Touring Car Champion, three-time Bathurst 1000 winner and fan favourite retired from racing in 1999, was recognised for his contribution to Australian motorsport in 2001, when he was inducted into the V8 Supercars Hall of Fame and continues to stick around in pit lane, having aligned his Dick Johnson Racing team with motorsport heavyweight Roger Penske for this season.

Fans stillreminisce of the highs and lows of Johnson's racing career, particularly at Bathurst, including 'the Rock' in 1980 and his 1994 win with John Bowe, over rookie Craig Lowndes and Brad Jones.

Bowe remembers those days as a wonderful time in his life, and wished Johnson all the best for his 70th.

"The best times in my racing life were spent at DJR with Dick Johnson and his family," Bowe told v8supercars.com.au.

"He was a hero to me, then I joined his very competitive race team. For me, it was living the dream, really - I always tell people these days I surfed on Dick's coat tales.

"Dick Johnson was a fantastic driver of Touring Cars and he generated incredible loyalty from his fans and the people who worked with and for him.

"I know he won't want to have a birthday; I'd like to wish him the very best for this birthday - you are one of a kind."

Just two years before their '94 victory, the feeling at Bathurst wasn't the same for Johnson. While he was leading the 1000 when it was called to a halt because of torrential weather conditions, he and Bowe were not awarded the win.

Jim Richards and Mark Skaife were the victors, despite crashing their Nissan in the horrendous conditions - the results were backdated to the end of the previous lap, when Richards led the pack.

Johnson's complaints didn't change the friendship between he and Richards - in fact, Richards said he would have been just as miffed if roles had been reversed.

"Dick, to me was always a friend as well as a competitor," seven-time Bathurst winner Richards told v8supercars.com.au.

"Because when I first came to Australia in 1975 we went to Lakeside for the first time and we looked after our cars in a little Shell service station... we became friends and he let me drive his XU1, which he was running at Lakeside the same meeting I was running my Mustang.

"I'd only known him for three or four days and he let me drive his XU1 in a race at the end of the day!

"We've always remained friends and we've never had a bad word about each other on and off the track.

"I'm glad he's reached his 70th because I'm not far behind him!"

After Johnson's retirement, he stepped back to continue working within his team, while son Steve kept the Johnson name on the racetrack from 2000.

The following year, Steve had his best V8 Supercars win at the Queensland 500 enduro with Paul Radisich - a reverse in fortune, because the race was red flagged due to rain and although the Ford Falcon AU had sailed off the track, he and Radisich were granted the win under the same rule!

Steve said it was a bizarre turn of fate to win in that fashion - after a huge effort from the crew, upgrading the car for the event - and acknowledged it as a special moment for the family team.

"It was massive - just one of those moments you believe [in] karma!" Steve told v8supercars.com.au.

"To be able to work with Dad, having him as a father and him being there supporting me 100 per cent with my racing is more than I could've ever wanted," he continued.

"We've obviously both been through all the ups and downs of what's happened at DJR and no one deserves success any more than my old man.

"To see what's happened and how tough and resilient he is, his never give up attitude is inspiring ... to see his determination, what he started in the '70s and '80s in Touring Cars, and doing it all on his own until this year, is pretty inspirational."

Johnson still remains an integral part of the amalgamated DJR Team Penske - managing director Ryan Story believes many people don't appreciate just how much he cares about his fans, friends and staff.

"Richard Francis Johnson AM has a very high tolerance for pain and a very low one for bullshit," Story said.

"Dick comes into the workshop every day. When he arrives, he pops his backpack down on the staircase leading to his office and wanders around to say hello and see what everyone's up to. He takes genuine interest in the staff and their families. He inspires each and every one of them to work hard and make the most of the tools at their disposal.

"Even when times have been tough, Dick has always placed the welfare and recompense of his staff above all else, all of whom would genuinely do anything for him, just as he would them."

While he is now an important part of the operations of DJR, Story himself was a Dick Johnson fan as a youngster.

"He might occasionally say that as a businessman he makes a hell of a race car driver," Story said.

"Where the mistake of entrusting the wrong people in the past has cost him dearly, his honesty and sincere humility has endeared him to his legion of fans and supporters, all of whom have helped keep his race team alive and certainly kept the fire burning.

"Dick Johnson's appetite for success and his competitive spirit, despite being out of the cockpit for 15 years, is just as strong as it ever was.

"I've witnessed first-hand the high regard, or rather, reverence, in which Roger Penske and Tim Cindric hold him. It's out of respect for his on-track achievements, his grit and his tenacity. A reputation clearly not limited to Australia.

"To them he is an out and out 'racer', in an industry where, in a binary sense, you're either a 'racer' or, simply, not one.

"The partnership formed with Team Penske last year will, in time, see Dick Johnson have success once more, this time on his own terms. For a man today entering his seventy-first year, it's just desserts indeed."

V8 Supercars wishes Dick Johnson a very happy 70th birthday.

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