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SupercarXtra Magazine issue #118 celebrates the 40th anniversary with a look at the 40 defining moments of the team’s history, starting with the drama of its Bathurst debut in 1980 and its triumphant return a year later.
Queenslander Dick Johnson was making a name for himself with semi-regular championship and Bathurst appearances in the 1970s, initially in privateer Holden Toranas and then with Ford outfit Bryan Byrt Racing. Following Byrt’s death and the demise of the team, Johnson had two choices: giving up on racing and focusing on his day job running a Shell service station, or setting up his own racing outfit. Johnson bought the car and equipment off Bryan Byrt Racing and formed what became known as Dick Johnson Racing (DJR). “There’s a chance if we can do this right we can win a few races, so we stuck everything we had into the race car and it went from there” said Johnson. It would prove to be worth the risk.
Johnson and co-driver John French were controlling proceedings at Bathurst in an impressive run for the new outfit, when the entry encountered a football-sized rock heading up Mount Panorama on lap 17. “I just couldn’t believe my bloody eyes with these galoots up there that just throw boulders; that was enormous” he said post-race. “This was our big shot; we had sunk every bob into this. With our car the way it was, it was more than capable of winning the race “ and doing it easily!” But rather than being a crushing blow, the incident led to an outpouring of support. As Johnson later admitted, winning Bathurst that year would not have given him the amount of exposure that he received following the crash.
The outpouring of support for Johnson following the Bathurst incident was immense. More than $70,000 was donated by the public and Ford Australia to get him back on track for the following season, with Edsel Ford matching the public donations. Johnson built a new Falcon XD and won his first championship race at the 1981 season opener at Symmons Plains. He went on to win the championship over Peter Brock following a thrilling finale on home soil at Lakeside. “It was a real duel for the entire race, from the moment the flag dropped to the chequered flag” said Johnson. Brock would later describe the win as a “turning point” in Johnson’s life, giving him the self-belief and confidence as the Blue Oval’s new leader.
After the bitter 1980, Johnson headed back to Mount Panorama with the momentum of a championship win. He qualified in second place and overcame the challenge of Brock and Kevin Bartlett, leading on lap 121 when a multi-car pile-up ended the race early. “You wouldn’t believe the feeling of relief after we won, firstly the championship and then Bathurst” he said. It was a fitting climax to an incredible 12-month journey.
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