Dick Johnson celebrates half a century of Bathurst 1000

Thursday 05 October, 2023
Photo: Shell V-Power Racing Team
The 2023 Repco Bathurst 1000 will mark a significant milestone in the illustrious career of Dick Johnson, one of the sport's most formidable competitors, team owners, and charismatic figures. This year, he commemorates half a century since his inaugural appearance in ‘The Great Race’.

The journey started with his first appearance in 1973, where he featured alongside Bob Forbes in a Holden LJ Torana GTR XU-1.  

In an era where the race was all about surviving, Johnson and Forbes did just that to cross the line in fifth place – an impressive feat in a race that takes such a big toll on drivers of all experience levels.  

Spectators witnessing the performance of the then 28-year-old may not have realised it would be the first of his 26 appearances across his racing career, which included three race wins in 1981, 1989 and 1994.  

His first victory came in his first year competing under the Dick Johnson Racing / Palmer Tube Mills banner, featuring alongside fellow Queenslander, John French for the first time since 1974.  

The duo was declared the winner after a six-car pileup on lap 121 ended the race prematurely, their Ford Falcon being the leading car at the time and taking the victory.  

“The first one we won, in ’81, was really, really special,” Johnson said in a Shell V-Power Racing Team video.

“Even though it was a shortened race, at the end of the day, we had the goods to do it.”

Image: Dick Johnson on the podium after winning the 1981 Bathurst 1000

Some difficult years alongside Larry Perkins and Gregg Hansford made his next two victories all the more sweeter, with his first alongside the well renowned John Bowe coming in the 1989 rendition of the race - where the duo essentially led from start to finish.

Johnson and Bowe would then repeat their efforts five years later, fighting off the threat of a rookie Craig Lowndes in the dying stages to take their second as a team, and third for Johnson overall.  

While the three wins were arguably the greatest moments of Johnson’s time racing in the Bathurst 1000, he was also around to witness a number of other memorable moments – including Peter Brock’s record-breaking ninth win and Greg Murphy’s Lap of the Gods.  

But with great memories, come some we would much rather forget.  

Johnson was involved in one of the more miraculous escapes The Great Race has ever seen, after his Greens’-Tuf XE Falcon was sent flying after the right rear tyre clipped the barrier in Qualifying at Forrest Elbow in 1983.  

Just three years earlier, Johnson was involved in another well-known Bathurst incident when he collided with an errant rock while leading the 1980 enduro.  

It was that year that Dick Johnson Racing was formed and is today known as the longest running team in the 2023 Repco Supercars Championship.

231005_johnson 1980Image: Dick Johnson at the 1980 Bathurst 1000

The team has since won four Bathurst 1000s in its time, with its first coming in 1981 and its most recent coming in 2019 with Scott McLaughlin and Frenchman, Alexandre Prémat.  

Dick‘s final Bathurst 1000 appearance came in 1999, where he narrowly missed out on a farewell podium finish alongside his son, Steven.  

Steven would go on to tackle the mountain 21 times of his own, with his best result a third place finish alongside Will Davison in 2007.  

“There were some tough times, and we did it from home, no factory involvement etc. But things are a lot different today,” Johnson said.  

“It’s changed over the years dramatically, from the early days of Bathurst, it’s so much different. Not only the cars, but the race track itself, the television coverage.  

"They have these little cameras in the car now which look like a tube of lipstick. God, I had a full-sized camera inside the car. Things are quite a bit different to what they used to be.

The 2023 edition of Repco Bathurst 1000 race will take place on Sunday, 8 October.  

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