Australian racing legend Dick Johnson celebrated his 65th birthday yesterday.
The three-time Bathurst 1000 winner spent his day with family at his Queensland home and told Speedcafe.com.au that the highlight of his day was a gift from his grandson.
“I think the highlight of my day was when my young grandson said “I’ve got a present for you,” Johnson said.
“He pulled it out a piece of paper that was all of his own – it was a Hot Air Balloon ride certificate. It’s something that has never really excited me, but somehow he gets the feeling that I need to go on a hot air balloon ride with him! I thought that was quite funny.”
Johnson’s racing record is hard to match on the local scene. The Queensland hero has won Bathurst three-times (1981, 1989 and 1994), plus five Australian Touring Car Championships (1981, 1982, 1984, 1988 and 1989).
On reflection, he says that he is fortunate to have seen the progression of he beloved sport.
“I don’t think anyone has seen as many changes in local motorsport as what I have. I have been involved with it for so long now.” he said.
“When I first got into it, it was a complete amateur sport. You drove your car to the race meeting, you raced it, then you drove it home and then went to work the following day. Things have changed an awful lot, but in saying that, if I didn’t enjoy that, I wouldn’t be here.”
Johnson retired from V8 Supercars racing full-time in 1999, handing over his ride in his team to son Steve (who celebrated 150 starts in the V8 class two weeks ago in Hamilton, NZ).
After a few horror seasons of financial troubles, the Dick Johnson Racing team is back to its best, with all three of its drivers James Courtney, Steve Johnson and Jonathon Webb inside the top 12 in the V8 Supercars Championship Series.
Johnson said that this weekend at the Queensland Raceway – the team’s home test track – presents them a great opportunity to win, especially considering the Dunlop soft tyre that the teams will compete on all meeting.
“We have a great chance this week. We had a podium at Queensland Raceway last which was good for the team and I sincerely hope we can do the same this year,” he said.
“Things are pretty close, but it will be interesting to see how things pan out with the softer tyre being used at this particular race track.
“Everyone is under the same tyre rules and regulations, so it’s going to be one of those situations where the car which looks after its tyres the best is going to have an advantage. In the past, it has taken a while for our cars to get their tyres to the optimum operating temperature, but they do have longevity, which will be really important and it could play into our hands.”
Four V8 Supercars practice sessions will be held this Friday, with qualifying and racing on both Saturday and Sunday.