Australian touring car icon Dick Johnson has paid some of the highest praise possible to his good mate Mike Raymond on the morning of his Sydney funeral, stating that the media personality had helped financially save his race team.
Raymond, who was 76 when he passed away from complications with pneumonia last week, was the head of the Channel 7 commentary team when Johnson had his famous rock incident at Mount Panorama in 1980.
Johnson believes that Raymond’s ability to weigh up the situation and run with it created an environment which produced a result which saved his race team.
Johnson had just hit a rock, dislodged off the side of Mt Panorama by a race fan, while leading the race which wrecked his #17 True-Blue Falcon.
A tearful Johnson was later being interviewed by US racing commentator Chris Economaki in the on-track studio and was asked whether he would be back.
“Unless I can get $40,000 to rebuild the car you have lost me,” said Johnson.
“We have stuck every single bob into this.”
As Economaki came towards the end of the interview, Raymond broke in.
“Dick, all the switchboards at all the Channel 7 stations across Australia are jammed,” he interjected.
“People that are so upset and they are, believe it not, just ringing and genuinely pledging money to help you. This has just happened in the last half hour.
“Take time out and we will keep you informed with what happens Dick.”
Raymond returned later to inform Johnson that Ford boss, Edsel Ford, had just called and committed to match the fans’ donations “dollar for dollar”.
“The Dick Johnson rock story at Bathurst is absolutely correct,” said Ford.
“I was distressed and I called up the TV station and said that for every dime that’s raised by the fans, Ford Australia will match it.
“Well that was a big mistake because I think we raised something near $75,000.”
While Raymond was a pioneer in motorsport and sports television coverage, it was his natural skills as a promoter which were called on that day in 1980.
“I had told Australia that I had stuck my neck out and I had just had it chopped off,” said Johnson, who had mortgaged his Brisbane home to get to the 1980 Bathurst event.
“Mike summed up the situation and ran with it.
“When the phone calls started coming he understood (what) could be made of it and he did everything he could.
“I am sure there was plenty in it for them (Channel 7) too, but the end result helped save the team.”
It is now history that Johnson not only returned to win his first of five Australian Touring Car Championships the following year, but also the first of three Bathurst 1000 crowns in what was a crashed-shortened race.
While they had been mates previously, Raymond’s compassion for Johnson’s plight that day in 1980 saw them develop a genuine lifelong friendship.
“We had so many great nights together, real fun,” said Johnson, who will be attending today’s funeral.
“He loved Mateus Rose, that was his drink.
“We did some great things together at and away from the track, but his contribution to the sport can never be underestimated.”
Raymond was one of the driving forces behind race cam development, which was a world first for motorsport and Johnson was one of the first drivers to regularly have a camera in his car.
One of the most memorable chats between Johnson’s #17 Falcon and the commentary box came at Bathurst in 1982.
“Is there a place on this race track (Bathurst) that you don’t like Dick?,” quizzed Raymond.
“Yeah; the pits when there is a race going on,” Johnson wryly replied.
A year later Raymond called one of the biggest moments ever at Mt Panorama, again involving Johnson.
“Oh, he’s hit the fence and he has gone off the track into a tree,” screamed Raymond over the top of Garry Wilkinson’s lap commentary as Johnson’s green Falcon was splintered amongst the trees just past the exit of Forrest’s Elbow.
In 1995 Raymond crossed to Johnson on race cam just as he entered the chase on Conrod Straight during an ATCC sprint round.
“Are you lonely,” heckled Raymond.
“You’ve gotta be joking,” replied Johnson.
“No, I just thought you might not have been busy for a while,” said Raymond.
Just then the rear wing on Johnson’s Falcon collapsed and sent him spinning through the chase.
The coverage broke from the car, but returned after a few laps where Raymond admitted that he thought he might have broken Johnson’s concentration and put the ‘mockers’ on him.
“Nah, you’re all good Michael,” said Johnson.
“If I am going to feel the pain, I want you to feel it too,” he joked.
Further tributes will be made at a funeral service which will take place at Waterview in Bicentennial Park, Sydney Olympic Park today at 1315 (AEDT).