CAFE CHAT: Steve Amos and Dick Johnson

Steve Amos (right) with Roger Penske

With Steve Amos calling time on his Supercars career, took the chance to sit down for an extensive interview with the long-time Mostech Race Engines boss, as well as the man he’s worked closely alongside for nearly two decades, Dick Johnson. First of all, Steve, congratulations on a phenomenal career. Can you share some highlights from your time in Supercars?

Steve Amos: My fondest memories have been from 2005 on, since I have been here, part of the [Dick Johnson Racing] family. I think the other teams, they can have wins, they can come and go, but teams like this you actually realise there’s a culture inside as well as the perceived culture to the fans.

Once you’re a part of that, you understand how and why it works. Being a part of that, it’s every boy’s dream. As a young engine builder, it has been absolutely phenomenal. Dick being an engine guy has just made it even better. We formed a friendship quite early on. I feel like I haven’t worked for the past 30 years, I have just been lucky enough to do what I have loved. You’ve been on quite the health journey these past seven or eight years… tell us more.

Steve Amos: So, 2014 I had a brain haemorrhage, which I wouldn’t recommend to anyone. That kind of derailed me unfortunately right at the time Ryan [Story] and DJ [Dick Johnson] were doing the initial talks with Penskes, so the timing couldn’t have been worse.

So most of 2014 I was stuck at home, unable to work. Most of 2015 was recovering. I think I started school hours back late 2015; that was quite a drama in itself to be able to even focus for that six hours. Where you could give something 100 percent, at that point I found that 100 percent might really only be 20 percent of what I need to do, so I knew at that point that I just needed to surround myself with good people to do the job for me and step back from the day-to-day side of it.

I don’t think I travelled for a couple of years until I felt I was up to it. Went back, did a little bit more travelling, and then in 2019 we had a single well-documented issue after Bathurst which I guess put a little bit of pressure on myself and I put pressure on myself due to that. I had another small stroke at that point, and since then I basically haven’t worked full-time since.

We have kept the business going as long as we can, but I guess the project has got to the point where it needs to be 100 percent to be fair to these guys [at DJR] who have been great to me, to be fair to Ford and the fans and everybody else. The project requires more than I can give it. So how has that affected you over time? You mentioned not being able to focus quite so well…

Steve Amos: A lot of rehab, even as simple as speech therapists, learning to speak with a lazy tongue, different things that don’t perform the way they used to. Getting used to how your head wants to work without your control. I guess probably the hardest thing was the attention, the focus, it was just too hard to remain focused on a job, too tiring. The level I knew that I had to be at to get to that point, I just wasn’t capable of doing it again.

I guess with those brain-related injuries, the hardest thing is people see you, they think you’re A-okay, which is a lot of mental health issues that need to be addressed all over the world – people look fine, but you don’t know what’s happening in their head.

Dick Johnson: It comes down to one word: Stress.

Steve Amos: Absolutely. And that’s what it was, in 2014 the stress of a business partnership failing – well, the partnership side of it failing – and that side of it led to the original one. And then the Bathurst drama led to the second one.

Dick Johnson: When you have somebody working for you for such a long time and being such a loyal person within the group, it’s really hard to accept and see the pain that he goes through. Stress is a dreadful, dreadful thing, and unless you have experienced it, you would not know what it’s like, and I think he has probably had the worst of it.

Steve Amos (second from right) at Bathurst

Steve Amos: I think it’s something that the industry as a whole, we need to make sure that we do look at the impact that the competition runs, the way it works, we do have to give some consideration to the families, the guys behind the scenes as well. It’s not just drivers; you look at the COVID, some of the guys away for months at a time. Those kind of things, there is a lot of stress on the guys that may never see a camera or a reporter, but they’re still under the same pressure. And they have huge pressure to perform. Have there been many surgeries along the way?

Steve Amos: No, I was a bit of a medical marvel. So I ended up with quite a reasonable sized bleed of the brain and as quick as it went in there, my body somehow dispersed the blood as well. We don’t really know how or why, we’re all just thankful that it did. So basically, I had a blockage, an explosion in the back of the head. You have got a highway to bring all of the blood flow to and from your brain… if they had have drilled, I probably wouldn’t have come out of it, or I would have come out of it with more permanent issues. The potential for left-side paralysis was quite great, so we were never going to do that. So basically the blood came out and they took a drain out of the top of my neck, and they were able to get it gone, and I was home a week or so later.

Once I got home from the hospital, you have to begin as quick as you can to try to get into the rehab side of it, so they did occupational therapy, speech therapy, physiotherapy. Me being me, I did it all. If it was practice for two hours, I practiced for six hours to try to get back and prove I could recover. Mind over matter as much as I could. There was probably six to eight months of rehab twice a week at Robina. Learning to get your balance back. Small things, if you shut your eyes you’d fall over. Those sort of things took a bit of getting used to. There was a lot of that, and I still carry a fair portion of that, I just try to hide it well. Dick mentioned loyalty before. You’ve either worked for, or been directly affiliated with, DJR for 17 years now. What’s kept you here all this time?

Steve Amos: It was really shown to me, when we got to the end of the season [in 2006 or 2007] and I watched Dick sell basically his wedding photos [his iconic race cars]. Like, they’re his history and I watched him load those onto a truck. From that day, I wasn’t going anywhere.

To me, that was the loyalty to your staff and you repay that, because at the time there was lots going on in the media and everywhere else, but the truth was the guy sold his history to keep us going over Christmas. Nobody knew that at the time. I was here working on that weekend and helped push some of those cars outside. To me, that was a defining moment with loyalty that spoke volumes to me, that he was prepared to do that when at that point, honestly he probably should have said ‘I’ve done enough for this sport’. But no, he sold the history that got us to there and kept us all employed. Ironically, your first big result came while battling against DJR at the 1994 Bathurst 1000, where John Bowe only got past Craig Lowndes in the dying laps. The engine Lowndes was running was of course built by you…

Steve Amos: So the way that came about was through Brad Jones [who Lowndes was co-driving with]. As an apprentice engine builder in Albury, there was a guy making his name in motor racing called Brad Jones. He would come into where I was doing my apprenticeship and we would help him out with his early race cars with his AUSCAR and eventually NASCAR, leading into Supercars. At the time I was obviously trying to get in with Brad and be a part of the motorsport scene, that was my way in, so I guess I had done a couple of rounds with Brad in ’94 for AUSCAR and then Rob Benson happened to be at one of those meetings and offered me a job. So that was how I ended up at HRT.

Dick Johnson: There’s a difference between guys that can screw an engine together and guys that can build and design an engine, and he [Amos] is one of the very few. Dick, from building for the enemy, Steve has ended up as part of the furniture at your team…

Dick Johnson: Yeah, well, it’s a very small community, isn’t it? And it’s a very circular thing. JB, I got on the radio to him and gave him a bit of a blast. I said ‘you’re not going to let some snotty nosed kid blow the great John Bowe away, are you?’ I must admit that Lowndes made a mistake and missed the brake pedal, that’s how he got past.

Dick Johnson (left) and Ryan Story (right) with Issac, Eliah, Steve and Jacob Amos Steve, to have your sons Jacob and Issac an integral part of Mostech Race Engines must be a proud thing for you?

Steve Amos: Absolutely, extremely proud to hopefully have made a positive mark on the sport and leaving something for the future with the Gen3 project. It’s awesome to have been a part of the next generation for Supercars, to see that going along. Absolutely an amazing amount of pride to see two of my boys working with me. And with Gen3, it’s pretty much a landmark move away from the 5.0-litre engine formula, so it’s no doubt been a huge project for you?

Steve Amos: I think Gen3 is something that Supercars had to do, I think it’s going to be great going forward for the sport, they had to contain the costs and that’s coming from an engine person, who are notoriously good at spending the money. To have had our involvement from the ground up, it has been great for us to have a sheet of paper and be told, what are we going to do here? To have created a bespoke 5.4 with as much factory parts as we could use, it has actually been a good challenge to us. Come February 1, how tough will it be to be outside the industry going forward?

Steve Amos: Yeah, I made a joke and said I was going to buy myself a fishing rod and see if I can kind of do that – but I’m pretty sure one weekend a month I will be glued to the television. The passion is still there, the body is not. I’d keep going but I’m not up to it. So are we calling this your official retirement?

Steve Amos:We’re going to do a bit of Hyundai racing and give Issac a couple of years of racing there. And we’ll just tinker on little bits and pieces, I can still put an engine together, so I’ll be carrying on a couple of other Mostech projects as well. I have actually had a hot rod for the last seven years and I haven’t touched it. I have got to actually finish that car, so I will just do a couple of projects, some things that I’m passionate about, and otherwise take a well-earned rest. I think my body deserves a big rest. I believe there’s some charities you wanted to give a shout out to?

Steve Amos: Beyond Blue I think is one that more people need to realise that they can reach out to. You sit at home and you manifest all these ideas, everybody jumps on and read all these things on the internet, and it just manifests in your head. The idea of having people to talk to, you can’t undersell that. It’s just the most important thing you need.

And the Stroke Foundation is the other one I’d like to give a shout out to. It’s something we have come pretty close to, pretty important in our lives now, so we’d like to do something to raise awareness for that and I’m sure in the future we will. Dick, any final words on Steve?

Dick Johnson: Well, when you have got the best, only the best will do. I think that’s a pretty good way to finish, with a classic DJ one-liner. Thank you both for your time and all the best, Steve.

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