Ford racing legend Dick Johnson was at the centre of one of motorsports greatest controversies in 1980. While leading the Hardie-Ferodo 1000 disaster struck when he encountered a rock on top of the mountain on lap 17, ruining both his car and any hopes he had of race victory. In this article we will recount the incident, the following outpouring of support from the general public and discuss just how the rock ended up on the track.
The 1980 Hardie-Ferodo 1000 started about as well as Johnson could have hoped. With main rival Peter Brock experiencing issues as a result of a collision with a back marker and going a lap down at the start of lap 17, the race was Johnson’s to lose. As any Australian motorsport fan would know, the mountain tends to strike in the strangest of ways, and only a matter of 30 seconds after putting Brock a lap down, Johnson experienced firsthand the ways of the mountain. After passing through the cutting, Johnson rounded the next right to be confronted with a tow truck on one side of the road, and a football sized rock on the other. With nowhere to go, Johnson hit the rock. The impact ripped the front wheel and suspension apart before sending the XD Falcon into the wall at high speed. At such an early stage of the race it’s hard to say it cost Johnson a certain victory, but with the lapped Brock going on to win the great race, it’s not too much of a stretch to say the race was Johnson’s to lose.
Later in the day Johnson was interviewed for TV, where he emotionally explained the incident, stating “I just couldn’t believe my bloody eyes. These galoots up there that just throw boulders... like it was enormous.” He went on to explain that to repair the car and have it back on track would cost him at least $40,000 and that until fences were installed around the track he wouldn’t be returning. The public responded with an outpouring of support, calling into the TV station to donate money towards the rebuilding of Johnson’s car. When all was said and done, $72,000 had been donated by the public, which was matched by Ford Australia leaving the grand total at $144,000. The amount reignited Johnson’s racing career, which still continues today as a key stakeholder in the DJR Team Penske Racing Team, which is currently dominating the 2017 Supercar Championship. Of course Johnson would return to the mountain, recording three wins in the great race, including the very next year in 1981.
But just how did that rock end up in the middle of the Mt Panorama racing circuit? Well the story goes that two hungover men had made their way to the side of the track to watch the racing after a big night on the cans. One of them was lying down with his head resting on one rock and his feet resting on another, using it to hold him in position on the steep bank above the track. While moving his feet, he dislodged the rock, sending it plummeting down the embankment. At this point the two men bolted and were never to be seen again and as for the rock… the rest is history. Johnson has since stated in interviews that he believes this story and even shares in the humour of the situation, having the rock on display in his office for the last 30 years.
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