THE 1989 season saw John Bowe firmly establish himself as one of Australia’s top touring car drivers with a second-straight season of success with Dick Johnson’s all-conquering Shell Ultra-Hi Ford Sierras.
Of his two Australian Touring Car Championship race victories that season, Bowe’s triumph in the opening round at Amaroo Park ranks as one of the finest of his career – albeit one that came at a cost.
Starting from third on the grid, Bowe shot between slow-starting front row men Johnson and Peter Brock to lead over Bitupave Hill.
Maintaining that lead was no easy feat on a hot March day, where the heat added to the torture the tight Annangrove layout wreaked on tyres. Adding to his stress levels was a stern attack from Jim Richards aboard a Nissan Skyline that was looking after its tyres better than Bowe’s Sierra.
While Richards had been able to round up Johnson around the outside to claim second place, Bowe withstood the Kiwi’s pressure until the Skyline’s tyres finally began to fade, claiming the third championship race win of his career with a five second margin.
However the drive resulted in a gruesome injury, one which Bowe had forgotten about until seeing photos of Biante’s upcoming 1:18 scale model of his Amaroo-winning Sierra.
Bowe told the story to the V8 Sleuth team as part of our research for our book, Dick Johnson Racing/DJR Team Penske 40 Years of Cars: 1980-2019.
Be warned: the following tale is not for the squeamish.
“I burnt the side of my left foot, because where you put it on the footrest it laid against the transmission tunnel, which was very close to the turbo,” Bowe told V8 Sleuth.
“I remember very clearly in the race that I could smell the flesh burning, but I couldn’t do anything about it because Amaroo was a busy little track and there was nowhere to rest on it.
“It burnt my foot so badly that it burnt the bone. It took me months to recover from it – but I’m fine now, I’ve still got my foot!”
In spite of the injury Bowe remained in the title hunt for the entire season, missing the podium in just one of the eight races.
A week after Amaroo, Bowe came home third at Symmons Plains despite a late-race tyre change, followed by another third placing at the rain-delayed, crash-marred and half-points Lakeside round.
Rain also afflicted the championship’s visit to Wanneroo, where Bowe claimed his second win of the season after team-leader Johnson made a late-race pit stop to change to dry tyres. 1989 saw each race run to a time-certain finish rather than a total number of laps, and Johnson was unaware the race’s 50-minute duration was about to elapse.
Bowe claimed yet another third placing at Mallala despite an opening lap tangle with Brock and a late-race mechanical problem, while another podium effort at Sandown behind Johnson and Brock effectively secured a one-two title finish for the DJR duo.
Neither of the Shell drivers figured in the wet at Winton, Bowe spinning off on the penultimate tour while battling for sixth with Andrew Miedecke, the #18 Sierra sliding right across the bows of eventual winner George Fury.
10 points separated the teammates heading to the Oran Park finale, Johnson claiming his fifth Australian Touring Car Championship with a second place finish while Bowe shadowed him home in third, confirming a second-straight year of championship dominance by Dick Johnson Racing.
Update: Bowe retold the story on his social media channel in 2022 with a photo of the trophy – and sorry JB, we don’t know what colour the bucket was!