STRANGE BUT TRUE: DICK JOHNSON RACED A CHEVROLET CAMARO

Strange But True: Dick Johnson once raced a Chevrolet Camaro. Pics: an1images.com / Graeme Neander, General Motors Media.

IT’S well known that Dick Johnson began his racing career aboard Holden machinery before a mid-1970s move to Ford that set him on the course towards a Hall of Fame career.

Johnson cut his teeth in FJ and EH Holdens then made his name racing a succession of fast Toranas, but switched to the Blue Oval in 1976 courtesy of an offer from car dealer Bryan Byrt.

Johnson stuck faithfully to Ford from that point on in touring car racing, winning three Bathurst 1000s and five Australian Touring Car Championships driving V8 Falcons and turbocharged Sierras.

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However, in the twilight of his driving career, Johnson indeed made a one-off switch to General Motors’ halo American muscle car.

Johnson raced a Chevrolet Camaro in the final round of the 1996/97 New Zealand TraNZam Championship, piloting a car for United States-based Kiwi Bruce Jenner (and before you ask, no, a different person to US decathlete and former Transam and IMSA racer Caitlyn Jenner).

However, it wasn’t a spat with Ford that drove Johnson into the cockpit of a Chevrolet.

He drove the car as a substitute for the car’s regular pilot: his son Steven Johnson.

Steven Johnson led the series into the closing rounds despite being disqualified from the Wellington round. Pic: an1images.com / Dirk Klynsmith

The New Zealand TraNZam Championship had attracted a number of Australian touring car heroes across for its summer seasons, including Peter Brock, Jim Richards and Dick himself in previous seasons.

Steven Johnson and Paul Morris led the Australian contingent for the ’96/97 season, with the locals headed by the late Ashley Stichbury and Mark Pedersen.

The series generated some close and intense racing at the front of the field, so much so that Johnson and Stichbury were involved in several incidents that led the former to cop a NZ$500 fine and disqualification from the Wellington event, while the latter was flung from the Ruapuna round.

Stichbury pipped Steven Johnson to a win during the series’ first visit to Pukekohe, held on the support card for the visiting Australian V8s’ Mobil NZ Sprints. Pic: an1images.com / Dirk Klynsmith

Despite Johnson’s exclusion from Wellington, a string of race wins meant he led the series overall from Morris heading to the penultimate round at Manfield Park.

Sadly, Johnson’s title hopes ended in the warm-up after the Camaro suffered brake failure, the subsequent head-on crash into a tyre wall at 180 km/h leaving him with injuries that ruled him out of the rest of the championship.

Johnson talked about the incident when he came on the V8 Sleuth Podcast in 2019 – listen to the full episode in the player below.

With Johnson out hurt, his father stepped into the Enzed Camaro for the final round of the season at Pukekohe.

Dick missed Friday practice while waiting for repairs on the battered Camaro to be completed, but qualified sixth and took a fourth placing and a pair of fifths in the three races, and ran as high as third in the final sprint until contact with a rival sent him into a spin.

And what did Dick think of racing a Chevrolet product instead of one of his beloved Fords?

In typical laconic fashion, he told Auto Action: “I can’t see it from the inside…”

The Camaro excursion was actually Johnson’s second race in a Chevrolet.

In 1984, Johnson raced the ex-Bob Jane Chevrolet Monza GT car with Allan Grice and Ron Harrop in the Sandown round of the World Endurance Championship.

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Will Dale is V8 Sleuth's Head of Content - Digital. He began his media career as a breakfast radio newsreader before joining SPEED TV Australia and FOX SPORTS Australia in 2012 as its Digital Editorial Lead - Motorsport, covering all forms of motorsport both in Australia and internationally. He became part of the V8 Sleuth team in 2018.