Dick Johnson was 18 when he watched the inaugural Bathurst 1000 in 1963 and made his debut at the track a decade later.
He would go on to race 27 times at Mount Panorama-Wahluu, claiming victory in 1981, 1989 and 1994.
“Every time you drive over the Blue Mountains and you see Mount Panorama it brings back a lot of memories because it is such an iconic place,” Johnson said.
Johnson is remembered for many Bathurst moments, none bigger than his battles with “King of the Mountain”, nine-time Bathurst 1000 winner Peter Brock, and the 1980 event when, leading, he collided with a rock that had rolled onto the track, ending his race but cementing him as the Bathurst battler in the hearts of motor racing fans.
Johnson retired from driving in 1999 but maintained his presence in the sport as the owner of Dick Johnson Racing, which won its first Bathurst title in 2019.
Johnson said the sport had changed considerably during his 50 years of involvement.
“We used to spend many hours at midnight building the cars,” he said.
“I used to make the engine, the gearbox, then do the suspension at the racetrack.
“It was only the two of us but we managed and I’ve enjoyed it all.
“There has been good, there’s been bad and there’s been ugly — but I’ve loved it.”
Lowndes marks 30 years on the mountain
This weekend seven-time Bathurst champion Craig Lowndes will make his 30th appearance at the event, which he first competed in in 1994.
“As a driver you never know how long you are going to have the opportunity, so to be here for a 30th time is pretty special,” he said.
“I grew up coming to this track as a teenager and loving it, wanting to be part of it, so for me this is our grand final — a race that you always want to win.”
Five-time winner Garth Tander said competing at Bathurst was one of the pinnacles of Australian sport.
“We are a mad sporting nation and there are a few events that really capture the imagination of the population, like the Melbourne Cup, AFL Grand Final, Boxing Day Test, State of Origin, and Bathurst,” he said.
Tander said the feeling of racing at the mountain was unmatched by any other circuit in the world.
“When you drive into the town itself and you see that Mount Panorama sign it always makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up,” he said.
“I think why Bathurst is so special is the history of this race and those that have had success here in the past, so to be a small part of that is a real honour.”
From the Great Depression to razzamatazz
Motorsport historian Steve Normoyle said the road, which was opened in 1938, was never intended to be a race track.
“The circuit itself has been there since the late 1930s,” he said.
“It was built as part of the state government’s Great Depression-busting public works program, originally as a scenic drive.
“Now it is a mecca for motorsport and is among the top three tracks in the world for spectacular scenery, speed, difficulty and danger.”
The cars have changed dramatically over the 60 years — the race began as a way to test everyday vehicles.
“It was meant to be a mobile endurance performance test of the cars that we drive on the road — that was the sole reason for the thing happening in the first place,” Normoyle said.
“That has just completely gone — it is now a big razzamatazz sporting event with the cars bearing no resemblance to road vehicles.”
The Bathurst 1000 begins at 11:15am AEDT on Sunday.
https://www.abc.net.au/news/2023-10-08/bathurst-1000-legends-reflect-on-60th-anniversary-of-race/102942824 Bathurst 1000 legends look back on 60 years of iconic Mount Panorama motor race