AUSTRALIAN motorsport legend Dick Johnson has revealed he is broke and unwell after losing a staggering $9.1 million.
A sporting great who should be living in the lap of luxury after a 36-year career, the five-time V8 Touring Car champion is living off $350 a week and hasn’t drawn a wage from his famous race team Dick Johnson Racing since 2008.
The 68-year-old also spoke for the first time about his ailing health. “I lost nearly everything I owned,” Johnson told The Sunday Telegraph last week.
“My house, my factory, my health and my famous cars. Even my dignity. I was conned out of $9.1 million.”
Failed business deals forced him to mortgage his $2.1 million Gold Coast property in 2008 and a $1.3 million factory that housed the most successful team in the history of V8 Supercars.
The three-time Bathurst winner lost $4 million in savings and was forced to sell the priceless race cars that helped to make him one of the most standout drivers in Australian history.
“They had to go,” Johnson said. “I was broke and busted and left without a choice. It hurt then and it still hurts now. I am sure all this drama will eventually kill me.
“It may floor you to know I haven’t drawn a wage from my business since 2008. Some people think I am a rich racing legend worth a fortune. But my wife and I have been living on less than $1500 a month. That covers food, bills and petrol. Sometimes I have enough to fly my wife (Jill) to races to watch our son Steve race. My only income comes from the factory space I rent to my team. I have nothing else. I lost it all in a dodgy deal.”
Johnson’s woes began in 2005 when his major sponsor, Westpoint, collapsed – leaving him without a promised $12 million for his team.
The man who became a household name in 1980 when he was wiped out by a rock at Bathurst formed two businesses – V8 Telecoms and FirstRock Mortgage Centre. Both companies collapsed in 2007, forcing Johnson to sell his assets to pay out creditors and save his race team.
“I have had many lows in my life, but none more so than walking into a hotel to plead with a bunch of knockabouts to take all I had to give to save my team.
“It was damn right embarrassing and completely terrifying. Thankfully they accepted my deal and allowed my team to survive,” he said, adding the ordeal had made him an “old man” beyond his years.
“I am not a healthy man, the reasons stem from that period of my life – I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat and I constantly felt sick in the guts. From that day I have constantly battled problems that have made me an old man.
“I was never a big drinker but I turned to the bottle to help me sleep and forget my troubles at night.”
I am 68 now and I look old beyond my years. I am not a healthy man, the reasons for which mostly stem back to that traumatic period of my life.
Since starting those companies, I couldn’t sleep, let alone eat. I constantly felt sick in the guts. I never believed in stress; I thought it was a myth. But from that day I have battled through pulsating problems that have made me older than I seem. It’s hard to truly understand stress until you’ve experienced it. Stomach tied in knots, it’s completely draining and all consuming. I’ve been dealing with this feeling for years now and it never seems to go away. I was never a big drinker, but around that time I turned to the bottle to help me sleep and forget my troubles at night.
I suppose I haven’t been well since 1990, all those years of driving also taking its toll. I have had nine operations for sinus-related problems, which in the last ten years of my career got so bad that a piece of cloth rag was sewn into my race gloves so I could wipe away the muck pouring from my eyes. At times I couldn’t see. I’d burst an eardrum almost every time I’m in the air flying to races, muck flowing everywhere at its worst. The sinus also gave me crippling headaches to the point where sometimes I had to lie down in the truck, buried in complete darkness before I jumped behind the wheel. I was in utter agony, but it never once stopped me from racing.
I am now paying heavily for those accidents and countless laps in my motor racing career. I have a titanium knee and a titanium hip. I have been in and out of hospital for years, dealing with infections and surgeons having to go back in to clean them up. I have been told not to travel, and I shuffle instead of walk. But still, I haven’t missed a race.
To this day, I walk with my fists up, readying myself for blows. Every day is a challenge, but I am up for the fight. I know I have aged, I know I’m not well, but I’m determined to continue despite all that’s affecting me. My family has kept me strong throughout my trials and tribulations, especially during that traumatic time of my life when everything seemed to have been taken away from me. But amid this hellish period a little bundle of bliss arrived, making me realise what life was all about.
My grandson Jett was born in March 2005. He is arguably the best thing that has ever happened to me. I was in the deepest shit, feeling completely desperate, and when he came along he made that all go away. I’d sit with him in my arms, and Jett would make me forget about everything else, and I was alive again.
Family is the one thing that has been constant in my life, and young Jett gave me the will to fight on. He is my inspiration, as are Jillie, Steve, Kel, Lacy and my brothers and my sisters. As was Jillie’s mum and her dad; my parents too. And, of course, all my mates and lifelong friends.
I also made a quiet promise to myself, one I hope I’ll be able to keep. As I walked out of Fitzy’s Hotel, I vowed to pay back all those poor people who had lost their money in the failed company. We’re not talking millions, and under law I’m not obligated to do anything. But that’s not my style. I can’t sleep knowing that I caused problems for these people, and if I get back on my feet I will give them every cent back. I dream of the day I will be able to call them into a room and put the money down on the table and apologise. I would love to show them just how much their support meant to me and that I am indeed genuinely sorry.
There’s still a long way to go. But where there is life, there is hope.
James Phelps – 17th July 2013 – Extracted from Dicks Autobiography.
Story by: James Phelps Courtesy of the Sunday Telegraph 20th July 2013