Dan Johnson has plenty to look forward to as Christmas and the New Year approaches following the birth of his second son, Freddie, earlier this week. As Christmas gifts go, Freddie’s arrival was a blessing, in as much he made his appearance into the world a couple of weeks early and not when expected, around Christmas Day itself.
“Freddie could have arrived on Christmas Day, which wouldn’t have been ideal,” says Johnson. “That was the due date, but both Faye (Johnson’s wife) and Freddie are back home now and doing well. They came home on the same day. They don’t mess around these days in hospitals.”
Johnson is also looking forward to the New Year and the start of the 2018 BriSCA F1 season, when he makes his return to action after a self-inflicted sabbatical after the World Final this year. He is also preparing both his current shale and Tarmac cars now new regulations will come into force after the BMB adjusted and then ratified the proposals laid out at the BSCDA AGM last month.
“The shale car is nearly ready for panelling and painting,” Johnson says. “It’s just the old car, we’re not building any new ones, but we’re making it look pretty and working on set up to try and make it a bit faster. We haven’t started work on the Tarmac car yet, as we were waiting for the new rules to come out.”
Johnson and his father, Dave, took a close look at how the sport was progressing in 2017 and came to the conclusion the expensive, high-revving engines currently in vogue were not the way forward for them. The new rules, limiting engine revs, Johnson believes is the right way forward for the sport.
“There are those who want to spend a load of money – chuck as much money as they can at it – and that is not a problem,” Johnson says.
“For me personally, I can do it if I need to, it wouldn’t be a problem for me – but not everyone can.”
“Me and my dad sat down and we looked at it. Don’t forget we don’t race just once a month like the Touring Car series or Pickup Trucks do – they probably race just 15 rounds a year – whereas we race 30-40 rounds a year.
That’s the concern with the engine job. Even if they were less than £45,000 – say £30,000 plus VAT – multiply that by two, for a shale and Tarmac car, that’s £60,000 plus VAT
“So it isn’t just using a £45,000 engine racing 15 times a year, that you hopefully will get two years out of. It would be touch and go if it would last you a full season on one surface in Formula One stock cars.
“So those who want to do both surfaces with one car, they would not get a full season out of one fancy engine.
“That’s the concern with the engine job. Even if they were less than £45,000 – say £30,000 plus VAT – multiply that by two, for a shale and Tarmac car, that’s £60,000 plus VAT. Not everyone can get the VAT back. You try getting the VAT back through a business and the taxman will raise his head at that.
“So, now you have two engines for each surface, but because they are not reliable, you have to buy a third engine, and so now you are talking nearly £100,000 for three engines.”
“Some people who race stock cars don’t even own their own houses. So we worked out there are probably only 10 drivers who can afford that kind of money.
“Which will mean there will be ten cars going round twice as fast as anyone else. So where is the fun in that?”
Much of the discussion after the AGM was the claim that F1 stock car racing has always been an unlimited formula, but Johnson does not think that is an issue.
“People go on about F1 stock cars being the unlimited formula,” says Johnson. “But so was F1 Grand Prix racing back in the day, and World Rallying, but when technology gets involved, and people are getting mega horsepower and mega torque, then something needs doing about it.
“And so in F1 stock cars, they have. They have limited the engines.”
“My engine revs to around 7,000-7,500 rpm. We could rev it to 8,000 but it wouldn’t do two or three seasons. And the thing is, when you rev the engine to those kinds of revs, when something goes wrong, it doesn’t just do a big end or wear a piston. Something gives, a piston or a con rod, and it smashes everything to bits.”
Actually, we were going to jump on the bandwagon and we were going to make my old Tarmac car radically wider, even wider than Nigel’s
Another key issue was rear axle width that has caused so much discussion regarding the car of world champion Nigel Green. Johnson admits that he was considering going down a similar route next season.
“At first, I didn’t have a problem with it,” Johnson says. “Actually, we were going to jump on the bandwagon and we were going to make my old Tarmac car radically wider, even wider than Nigel’s.
“The front axle was going to be the same but a lot wider track on the back. It was going to be massively wide at the back to the maximum width, 98 inches.
“It would have only just scraped into my lorry or we would have had to take it out with a slide bed.
“We were looking forward to it really, it was something different, but after talking to a few people about we realised what it would have done to the sport and to drivers who have just one car.
“It would have killed the shale job. That would have been like watching lorries going round. There must be around 20-30 cars that do both surfaces and they would probably stop going if we had a load of wide Tarmac cars.
“And that is a lot of cars that could go missing that would usually go every couple of weeks.”
We used to pay between £20-£25 for a second-hand K6 tyre, so that was a no-brainer. It was the best thing for the sport, but then they jumped to £65 and you couldn’t get them
The thorny issue of tyres was the subject that took the longest to be concluded at the AGM. The search for a control tyre for the inside rear was agreed the previous year and an American Racer tyre was tested and proposed at this year’s AGM, but the BMB have agreed that for 2018 the American Racer Tarmac tyre (Venray tyre) will be used on the inside rear.
“I was happy with the original proposal, but it was just a bit of a dark horse,” says Johnson. “Not a lot of people had tried that tyre and we didn’t actually know on paper how much it was going to be. It was just that everyone was adamant they didn’t want the Pirelli K6 tyre because you can’t get them and they don’t last.
“If you buy brand new ones they are too expensive – they are more than £200 now. We used to pay between £20-£25 for a second-hand K6 tyre, so that was a no-brainer. It was the best thing for the sport, but then they jumped to £65 and you couldn’t get them.
“And some were £75-£80 – and that’s for a second-hand tyre. And then when you get them back you realise some have been run flat or they’ve got a rip in them or are cut – they are, after all, a second-hand tyre.
“What I suggested was ban the K6 tyre and eventually the rally boys will be paying to get rid of them because no-one else in the country uses them except for Formula One stock cars.
“So if you leave it a year or two there will be all these tyres available and if we decide to go back to the K6 tyre or people are offered hundreds of them and they are between £15-£25, we can start using them again.
“We were buying Yokohamas at £15 a piece and they were almost like brand new. Luckily, I haven’t got rid of them, so that is what we’ll be using on shale and hopefully they will be the next best tyre.”
Johnson made the dramatic decision to put all his cars up for sale shortly after the World Final, much to the surprise and dismay of F1 stock car fans. Many believed the Worksop-based star was hanging his racing helmet for good, but Johnson denies that as ever the case.
“I just spat my dummy out this season and was going to sell everything,” admits Johnson. ‘But I never said I was retiring. Other people were saying that.
“I had a bit of a fall-out with my dad over the racing, we got very busy – we have got loads of projects on at the moment – and we also lost a very close friend of ours that summer. That was a bit of a shock.
“Then I had two or three weeks off and I realised what I would be missing.”
Normal service will be resumed come March 2018.
Photos courtesy of Colin Casserley and Neil Randon
Neil Randon 2017