JAMES PHELPS

Sunday Tasmanian - - Sport -

THE call that saved Dick John­son Rac­ing came out of the blue.

“Hello, it’s Roger Penske,’’ the Amer­i­can bil­lion­aire told DJR co-owner Ryan Story.

“I like what you guys are do­ing and would like to get in­volved.’’

This is the un­told story of how the then bat­tling DJR be­came the Aus­tralian Su­per­cars jug­ger­naut known as DJR/Team Penske.

It is the tale of how a cou­ple of Aussie bat­tlers landed an Amer­i­can bil­lion­aire, putting them on a path that could lead to a his­tory-mak­ing V8 crown for Scott McLaugh­lin in two weeks.

It is also a tale of pri­vate jets, se­cret wheel­ing and deal­ing, and Big Macs.

And it all started with a phone call.

“A num­ber be­gin­ning with a +1 came up on my mo­bile phone,’’ Story told The Sun­day Tas­ma­nian.

“It looked like an Amer­i­can num­ber. The guy on the other end said he was Roger Penske.’’

Story, who be­came a coowner of DJR, strug­gled to be­lieve he was speak­ing with the leg­endary owner of Team Penske — an Amer­i­can NASCAR and IndyCar gi­ant.

“I am the world’s big­gest pes­simist,’’ Story said.

“I had a hard time be­liev- ing it was him. Ev­ery­one in world mo­tor­sport knows who Roger Penske is.

“He has achieved ev­ery­thing in the US and is at the ab­so­lute pin­na­cle. Even­tu­ally I had to ac­cept that it was him on the phone. And when you have Roger talk­ing to you, well, you lis­ten.’’

And Story liked what the Amer­i­can truck­ing empire owner, whose net worth is cur­rently listed by Forbes as $2.2 bil­lion, had to say.

“He ba­si­cally went through a sales pitch telling me why he wanted to go rac­ing with us,’’ Story said.

“He spoke about his ad­mi­ra­tion for Dick and the achieve­ments Dick has had.

“He told me that he wanted to come and race with us here in Aus­tralia.’’

The call could not have come at a bet­ter time. “We were strug­gling,’’ John­son said.

“We were go­ing week to week at the time and our fu­ture was in doubt. We put ev­ery­thing we had into win­ning the cham­pi­onship in 2010 and it al­most killed us.’’

A fad­ing force on the track, the busi­ness a week-to-week propo­si­tion, John­son and Story made a se­cret trip to the US two weeks af­ter the sur­prise call.

“He [Penske] ac­tu­ally wanted to fly us to Amer­ica to meet him, in his pri­vate jet,’’ Story said.

“And I think he was impressed when we said no. We didn’t think it was ap­pro­pri­ate and we paid for our own fares.

“Any­way there we were sit­ting in the head­quar­ters of this fa­mous team in the US talk­ing about be­com­ing part­ners. It was sur­real. And yeah, I still couldn’t be­lieve it was hap­pen­ing.’’

Penske’s in­ter­est in be­com­ing a Su­per­cars owner be­came both real and pub­lic when Team Penske gen­eral Tim Cin­dric made a sur­prise visit to the sea­son-end­ing Syd­ney 500 in 2013.

“The cat was out of the bag when Tim and Jamie Al­li­son [for­mer head of Ford Per­for­mance Rac­ing] turned up to the race at Home­bush,’’ Story said. “The me­dia got wind of it and so did every team owner in pit lane.’’

Sud­denly the bat­tling DJR had com­pe­ti­tion.

“Every team in pit lane bar­ring Triple Eight con­tacted Roger,’’ Story said.

“They all con­tacted him and said they wanted to part- ner him af­ter the Home­bush trip. It was then we had to get se­ri­ous and get the deal done.”

The his­tory-mak­ing deal was sealed at Stapyl­ton McDon­ald’s, south of Bris­bane, four months later.

“Roger did the deal with a hand­shake in our fac­tory,’’ Story said. “And then he re­quested we go to McDon­ald’s to cel­e­brate.’’

The bil­lion­aire ate a Big Mac af­ter sav­ing DJR with a hand­shake.

“It is the sec­ond time in my life I have had McDon­ald’s,’’ John­son said. “I hate the stuff but it tasted pretty damn good on that day.’’

Four years later and DJR is known as DJR/Team Penske. The best-backed team on the grid, it is pre­par­ing to put the Ford Mus­tang on the grid in 2019 as Ford’s official team.

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