In "Rockers and Rollers," AC/DC singer Brian Johnson tells his autobiography through cars, from the Minis and Rovers of his youth to secrets from the AC/DC tour bus. Here, Johnson talks about taking his 1970 Royale racing at Sebring. — Ed.
ebring. One of the legendary tracks in the world, hard on the car, brutal on the driver, and a crippler on the wallet. It is without doubt the bumpiest, nastiest, and most fabulous race track in the world. The town of Sebring is, well, not anything at all really. I mean, when a Chili's wins "Best Place to Eat" five years in a row, you know you are pretty much fucked.
But I just love the place. It was, and still is, an airfield. It was used in the Second World War to train RAF pilots and is used now to train wannabe race-car drivers during the week.
I was here to drive in the three-hour enduro, for 2.5 liters and under. My ride was a Royale RP4 built in England a long time ago, but fear not, I did do my best for queen and country. I had modified this beautiful little car myself. Thomas, my trusty Swede, was at my side the night before practice. He was by my side because, if I had moved, he would have fallen down. He was very drunk, in preparation for a long weekend. As dawn broke over Sebring, the mist cleared to reveal the most beautiful sight to these eyes-racing cars everywhere. Gorgeous, exotic, and all fucking German, except mine and a couple of Japanese jobs. There was the sound of groans from the pit crews who'd nudged the turps slightly the night before, and then my personal favorite: the toilets. The groans and farting from the cubicles, watching the toes of sneakers curling up, wait for it, the log hitting the water-splash — then "ahhhh." And the sneakers coming out under the door. There won't be any arse-wiping for a while, well, not until they're rested. Remember, this is not Formula 1! Moving on. . .
I get suited and booted for the eight-thirty practice session, and find out I must have a co-driver for the race. It's in the rules. Bugger, now I am in trouble. "Thomas, mate," I announce, "we need another driver or we are screwed."
Thomas was under the car, and all I could see were his feet. I figured he was busy, so off I went in search of a co-driver, with as much chance of a Sunday dinner in Ethiopia. But there, walking up the pit lane, was Pete Argetsinger.
No, I didn't make it up, that's his name. And a bloody good driver he is, too.
Me: "Pete, me old tart, me old pal, how's it hanging?" Him: "Who are you?" Me: "It's me, Brian. Brian Johnson. Oh, you know." Him: "Nope."
Then he winked and gave me one of those punches in the arm which make you want to deck the bugger.
Me: "You wanna co-drive with me, mate?"
Then he said these immortal words: "Does Rose Kennedy have a black dress?"S
nd he was on board. I rushed back to tell Thomas. "Thomas, mate, listen, good news . . ." Hold on, he's still under the car. Not trouble, I hope . . . I looked under. The guy was fast asleep. That's where he'd crawled the night before and he'd never moved.
Okay, Johnson, me boy, I said to myself, you've got the smallest engine in the race, 1300 cc, and you've got one of the oldest cars in the race, you don't have any rain tires because Thomas doesn't think it's gonna rain, and this is your very first three hours in this car. You don't know if the engine will hold for three hours and, to top it all, you are pretty much an old fart yourself. And last but not least, a Geordie has never won here. Right, well, I'm quite optimistic! Thomas, out from underneath the Royale, cracks a smile. I know he knows something I don't.
We do quite well in practice — Pete says the car's driving well but, like me, he knows we have a battle on our hands. Porsches, 2 and 2.5 liters, very fast and in very capable hands. So we decide to just enjoy the race and see how far our little English car can take us.
Race day. It's a nine a.m. till noon race (the big boys race the afternoon three-hour). Pete Argetsinger says to me, "I'll take it out first session, try to get a comfortable position and bed the car in." "Hmm!" I think. What if it doesn't last that long? I won't even get a drive. But I bow to his judgment.
Green flag: they're off. We had qualified twelfth on the grid out of forty cars — not bad for a littl'un. The hour seemed to drag by, then Thomas shouted, "Helmet on, he's coming in."
This is it! Don't get nervous, me son. Stay focused. Oh Christ, I've just noticed my underpants have crawled up my arse again. Too late. I've got $50 Calvin Kleins on and $35 are stuck up my chimney. (Why am I telling you this? I'm writing out loud again, must stop that.) In Pete roars, jumps out, refuel, quick, quick, in you get, seat adjustment, don't forget the bottom belt that goes up your crotch. (The one that makes your balls go bang.)
Okay, I'm in. Gloves on, visor down, switch on, ignition, fire it up, waved away. Go! Go! Go! And I'm off! Sebring turn one is a nasty fast corner that goes from four lanes down to two. Oh yeah, and it's a blind one! I gradually come up to speed, and it turns out to be one of those days when everything is right — drivers call it "being in the zone." I was one with the car, nothing passed me, and I kept passing cars. Back markers? I didn't know. In enduros, it's notoriously difficult to tell who's winning. I just kept driving. I come in for fuel. Thomas just looks grim. I think he thinks the car isn't going to last, or maybe he's just enjoying himself. Honestly, you never knew.
Out again, the corners come and go. The cars keep coming and I keep overtaking. The heels of my race boots stick to the floor with the rubber coming from the cars in front. So I basically heel-and-toe my way 'round (that's driver talk for being a smart-arse).
Checkered flag, go past the pits. Thomas and Pete are standing on the pit wall, Pete clapping, Thomas smiling! Sweden must have put their first man on the moon or dropped to second in the suicide league tables. I drive back to our paddock. Take off my helmet, nobody there. Then I hear on the Tannoy, "Will Brian Johnson please come to the winners' circle?"
Shit! I had to start the car again. Trouble was, I didn't know how to get there. Finally, with much frantic waving and flapping of arms, the marshals got me there. Everybody was clapping and smiling. Did I get a podium? Must've done. I jumped out the car.
"First overall." "No, that's not right." "Yup, you are, mate," said Pete, which was nice of him, seeing as
how he drove with me. We climbed the podium. I was elated. The first Geordie boy to win at Sebring. I'll check just in case. Anyway, the first Geordie boy with Italian blood in him to win the three-hour.
I was interviewed live on the radio and racetrack Tannoy after the presentation and the shaking of the champagne bottle. I was later told I said "fuck" eleven times. That's fuckin' awful.
Photo credits: Top, AP; Royale, Lecates via Flickr
This story originally appeared in "Rockers and Rollers: A Full-Throttle Memoir," and was republished with permission from Harper Collins.
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