Stock car driver Wayne “Shuster” Johnston is going out his way, by the numbers.
After all, 77 was the number that graced the side of his multiple legendary winning cars and, after 40 years in the racing business, at age 77 with countless track records and titles under his belt, Johnston figures it’s time to hang up his racing suit.
“I’m already going goofy,” Johnston said of not racing this season. “But 77 years (old) is a start. It’s not like we can’t do it. I’ve toyed with the idea of getting another car but my wife doesn’t seem to like that very much.”
A room filled with trophies from 23 championships in more than five different classifications, a rookie of the year title from Thunder Mountain Speedway in 1973, a gold medal from the BC Games in 1974 and a scrapbook overflowing with newspaper clippings both good and bad highlight a career full of memories to remind him of his glory days.
Johnston moved from Lulu Island (Richmond) to Riske Creek in 1948 when his parents bought the general store. He then came to Williams Lake to look for work and, eventually, found himself a career in excavating — a business he’s worked in for the past 60 years.
His foray into the racing world began when he was literally dragged to a track by a friend.
“I didn’t even want to go,” he said, noting he was 38 years old at the time.
As he watched a racer, Larry Bulitsky — the racer to beat in the early 70s — beat the pack in a 1957 Chevy, he was unimpressed.
“I went out and thought: ‘I can do a better job than those guys,’” he said.
His friend convinced him to prove it.
“My first year I never won a race but finished second and was hooked. I’ve done it ever since.”
The stories about his many victories, more often than not, aren’t his favourites. Johnston is the first to admit the sport of racing is a team effort.
“It’s all camaraderie is what it is,” Johnston said, pointing to his team of dedicated racing crew members over the years.
“The guys hang out and win, lose or draw it is what it is. It’s a team sport all the way. It’s a pricey sport to hang in there and my guys, they’ve been around so long.”
He said Andy McCallum, his early crew chief who moulded the No. 77 team into what it is today, plus crew members Murray Driver, Terry ‘Rusty’ Rust, Vince Lafek, Don Fletcher, Darren Bailey, Larry ‘Sparky’ Bethune, Grant Overton, Brian Nicholson, Dan Prins, Gerry Fluttert, Wayne Randall, Peter Becker, Bryan Desilets, Derrick Berry, Dale Stickle, Barrie ‘the tire guy’ Brown, Fatty Fellows and Billy Nelson all helped him succeed in the sport.
He also thanked his many sponsors from throughout the years for making it possible for him to afford to race.
Asked why more young people aren’t getting into racing, Johnston said the sport requires some deep pockets.
“I’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on race cars,” he said.
“The young guys coming into the sport just don’t have the money and it’s a shame. I got fairly good and you get sponsors because you win. The young fellas are a little rambunctious. They wreck a lot of stuff before they learn.
“It’s more of a challenge to beat the rookies than the good guys, though. You try to school the rookies. I always said, ‘lad, you don’t win every race. Wait to pounce. You wait ‘til there’s an opening, you don’t make one.’”
Johnston has one final piece of advice for those coming into the sport: refuse to lose.
“I’m not leaving on a sour note,” he said. “I love the sport.”