Fresh from a first ever North West 200 victory, where he was involved in a titanic tussle with Tommy Robb in the 350cc race, a young Ulsterman competed in the Isle of Man TT races for the first time in 1970 and, following a 13th place in the Lightweight 250 TT, was then injured in a 110mph crash at Ballacraine in the Junior TT which put him out for the rest of that season.

The following year a crash at a wet North West 200 resulted in a broken elbow, a paralysed arm and a bent pin in his leg, a legacy from the aforementioned TT crash. 

But this intrepid Son of Mourne was to bounce back to become one of the world's top riders, his name - Tom Herron.

Following a 350cc Irish Championship win in 1973, Tom decided that his future lay on the Grand Prix circuits of Europe. In his own words, he was 'on a mission'.

That mission was to see Tom firmly establishing himself on the continental grand prix scene, indeed he and his wife Andrea, herself a former racer, ran one of the most successful privateer teams of that era with Team Castrol Herron becoming Britain' s leading non-works set-up and a real force to be reckoned with in the 250/350cc World Championships. 

During this period Tom had also returned to the Isle of Man TT, with two thirds and two fourths between 1974 and 1975 being proof that he was starting to get a real feel for the place. 

He had always made no secret of the fact that one of his ambitions was to win a TT and in 1976 he made that ambition a reality.

He began by winning the prestigious Senior TT by 3.4 seconds from Ian Richards and at the end of the week took a record breaking win in the Lightweight 250 at 103.55 mph. Earlier in the week Tom had pushed in from Hillberry to finish 26th in the Junior, it was a race he felt he could have won as he was lying second but a troublesome chain was to frustrate his efforts. 

However, the 1976 double TT win, coupled with fourth and equal fourth place finishes in the 350cc and 250cc World Championships respectively, really heralded Tom's arrival on the world stage. That same year Andrea gave birth to two daughters Kim and Zoe, of whom today Tom would be very proud.


Two further TT podium places were achieved in 1977, a third in the Junior 250 and an excellent second in the Senior TT on his 348cc Yamaha. That year also saw Tom finish runner-up in the 350cc World Championship to factory rider Takazumi Katayama and fifth in the 250cc championship. 
In August that year he had a double at the Ulster Grand Prix in the same classes. 

But back to the Isle of Man, a place that figures prominently in Tom's story. It was there that he and Andrea first met, and it was here that he was to have one of his most spectacular wins, the 1978 Senior TT

Two months later and Tom was back home for the 
Ulster Grand Prix on the roads around Dundrod. 

In the opening 500cc race, the normally fast starting Tom was almost last away but by the end of the opening lap he had set a new lap record and was beginning to make progress through the field. 

He eventually took second place with a brilliant display of riding but was unable to get to eventual race winner John Williams. In the 250cc race Tom led from the off to win by just over twenty seconds from his great friend and fellow GP privateer Jon Ekerold with whom he enjoyed many legendary dices. 

Next up was the TT Formula 1 race where Tom took over the race lead on lap five from Tony Rutter (Honda) and went on to win again by over 20 seconds. 
He completed his hat-trick with victory in the Superbike race. 
Events however were overshadowed with the news that his friend John Williams had passed away in hospital following a crash at Wheelers. 

The 1978 season would see Tom consolidate his reputation as one of the world's best privateers as he again featured strongly in the final Grand Prix standings with sixth and fifth place finishes in the 250cc and 350cc championships respectively. One of the highlights of 1978 was the British GP at Silverstone where Tom brilliantly raced to two runner-up positions. 
That season, he had paired up with two stroke engine specialist Harald Bartol who supplied the special barrels for Tom's two bikes, making him more than a match for the factory Kawasakis. He finished the season ranked number eight in the Motorcourse Top 10 riders standings.

For the 1979 season Tom secured a deal with Suzuki GB to race their new 500 grand prix bike (XR27B) in the Blue Riband 500cc World Championship. The deal also included participation, on the newly developed and fearsome 652cc four cylinder, two-stroke superbike (XR23B) in the Transatlantic Trophy and selective Superbike races. 

As he prepared for the season ahead, Tom was all too aware of the task 
that lay ahead of him, firstly he was relatively inexperienced on the bigger machinery and secondly he would be racing against unfamiliar 
opposition. As he said at the time, 'I'm into a new class this season, I don't know anyone's form in the 500 class'. 
He was however determined 
to learn the new bikes and quickly get dialled in to his new role. 

Incidentally this was Tom's second ride on a factory Suzuki GB machine. At the 1976 Finnish GP at Imatra he made a one off appearance on the 
500-4 of injured regular John Williams, but u
nfortunately oiled plugs brought his race to a premature end after only two laps. 

Returning to 1979 and Tom certainly found himself in illustrious company. 

One of his team mates in the Texaco Heron Team Suzuki set up was none other than double world champion Barry Sheene, and among others there were similarly Suzuki mounted rising Italian star Virginio Ferrari and Dutchman Wil Hartog, as well as the little matter of Yamaha's reigning champion Kenny Roberts to contend with.

However, on Sunday March 18th 1979, Tom lined up on the Venezuelan 500cc Grand Prix grid for his first taste of racing in the 500cc class as a full factory rider. 
He didn't disappoint........

He found himself on the front row after finishing second quickest to Sheene in practice, however an uncharacteristic poor start left him languishing in ninth place. 

As the race progressed Tom had brilliantly 
battled his way to second but the sheer heat and effort involved would eventually see the tiring Ulsterman finish a magnificent third behind 
eventual winner Sheene and second placed Ferrari. (Tom was so exhausted after the race that he couldn't make it to the podium).

Consistent early season performances at Donington Park and Cadwell Park were proof that Suzuki had pulled off a real coup by securing Tom's signature. 

In Easter that year Tom took his place in the British team for the 
traditional Transatlantic Trophy races and fully justified his selection with a brilliant third place in the first race at Brands Hatch behind 
Sheene and American Mike Baldwin, however a spectacular crash sidelined him for the rest of the weekend and his absence proved 
to be a bigger loss to the team than many could have imagined.

Back on the grand prix scene, and strong finishes in Austria (fourth) and Italy (third) put Tom in third place in the championship as the series headed for Spain where a practice crash left him with a badly broken right thumb and third degree burns to his arms and elbows and as such, unable to race. 

Despite this, he was still lying fourth in the 500cc World Championship when he arrived back in his native Northern Ireland for the North West 200.
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In his few months as a factory rider in the 500cc championship that 
year, Tom had proven himself as a genuine contender not only for race honours but also for the championship itself. Indeed to this day, like many, I am convinced he would have been world champion, possibly in that debut year. 

It is truly sad that we will never know just what he would have 
achieved as he entered this new phase in his career. 
It is also cruel and tragic that his life was cut short just when he had really reached 
the big time in his chosen profession.

However, that said, I am ever mindful of the fact that Tom was a much loved son, husband, father and brother. 
That is the real tragedy with his passing.

His performances on his privately run 250/350cc Yamahas particularly on the world stage, his total of three Isle of Man TT wins to which he would surely have added more, all speak for themselves. 

As for his lap of 127.63mph on Jim Finlay's 750cc Yamaha at the 1978 North West 200, well that is something that can only be believed with a great degree of difficulty some 31 years later! 
At the time it was the fastest lap of any British Isles circuit and indeed, it remained so up until recent years.

That lap was a truly awesome display of riding, taking over eight seconds off the existing lap record and it is perhaps fitting that subsequent alterations have not only made the circuit safer but also ensures that the statistics of this incredible speed will always be there to see. 
It certainly put Tom on a pedestal with the best. 

As well as a brilliant motorcycle racer, Tom Herron was also one of life's good guys, a person who would do you a 'good turn' if he could. 

He lived life to the fullest and enriched many people's lives in the process. 
It's impossible not to smile when looking back at some of his exploits, particularly his 'demolition expert' days 
working for his father Scott at his quarry 
when he would challenge a burning fuse to a race, or the day he almost single-handedly cleared a filling station near Newcastle when he drove into the forecourt with the boot of his car filled with quarry related dynamite..........  

In his home in California, Tom's good friend and three times world champion Kenny Roberts has a picture of a racing motorcyclist on the wall, and that is of Tom.

There can be no better testimony to the respect with which Tom Herron is held to this day.
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Tom'TW'Herron.com
September 2007


Tom'TW'Herron.com
An appreciation of the life and career of Tom Herron, a man who is still widely regarded as one of the world's finest racing motorcyclists.

''Tom was a unique person. 
Very funny, affectionate, a perfectionist, a very hard worker and a great friend for anyone to have.''
Andrea Coleman

''My everlasting impression of Tom is one of a lovely, kind, courageous and generous man.'' 
Jon Ekerold

''He was a strong rider, a true friend, what I call: a world champion without a title, but he deserved much more than others, myself included.

Courageous, determined, technical, kind-hearted.''

Mario Lega

Main Photos
Tom leads fellow Ulsterman Tommy Robb in the 350cc race at the 1970 North-West 200. Tom won to record his first North-West 200 success.
Courtesy: Jim McCullagh.
The John McCullagh Collection
By Kind Permission
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Tom accelerates out of the Dundrod Hairpin during the Killinchy 150 Road Races.
June 1978
Courtesy: Norman Waddell
By Kind Permission
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Tom on the factory RG500 Suzuki at the 500cc German Grand Prix
Hockenheim
6th May 1979
Frank Wick
By Kind Permission