Dave Johnson worked for Tom in 1978 and 1979. 

Here Dave, who now lives in Austria, remembers his first meeting with Tom in 1978 and their first race meeting, the 1978 Race of the Year at Mallory Park.

''In 1978 I was working for Rodger Keen in Aston Clinton, Buckinghamshire rebuilding Yamaha and Suzuki crankshafts and engines. 

One evening in the workshop Rodger said that Tom Herron's mechanic was bringing some TZ750 cranks round for a rebuild before the 1978 Race of the Year at Mallory Park. I knew that Pete Kelly had gone to work for Rolf Steinhausen so we did not know who to expect. 

Next morning I heard Rodger shouting at somebody and it was Wes Pratt. 
Wes had parked across both Rodger's and next door's driveways with Tom's van and the caravan was in the middle of the pub car park three doors away. 
Rodger told Wes that only a American would do that. That made Wes even louder as he was a Canadian and, built like a grizzly bear!! After a while Wes parked Tom's truck just outside the workshop and he got 

Tom's RG500 out of the truck. Both the TZ750 and the RG looked like motocross bikes having just come back from a wet and muddy road race in Holland or Germany. Wes quickly washed off the RG with a bucket of soapy water and checked the rotary valves and put the bike in the corner of the workshop. Rodger asked Wes to bring the Yamaha cranks in that needed rebuilding. 

Wes had the van keys in one hand and a small luggage bag in the other, gave the van keys to Rodger and said 'get them yourself, they're still in the bike!!'. 

Wes then disappeared for a long weekend break! 

I got the Yamaha on to my work bench, the poor bike was in a right state, and you could tell that Pete had not been working on it for a while for sure!! 
I got the motor out and we found that the two inside pistons and cylinder heads extremely were badly detonated. 

After a day and a half the motor was rebuilt and after a couple of welding jobs on the frame and a bit of black spray paint it looked like new. 

When I come to put the exhaust pipes on, I found the perforated silencer tubes were all broke up inside the mufflers. We decided to cut the lot off and put some new and a bit larger in diameter tailpipes and silencer tubes. I had mounted the pipes on bike ready to weld on the tailpipes, then realized I had a spectator, it was Tom!! 

I have no idea how long he had been sat there in the corner with a mug of tea or coffee just watching me! It was a strange feeling working on a bike I had seen pictures of in many motorcycle papers and at the TT with its rider who I was a big fan of and a lot of respect for, sitting there watching me! 

Tom had a quick look round the bike and said: 
'Nice job, I am off to the chip shop, do you want a fish or sausage supper'?
I remember replying,
'Anything as long as there are mushy peas and gravy with it!!', just as Rodger walked in. 

Rodger just turned round shaking his head mumbling something about the eating habits of Irishmen and Northerners! 
After Tom came back from the chip shop to Rodger Keen's workshop we sat down near the bike for a `Fish Supper' with Rodger mumbling in the background about Irishmen 'have supper at 12.30, it's normally dinner time!.' 

Tom noticed on the bench that the aluminum plate with the main jets screwed in had just one size missing and knew that normally they were always different. 

The bike had always detonated on two of the cylinders needing 3 sizes bigger jets to try and stop it and after I had put on a bit bigger and all the same size tail pipes I was sure all four cylinders would run the same temperature. Roger asked Tom if he had any spare passes for us to go to Mallory at the weekend to watch. 

I can remember Tom pulling one pass out of a big envelope and giving it to Rodger and then passing me the envelope with the van and mechanic's passes in it saying, 
'I think you'll need them and there's one for Wes if he comes back!' 

Wes came back from an extra-long weekend in London looking a bit worse for wear, and then we set off for Mallory Park. 

I remember very nervously warming the Yamaha up and Tom saying out of his helmet to me, 'I hope it goes as well as it sounds' and I thought to myself..... 
'Me too, because it's a long way home and there's a lot of people watching.' 

After running the engine in and going round for half an hour, Tom did a 'plug chop' down the back straight and free wheeled to the bottom of the pits. I took the bike off him wondering what he would say first. 

After a few seconds he took his helmet and knowing I was nervous looked at me seriously then grinned and said, 'This thing goes round that hairpin like a road bike! You don't need to slip the clutch!!' 

During the weekend we dropped the main jet once and tightened the suspension spring up a turn or two. In the Race of the Year Tom was leading till a slow puncture slowed him down and he finally pulled in to the paddock. 

I took the back wheel out and carried it with Tom to the Dunlop truck where I was waiting for a big shouting match. Tom just walked in smiling at the Dunlop lads and said,
'It's a good job you lot don't make condoms and make sure you lot take your money with you to the bar later!!''

February 2011

Dave works on Tom's factory 500 Suzuki during ShellSport 500 practice at Brands Hatch in 1979. 
Photo Courtesy: Dave Johnson
By Kind Permission.

Dave pictured with Tom's twin daughters Kim and ZoŽ.
Photo Courtesy: Dave Johnson By Kind Permission. 

Main Photos
Dave warms up Tom's 500 Suzuki at Brands Hatch in April 1979. 
Photo Courtesy: Dave Johnson
By Kind Permission.
Tom sits in the corner during a break in practice for the 500cc Spanish GP at Jarama in May 1979. Included in the photo are Suzuki mechanics Dave Johnson, Martin Brookman and Nick Hudson. 
Photo Courtesy: Dave Johnson
By Kind Permission
Dave was with Tom at the 1979 North-West 200. This poignant image, taken by Tom's loyal sponsor Jim Finlay, shows Dave and Tom on the grid for the Superbike race with Tom's good friend Hardy Clydesdale. 
Photo Courtesy: Jim Finlay
By Kind Permission.