Senior Tom

On a sunny mid-summer's morning, Tom Herron has a last minute chat on the start line with his mechanic Peter Kelly before donning his Kangol helmet.

It's Monday June 5th 1978 and Tom is about to propel Jim Finlay's RG500 down Bray Hill and an appointment with the top step of the Isle of Man Senior TT podium.

Herron knew the race was going to be quick, Pat Hennen had lapped in practice in under 20 minutes, and he was also aware that the Suzuki GB team were only planning one fuel stop and therefore he could only afford to stop once. 
So Tom decided to weld a few extra inches on to the fuel tank of his bike and also borrowed fellow racer John Newbold's seat tank.

Second quickest in practice, Tom started at Number 8 determined to make up for the disappointment of the TT Formula One race less than 48 hours earlier where he was forced to retire while giving the great Mike Hailwood a run for his money.

At Ballacraine on the first lap it was John Williams who led by three seconds from Tom with practice sensation Pat Hennen in third. 
At Ramsey however, the American led on the road but Tom was right there also, and was clearly the race leader. Mick Grant meanwhile was an early retirement with a seized piston on his 350 Kawasaki

As Mike Hailwood swept past Bill Smith and Charlie Williams at the end of the opening lap, the race order was Herron by 8.8 seconds from John Williams and Pat Hennen as Joey Dunlop became the second big name to retire.

Hailwood was having handling issues with his Yamaha and stopped at Ramsey on the second lap to inspect the steering damper. He re-started but a lengthy pit stop at the end of the lap put him right down the leaderboard as Kevin Wrettom crashed heavily and was air-lifted to Nobles Hospital with head and shoulder injuries.

Williams upped the lap record on the second lap to 112.57mph but on lap four he was out of the race as his Suzuki's water hose broke as he hurtled up the Cronk-y-Voddy straight at almost 180mph. Meanwhile the battle on the road, and for the overall race lead, raged on between Herron and Hennen. 
Pat was tucked in behind Tom as they sped over the tram lines at the Bungalow and as they sped up to the Brandywell the American passed the Ulsterman.

The two came round Signpost together, although Tom was by this stage 20 seconds to the good but Hennen, the only top rider to have started on slicks, was creating his own piece of history as he crossed the line at the end of the fifth lap to become the first rider to officially break the 120mph barrier. With one lap to go however his chances of winning were almost impossible and it would take a disaster for Herron for Hennen to have any chance and sadly it was Pat's own race that ended in disaster.

As he chased Herron through Bishopscourt, the fast section between Kirk Michael and Ballaugh, he lost control of his factory Suzuki and went down heavily. Takazumi Katayama rubnning in 15th place sportingly stopped to asist the stricken rider until he could be flown to hospital with serious head injuries.  

Unaware of the drama behind Tom crossed the line to win his third TT, the first Senior TT to be held on a Monday, by 5 minutes 28 seconds from fellow countryman Billy Guthrie, who had a few big moments from his intermediate rear tyre, with Chas Mortimer claiming the final podium spot and with it the distinction of being the first 350cc rider home. 

It had been a flawless ride from Herron who also raised the race record to 111.74mph on his way to claiming the 2500 winners cheque. 

Tom Herron
"Talk about a change in fortunes!! 

The Senior win has gone a long way to wiping out the disappointments of the Grand Prix season to date, but at the start of the race I thought I'd never pull it off.

As I pushed from the line the bike was on two cylinders, then she chimed into three but as I chugged it past the pit-counters I really didn't think I'd get in front as early as I did.

I knew that barring breakdowns I'd got the race in the bag on the first lap at Ramsey when I caught John Williams. I really didn't expect to get to him that quickly.

If you'd asked me during practice what my chances were I probably would have told you that i didn't want to know - and with a broken Suzuki engine and practice slipping by - who could have blamed me.

We were just warming the bike up and it went bang. i had to fork out for a new engine and once again that man Bill Smith just happened to have one with him so it really helped me out of a spot. From that you'll understand that my two mechanics Peter Kelly and Wes Pratt have been flat out on the bike to get it ready for the race. It wasn't unti 3 o'clock on race day morning that we finished it but it was well worth it. It wasn't the race it should have been and it could have been so good if John, Mike Hailwood and Pat Hennen had all kept going. 
But I'm not complaining.

I was always in control of my situation around the course. In fact, I think I must have known more than the commentators about the way the race was going.
I had five signallers, including my wife Andrea at Ballaugh, all around the track, and knew exactly what the score was. 

During the early laps when John was right with me, it was quite difficult to gauge the race. We were both trying hard, but at the same time trying to use as few revs as possible to save the engines.

On the final lap I was waving to the crowd as I came over the mountain. 

This wasn't because I was being big-headed - i just thought that if I broke down I wouldn't get the chance to wave to the crowd and so I was making sure I got my money's worth!

During those closing miles before Pat Hennen crashed I nodded over to him on several occasions to intimate that there was no way he could pull out the required number of seconds on me to win. he must have been trying hard and when he went down he was only a few yards behind my back wheel."


May 2011

Photo Courtesy: Herron Family Archive

By Kind Permission

Photo Courtesy: Bill Snelling
By Kind Permission

Photo Courtesy: Bill Snelling
By Kind Permission

Main Photos
Tom on the start-line with his mechanic Peter Kelly.
Tom savours his Senior TT win flanked by second placed man Billy Guthrie and Charlie Williams 3rd. Included is Billy McMaster, FIM Delegate for the 1978 Isle of Man TT.
Tom on the Jim Finlay RG500 at Quarter Bridge.
Photos Courtesy: Bill Snelling
By Kind Permission