1978 Suzuki RG 500 XR14: TOM HERRON’S LEGACY
In the ‘70s Northern Irishman Tom Herron was one of the fastest motorcycle racers on the planet, both in road racing and Grand Prix racing. He won the last Senior TT at the Isle of Man before it was stripped of its world championship status in 1976. In the same year he finished 4th in the 250 cc and 350 cc Grand Prix world championship, before becoming vice-world champion in the 350 cc class in 1977. In 1978, Herron scored his first points in the 500 cc class using Suzuki’s popular production racer, the RG 500; a bike which he rode to victory at the Isle of Man TT and a 2nd place at the Ulster GP.
In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s the 500 cc grids were filled with RGs. To Suzuki, the constructors’ championship was more important than the riders’ championship and for this reason the RG500 became available to privateer riders. Herron’s 1978 Suzuki was based on Barry Sheene’s 1976 factory racer. The engine produced well over 100 horsepower which only came available to the rider between 8.000 and 10.500 revolutions per minute, making it quite a handful to ride.
In front of record crowds that had travelled to the Isle of Man to witness Mike Hailwood’s return to racing, Tom Herron won the 1978 Senior TT race on the RG 500, setting a new race record. At the Ulster GP, his home race, Herron finished 2nd on the RG, only to score a hat-trick of wins on other machinery in the TTF1, 1000cc and 250 cc races. He earned his first 500 cc world championship points on the RG at the 1978 Belgian GP, the last Grand Prix race held on the old 14 kilometer Spa-Francorchamps circuit, wich was won by Dutchman Wil Hartog.
Tom and his wife Andrea had worked hard to establish themselves as one of the world's best privateer teams in Grand Prix racing and in 1979 the reward came in the shape of a full works ride for the Texaco Heron Suzuki team. Herron finished on the podium in his first race which was won by his teammate from Great Britain, Barry Sheene. He took a 2nd podium at the 4th race of the year which was won by rising star Kenny Roberts from the USA. Herron then returned home to compete in the North West 200, where, in the previous year, he had won two races and set a new lap record. In the last lap of the last race, Herron had been fighting for 3rd place when he crashed at Juniper, striking a lamp post. He was transferred to Coleraine hospital where he succumbed to his injuries three days later at the age of 30.
RIDERS FOR HEALTH
Tom was one of Ireland's leading sportsmen, lying 4th in the 500cc world championship at the time of his death. He had stood on the GP-podium in three different classes and had become a multiple Isle of Man, Northwest 200 and Ulster GP race winner. His 1978 outright lap record of 127.63 miles per hour remains the fastest ever lap seen at the North West 200, since the course was subsequently altered to reduce speeds. In memory of Tom, his widow Andrea founded ‘Riders for Health’, together with Barry Coleman and MotoGP Legend Randy Mamola. MotoGP's official charity, brings health and hope to millions of people in Africa, using motorcycles.
Quite the legacy and this 1978 Suzuki RG 500 XR14 was part of it. The bike was purchased from Tom’s father George Herron in 1987 after which it received a full restoration. In 2015 the bike was purchased by its current owner Hans Vonk from Holland who will demonstrate the bike in the motorcycle legends session during the TABAC Classic GP Assen.