RIP: Steve Johnson, Former Team Manager Vance & Hines Yamaha & Muzzy Kawasaki


Steve Johnson passed away yesterday at age 70. Johnson ran several teams in US competition, and worked as a mechanic for the famed Kawasaki Superbike team of the early 1980s.

Left to right: Jim Leonard, Steve Johnson and four-time world champion Eddie Lawson discuss the numerous very bad things that happen when parts strike each other in an internal combustion engine.
Left to right: Jim Leonard, the late Steve Johnson and four-time world champion Eddie Lawson discuss the numerous & very bad things that can happen when hard parts strike each other in an internal combustion engine. Dean Adams

Johnson raced Ascot as a novice, but was already wrenching on motorcycles for money as a teen. He wrenched on “Chick” Chikalaro’s TD1 in Chick’s garage Garden Grove, California and later raced it. From there he did work for a multitude of riders.

Clearly having no fear, Johnson called Kel Carruthers about getting a job as a mechanic in Europe. Kel made some calls, it is said, and a week later Johnson and his family were in Europe working for world champion Phil Read. Johnson said he worked on Phil’s bikes and also drove Read’s van from race to race. Steve drove, his wife navigated, he said, while their eldest child slept in an improvised baby bed between the truck’s front seats.

The infamous KR500 with Steve Johnson behind it, Road America 1982.
The infamous KR500 with Steve Johnson behind it, Road America 1982. Note: wood bench, monocoque frame, Steve’s mini-bike seat work chair and so much early adopter tech. Clippy Adams

Johnson also worked with Kawasaki motocross riders Brad Lackey and Jeff Ward, among others.

Johnson worked with a multitude of riders over the 30 years he was in the sport.  It might have been his background at Ascot–which in the 1970s was infamous for being a merciless racetrack where a rider being killed was not uncommon–that formed Steve’s very “all-business” persona, especially in dealing with riders. He had only one favorite rider out of the dozens that he worked with–four time world champion Eddie Lawson. Lawson and Johnson cemented a friendship by racing and tuning the rolling science project that was the Kawasaki KR500 and also the factory belt drive KR250. Lawson stated several times that he felt much more comfortable coming out of retirement in 1993 to race the Daytona 200 when Johnson was running the Vance and Hines Yamaha squad.

Two friends riding in the desert. Eddie Lawson and Steve Johnson.
Two friends riding in the desert. Eddie Lawson and Steve Johnson. thanks, Eddie Lawson (THE)

 

After Johnson left Muzzy Kawasaki and Muzzy’s exhaust shop in Bend, Oregon he went on to work in the automobile and car racing industries.

Steve Johnson sits on Anthony Gobert's Kawasaki Superbike during pit stop practice in front of garage 19 at Daytona.
Steve Johnson sits on Anthony Gobert’s Kawasaki Superbike during pit stop practice in front of garage 19 at Daytona. thanks, Paul Forrest


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