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Top 50 Riders of the 1980s (By The Numbers): #45 Rob Herring

For this British writer for a British website it is a pleasure to feature the first British rider in this list.  All British Motocross fans of a certain age who saw, cheered, and parped their airhorns at Rob Herring over his 14-year GP career will have a story or three about the man they called The Fish.

Words: Ben Rumbold | Images: Jack Burnicle

The teenage fan now writing this shouted himself hoarse when Rob blew the field away at the first ever GP moto at Foxhills in 1992. More vocal chords were strained when he holeshot and led the first lap of the muddiest Nations of all-time at the same circuit in 1998.  Those lucky souls who travelled to Roggenburg for the 1994 des Nations got to see him significantly help Team GB’s cause on their way to that famous win.  His pace and abilities were incredible to witness at his best.


Born: January 1969

Years Professionally Raced: 14 – 1986-1999 (125cc GPs 1986, 250cc GPs 1987-99, 500cc GPs 1998-99)

Machines Raced: Kawasaki, Yamaha, Suzuki, Honda

GP Wins: 3          GP Podiums: 14         GP Moto Wins: 9     GP Moto Podiums: 34

Nations Selections: 10 – Member of winning MX des Nations team 1994, 2nd-placed team 1986

Championship Medals: None – best championship finish 5th, 1987 250cc World Championship

There is of course the flip-side of the Herring coin – he is one of only three riders in this list to never place in a World or US championship top three. The inconsistency, the crashes and resultant injuries that cost him even a sniff of a championship run were a massive cause of frustration for fans, team staff, and no doubt Rob himself.  Some of it Rob puts down to his default setting of riding at absolutely 100%, and not having the fitness to do so over 40-minute GP motos. Lack of fitness obviously affects concentration and that’s where mistakes happen, although for Rob some of it was down to just pure rotten luck.

Rob Herring shook the British establishment when he moved back to the UK from South Africa in 1985.

Herring was British-born, but grew up in South Africa, racing on American-inspired circuits with no fear of big jumps and whoops.  As a 17-year-old flyer he moved to the UK and terrorised the established British Championship stars in 1986, a season that he now calls his most enjoyable of all. Picking up some support from Corby Kawasaki he raced a lot in Ireland as well, on dog-rough circuits against local specialists. He raced a single 125cc GP at Killinchy in Northern Ireland and was leading the first moto, ahead of reigning World Champ Pekka Vehkonen, until his fuel tank ran dry on the last lap! A puncture whilst 3rd also hampered his efforts in race two, not for the last time in his career at that circuit.  His speed got him picked for the Motocross des Nations team immediately so he too was at that legendary Maggiora meeting, and although his results were the two that got dropped due to the 2-2-3-4 results of Dave Thorpe and Jeremy Whatley, his 7th in moto two’s 125cc results would still have seen Team GB on the podium.  Although he missed the presentation to catch a flight back to Blighty for a race the next day, he thoroughly deserved that silver medal earned by the team – although Rob never actually received his!

All hail Jack Burnicle – I had never seen a photo of Rob Herring racing for Team GB at the fabled 1986 MXdN at Maggiora until Jack delved into his archives. Here he is on the 125 Kawasaki, helping the Brits to 2nd overall.

His first full year of GPs, as an 18-year-old in 1987, saw Herring on a 250cc Yamaha against the likes of Eric Geboers, Vehkonen, and Michele Rinaldi.  After a crash-strewn home GP at Hawkstone Park he sensationally won the Yugoslavian GP with a double moto maximum at the gloriously-named venue of Jastrebarsko, in what is now central Croatia.  He even says that he didn’t really enjoy the track or ride particularly well! It was to be his only ever GP maximum day. He followed it up two weeks later with 3rd overall at the French round, with only Geboers and a guest-riding Bob Hannah in front of him. The last two rounds yielded 3rd overall in Argentina and 2nd only to new champ Geboers in Sweden.  He was the only rider to win a major race on a YZ250 that year and he would wear the #5 plate in ’88!

Herring gelled beautifully with the Mitsui Yamaha in 1987. Here he finishes 3rd only to the legendary Eric Geboers and Bob Hannah at Iffendic in the French GP.

The start of that season would not go to plan, however, as Rob broke his left scaphoid on New Year’s Day, and although he tried to ride the opening GP and scored 3 points, the pain was too much and he sat out the next three rounds. He came back with a bang though, to win the Belgian GP at the grassy circuit of Marche-En-Famenne, with a 1st & 3rd at the head of an all-Yamaha podium with John van Den Berk and Michele Fanton.  It was an incredibly competitive year in the 250 class with nine winners from the 12 GPs! Herring scored another moto win in Yugoslavia, a different circuit this time, and narrowly lost the overall win to Vehkonen’s Cagiva. He was leading at Unadilla ahead of Ricky Johnson before he crashed and cut his hand open. At the penultimate round at Salta in Argentina, in hot and humid conditions but with a good crowd, Rob again had a great day with a first moto win.  11th at the end of the year wasn’t bad considering he no-scored in half the motos, but he really showed what he could do at that year’s Motocross des Nations at the awesome French circuit of Villars-Sous-Ecot.

Once more among serious legends, chasing Michele Rinaldi and Eric Geboers at the San Marino GP in 1987.

Race one wasn’t particularly great with a 7th place, the last 250 ahead of Jeff Ward’s screaming 125, but with a good start in the second moto Rob only lost out to the 500 of Ron Lechien as RJ had to fight through from a poor start. Ricky was no faster than Robbie until the end of the moto when Fish backed it off a little, but he had himself a class win in a moto at the Nations and the incredible scalp of RJ at the same time – revenge for Unadilla!

Sporting the #5 plate in ’88. Herring starts the year with a bad day at the French GP at Salindres.

1989 saw Rob join his fellow 250 GP winner Whatley in the Suzuki squad run at the time by former top rider Rob Hooper.  And the two teammates were 1st & 2nd in the world after the opening round! The bike was clearly good because 3rd-place Fanton made it an all-yellow podium, then won the following GP! It looked like a stellar season was in prospect, and after a patchy couple of GPs which included spectacularly crashing out of the lead at Sverepec in Czechoslovakia, Robbie won the second moto at Metz in France, narrowly losing the overall to West Germany’s Roland Diepold. Then the pure bad luck struck at Unadilla’s USGP.  As Rob went for a move on Vehkonen at the infamous “Screw-U” steep downhill section, the Finn pulled a “Swervin’ Mervyn” move and the Brit went over the bars.  The resultant broken C5 vertebra in his neck ended the season halfway through.  He still finished 15th in the points chase after only scoring in five motos!

For his second season on the Suzuki in 1990, Rob learned to peg back the 100% method a little, and while he didn’t win any races he did move back into the top ten in the world.  One of his best results was a 2nd to Jeff Stanton – or “Stan Jeffers” as Rob called him! – at Unadilla, one of his very favourite circuits with what he calls “perfect soil”. He also showed amazing speed in winning the support races for the British 500cc GP at Hawkstone. In what he calls one of his best ever day’s racing, he lapped faster than Geboers and Thorpe did in the main races! After winning the British 125cc title, he rode the eighth-litre machine at the Nations, and in the sandy conditions at Vimmerby in Sweden he took a second moto class win on his way to 3rd overall behind Pedro Tragter and home hero Joakim Karlsson.

Always one to enjoy chucking a bike around, this time it’s the Rob Hooper Suzuki in 1989.

Herring moved manufacturer again, this time to the Honda Britain squad, sponsored by Silkolene in 1991 before switching oils to Castrol for 1992 onwards. Domestically he was untouchable in the smaller classes, sweeping both 125 & 250 British Championships in both ’91 & ‘92 when they were ran on separate days to the Open Class series.  At GP-level though, 1991 was a bit of a disaster, with the #8 plate Rob scored a best moto finish of 5th in Czecho, and whilst he was clearly the fastest at Nismes in Belgium – overall winner Peter Johansson was seen to comment “He was just… going away…” – crashes kept him on zero points for the day and he was 19th in the championship, his worst yet.

1992 is probably the year that most remember Rob for. Clad in that garish yet somehow classy Apico Castrol Honda kit and Arai helmet, and with the Moto Vision team brilliantly following the GP series, Rob’s sheer pace stood out from a star-packed 250cc field.  At the age of 23, the man that Paul Cooper called “Rubber Ring” (it sounds like his name!) won not only the aforementioned first moto at Foxhill, but also the final moto at Killinchy the following week. In both GPs he suffered second moto misfortune, another flat tyre at the Irish round almost certainly costing him the overall. He finally put it all together for the overall GP win in Finland, going 2-1-6 in the motos against the likes of Stefan Everts and Edwin Evertsen in the shallow sand.  That was to be his last ever GP win overall. The Motocross des Nations in Australia rounded off his year nicely with consistent 3-4 motos to grab 3rd individually in the 250 class, and Team GB even got on the podium as well!

Say what you like about Rob Herring, he’s a nice guy who is always good for a chat.

The arrival of arch British rival Kurt Nicoll to the Castrol Honda team in 1993 was a surprise to Rob, who wasn’t consulted on the move and instantly disliked the change in atmosphere. He took one overall GP podium, his last ever in the 250 class, with 7-6-4 motos in Hungary but with serious knee issues he wasn’t a happy boy and moved to the RWJ Diesels team, where he was to spend most of the 1990s.

Rob has one beautiful FIM Gold Medal in his trophy cabinet, and it was earned at the 1994 Motocross des Nations at Roggenburg in Switzerland. That incredible day saw Team GB, with Nicoll on a 500 Honda and Paul Malin on a smokin’ 125 Yamaha, break the American streak of 13 MXdN wins with a stunning surprise victory.  Rob had a dodgy ankle that hampered his preparation for the event, but he got a good start and “sat happily” behind Greg Albertyn – only one of the fastest riders in the world at the time – until the South African hit a stray deer and went down hard! Herring had a massive lead but suddenly felt the pressure and ultimately Marnicq Bervoets nicked the moto win on the last lap. That 2nd place was still key to the win as it gave himself and Kurt a clear advantage in the last race.  The whole of Europe cheered on the Brits as they ended the American domination of the event, and all three riders richly deserved that amazing day of glory.

Rob finally clinched the British Open championship in 1996 as part of an RWJ team that included Stefan Everts, and raced two final GP seasons in the “far more enjoyable” 500cc class onboard the hybrid ally-framed two-stroke Honda. In 1998 he took a final GP overall podium in Dutch sand at Rhenen. Ongoing injuries, including a knee cartilage issue that would pop out mid-race, brought his career to an end at the age of 30.  Robbie was almost born too late, as a racer who really did race for the fun of it more than anything else, the ultra-professional way of life that GP Motocross was becoming really wasn’t his bag, and he admits he should perhaps have gone to the 500cc class sooner.  He could even have moved straight to America in his teenage years, as Supercross would surely have suited him.

Not a bad whip even by today’s standards. In 1986, this sort of style was outrageous, but second nature to The Fish!

Rob now works in the movie business as a “precision driver”, piloting the camera vehicles that capture stunt sequences such as the rooftop scene in James Bond: Skyfall, amongst many others.  If you find yourself watching the Bond movie Spectre, look closely in the 4x4s during the snow scene in the woods – both Herring and fellow British MX star Jamie Dobb are in one of them!

As a rider he was incredibly fast, infuriatingly inconsistent, but with undeniable talent and speed.  Rob Herring was a world class racer and thoroughly deserves a spot in our top 50.

The Numbers

You might think that working with just his 1980s results would limit Rob’s place in this list, but he only took 1 overall GP win in the 1990s, so it’s actually helped his position! Of the 36 GPs that he could have raced at before 1990, he didn’t score points in 15 of them, with at least half a dozen missed through injury.  So although the rules of this list count the absences to get his winning percentage of 5.1, that percentage is even more impressive if you only count the races where he lined up.  But that’s why these rules are in place – it’s meant to be based on what did happen, not what might have been.  Next time we stay in the UK for another mercurial 250cc talent!

With thanks to Lee Ashby of Motocross & Speedway Memories for the contact!

1980s Numbers:

GPs counted: 36 – 2 Wins

Nations Events: 3 – 0 Individual Wins

Total: 39 Events, 2 Wins, Winning Percentage 5.1

Season By Season:

Year       Class                      Record                  Champ Position                Nations Individual Finish

1986:     125cc GPs      1 round, 0 wins             –                                       MXdN, 11th 125cc Class

1987:     250cc GPs    12 rounds, 1 win            5th                                     MXdN, 15th 250cc Class

1988:     250cc GPs    12 rounds, 1 win           11th                                    MXdN, 3rd 250cc Class

1989:     250cc GPs    11 rounds, 0 wins         15th                                    —