Tom Wallace has been around professional motocross on many different levels. The likeable Englishman started out as a mechanic on the World Championship circuit in Europe, but landed on U.S. shores in 1996 as James Dobb’s mechanic on the Quiksilver Suzuki support team. From there, he wrenched for riders like Robbie Reynard, Scott Sheak, and Tallon Vohland before becoming team manager of the factory FMF Honda race team. An in-house stint at FMF saw him wear many hats through the next several years, but he made his return to the track this season, where he emerged as Heath Voss’ mechanic on the Mach 1 Yamaha squad.
When we first met you, you were wrenching for Scott Sheak on the FMF Honda factory team. What’s your best story about those days?
It was a lot of fun hanging around with Scott. He didn’t race a lot that year because he was hurt, but he had a very successful season with Honda the year before. My wife and I stayed with him and his wife in New York a lot that season, and had a lot of good times out on the lake.
Prior to this season with Heath, have you had much race success as a mechanic?
I actually have a few National moto wins from when I worked for Tallon Vohland. The first season I was here I actually had one with Jamie Dobb. Jamie won the first moto at Red Bud, but he was so tired that only a few laps into the second moto, he pulled off and passed out. He gave it everything he had for his entire season in one moto!
We really got to know you when you were working in-house at FMF. What exactly was your job description there?
I went through a bunch of different things there. At first I was a mechanic on the race team, then I was the team manager, then after the team went away I worked in rider support. Towards the end of my stay there, I took over the press relations stuff full-time, which is a position that I created there. I resigned from FMF late last year to start my own company, iCAT USA. Basically, I am the exclusive U.S. and Canadian importer of the iCAT, a small electronic device that makes a phenomenal improvement in the bike’s powerband. It is made in my hometown back in England.
So how did you and Heath Voss end up teaming up for 2004?
Well, Heath’s mechanic got switched over to Ezra Lusk and Heath needed a new mechanic. I had already left FMF to start iCAT USA when he started calling me. We have been good friends for a long time, and he asked me over and over until I agreed.
Any idea why he wanted you to work for him so badly? We think it’s the fancy English accent…
(Laughs) Yeah, that, or maybe it’s because I talk a lot and he can’t figure out whether I know a lot or just like to talk a lot.
It’s no secret that Heath had an up and down relationship with the YZ450F. How different was the bike he ended the series with from the one he began it on?
Oh, it was extremely different. At the start of the season, Heath couldn’t ride the bike because it was too fast and hit too hard. There was a point, five races into the season, when he was prepared to resign from the Mach 1 team and ride a privateer Yamaha YZ250 two-stroke. We had a bike all built and everything, but Yamaha asked us to test some preproduction ’05 parts on the four-stroke: a new carburetor, intake manifold, and airbox. The new parts eliminated the hesitation he was experiencing and smoothed out the power, and Heath has been happy ever since. The 2005 YZ450F is going to be an awesome bike. Heath likes the bike so much that now he wants to race one for sure in 2005 as well.
Heath was obviously pretty stoked about winning the World Supercross Championship. What did it mean to you?
It means a lot more to me than I think it would to any other mechanic in America. I worked so many years in the World Championships that I can really appreciate an FIM title. Ten years from now, when you look in record books, Heath Voss’ name will be in there as an FIM World Champion, and I was his mechanic. Remembber that Chad Reed was signed up to race that series, but he got hurt. Not getting hurt is part of racing and a key factor in winning a championship. At one point, Damon Huffman was 49 points ahead, and for Heath to catch up like he did was a big achievement. He was consistent and never made a mistake. Considering how uncomfortable he was on the bike at the first five rounds and looking at his consistent top 10 finishes from that point on, he could have very well been fifth in the AMA series if he had those parts all along.
Tell us something funny about Heath that no one really knows.
Well, after he won the World Championship, he went out and spent that big purse bonus on a two-seater airplane. He’s been taking lessons and logging hours, hoping to get his license to fly alone. Well, the last two times he’s flown, he’s landed half on the runway and half on the grass, then almost took out the airplane hangar the next time he took off! I don’t think he’ll be allowed to fly out of that airport once he gets his license!
So needless to say, you probably won’t be flying Heath Airlines any time soon…
(Laughs) His goal is to fly to the Millville National. He is aiming to get his license by then, and threatening to pick me up and drop me off. We’ll see. I will be wearing a parachute, though, that’s for sure! (Laughs)
As Heath’s mechanic, do you get to see Heather change in and out of her trophy girl outfit in the Mach 1 semi?
(Laughs) You know what? I hardly see Heather. She flies in and out of the races in a flash. I’d tell you some funny stories about her, too, but I don’t have any. Sorry!