The John Boote Story
Words: Terry Stevenson, Photos: Euan Cameron, Brian Hopping and John Boote
collection[Vous devez être inscrit et connecté pour voir cette image]Terry Stevenson profiles Seventies Kiwi racing racer Jon Boote,
who gave the TZ750 its first ‘unofficial’ world debut win.
Over the years John Boote’s incredible stories reached legend status in
New Zealand racing circles.
John Boote burst onto the NZ race scene in the early 1970s and swept all
before him. He would soon make an important mark by winning on world
debut on the mighty Yamaha TZ750, in January 1974.
Yamaha importer W White Ltd approached Boote mid-1973 to ride the
forthcoming four cylinder TZ750A. Boote had been racing a Dickie Lawton-
Steve Roberts air-cooled Suzuki 500 racer for Tommy McCleary, and
Coleman’s had offered the latest water-cooled TR500 for 1973/74 season.
Boote explains, “I got a call from Doug Cresswell, who was the Yamaha
dealer here in Christchurch. He offered me a ride on this new super-secret
four cylinder Yamaha. So I was sort of like a cat with two tails really.”
Even though he worked for Eric Wood Suzuki, Boote made the decision to
run the Yamaha. But he had to buy a TZ350 because the TZ750 didn’t
arrive until after the Boxing Day races at Wanganui, the second round of
the Marlboro Series.
Yamaha had to ship over 200 TZ750As into the US to be homologated for
the American F750 rules for Daytona in March ’74, and sent almost all 213
examples in case of any delays. “They were going to bounce one out of
Hawaii to get it counted and send it back to me, but they changed their
“Yamaha had a big marketing campaign and a big budget so they allowed
one of the spares to come down to Oceania under the Oceania marketing
budget. So it was sent direct from Japan to W. White in NZ, for me to
race!” Snatch ‘n Grab
But Whites had decided Boote was too young and inexperienced to race
this 90hp TZ750A, considered at the time to be so powerful that no one
would be able to ride it. Whites sponsored Trevor Discombe and were
going to give it to him. Except, “Unbeknown to Whites I found out that it
was at the airport, so I just went to the airport and got it!”
With two races down in the Marlboro Series, Boote left straight after the
January 1st Gisborne Unlimited Grand Prix street race (placing third, behind
Ginger Molloy and winner John Woodley) and ‘collected’ the crated bike
from Auckland airport on January 2nd without the knowledge of the
“I went from Gisborne to Auckland and kidnapped this thing out of
customs, literally! Fortunately the guy who was on Customs that day, and
the Air NZ guy, were both motorcycle fans and they basically handed it
over [John say’s laughing]! So I had no race kit, no spares, no sprockets,
nothing. A motorbike. And I secretly drove it down to Wellington, unpacked
it, prepped it, went to Manfeild and tested it in secret, and raced it at
Gracefield!” Top Secret
Deliberately keeping his new toy close to his chest, the 6’3” tall Boote
tested the new four-cylinder weapon at Manfeild, before Sunday’s third
round of the Marlboro Series. “I had never ridden it so I went to Manfeild
ahead of Gracefield, to make sure I could ride it.”
Luck was on his side as a person was there trying out his new Super8 video
camera. “It was as funny as a fight, when I came back in my father says to
me, ‘What do you think?’ expecting me to be beaming and smiling from ear
to ear, I said to him, ‘It’s a piece of shit’! He says, ‘Here’s the state-of-the-
art best motorcycle in the world, made by Yamaha, and you are calling it a
piece of shit?’
“It handled like a pig, it was terrible! So the only thing I could do was I
took the shock absorbers off the back of my TZ350 and put them on the
back, and that transformed it. The standard shocks were mush, they were
un-useable, putting the shocks off the 350 on it made it just rideable.”
John and his father, Allan, took full advantage and replayed the footage to
help reduce the severe wobbling, allowing the Boote’s to set the bike up
before its surprise world debut at Gracefield.
With Boote the main rider in the high profile Levis team, it was all done in
secret - he wasn’t even entered in the race programme. “We didn’t want
anyone to know, we wanted to turn up at Gracefield and just blow
everyone’s mind. I wanted to surprise the world and everybody, and it was
a marketing tool for Levis and John Boote.” Wow!
By now the Yamaha importers knew that Boote had secreted the big TZ750
before it could be delivered to their Hamilton base. “I remember on the
morning of Gracefield, Jerry from Whites rang and said, ‘Listen, we’re not
sure if we have made the right decision but don’t let us and Yamaha down
today’ and as an 18 year old, the pressure I felt was just enormous.
Goodness me, I’d never had someone say that to me before or since!”
The new bike certainly made an impact in the pits on race day. “Ginger
Molloy walks past pushing his Kawasaki. He stopped, and you could see the
thought processes in his head, going ‘What is that?’ and he pushed his bike
backwards and he went, ‘One, two, three, four’ and I can still see him
shaking his head, and he just walked off! And Discombe was very sombre,
but everyone was just counting, ‘One, two, three, four - my God’! It was
quite a day, quite a day.” World Debut Win
History was about to be made right here in NZ on January 6 1974 during
the 25 lap ‘Marlboro Classic’ on the biggest, meanest and what turned out
to be the most successful big-bore racing motorcycle ever produced.
“Gracefield was when I debuted it, and I won it - I beat Trevor Discombe,
oh, everybody who was anybody [laughing]!” Plus a string of talent
including international names like Ron Grant, Pat Hennen, Warren Willing,
Greg Hansford, Scott Brelsford, and Kiwis Ginger Molloy, Keith Turner, Dale
Wylie, John Woodley and Stu Avant.
But the feature race was no walk-over as Discombe lead the entire race
until the final corner. Discombe recalls that day, “I got a pretty good start
and the 700, being new, wasn’t handling the way it should do, but anyway
I led the race right up until the last lap and I thought ‘I’ve beaten him!’ and
then he passed me right on the line, by half a bike!”
Discombe wasn’t aware the TZ750A was coming for him - White’s had put
his name on the first bike, but hadn’t told Discombe!
“The story I understand was that the bike was for me. I had been to Bill
White and I asked him for two new bikes. So he bought me a new 350 and
he said I’ll get you a new 700. I remember when we got to Gracefield I
stayed at the sales manager of White’s in Wellington, and he said to me
the general manager is coming tonight to see you. He arrived and said to
me ‘There will be a TZ700 there tomorrow’ ‘I said, Oh, thanks very much’.
But he said the only problem is that it’s not for you, it’s for John Boote. ‘His
dad has come up with the money and we’ve decided to give it to him.
You’ll get one, but not now’.
‘I accepted that because I was getting a free bike and he was paying for a
bike. Anyway, I was pretty satisfied and then I got a telegram from Whites
in Auckland ‘Like, congratulations on your almost perfect ride!’ I still have
The 694cc TZ750A was quickly dubbed the TZ700, while Yamaha bored out
later TZ750 models
to 747cc. Ago takes Daytona Victory
Although Kiwi John Boote won on debut, even today Giacomo Agostini is
incorrectly credited with the first ever win of the Yamaha TZ750, at
Daytona in March 1974! Boote continues, “That’s what Yamaha wanted, a
Daytona world release. I went out and we prevailed on the day and
Yamaha got its win on world debut. It wasn’t officially debuted to the world
until Daytona, and I was punting it around the tracks down here before
anybody! Had I turned up at Gracefield without the testing at Manfeild we
would have been knackered.” A Cunning Plan
Ruapuna on January 13th was the final round of the Marlboro Series, and
with no spares, sprockets or tyres, Boote cleaned up again!
“We won!” Boote says, against world class competition and thanks to a
cunning plan and some healthy South Island rivalry. “We had Dale Wylie to
contend with, I knew he was going to be an issue - home ground and on
the water-cooled factory Suzuki.”
The race was 40 laps and surely the big TZ chewed up more gas than the
smaller 500cc twin cylinder Suzukis? “We concocted a story we circulated,
the question was, ‘Will Bootie be able to do 40 laps without refuelling?’ We
knew from our testing that we could.
“So come the race, sure enough, Wylie is stalking me, just waiting for the
number of laps we were going to have to come in for fuel. And Woodie
[mechanic with pit board] is on the side of the track going ‘Fuel’. Every lap
I’d go past he’d shake the board at me ‘Fuel you idiot, and with a lap to go
Wylie realised, ‘He’s not stopping’ and on the last lap I remember looking
around and there he was, right behind me. I just had to keep my head
down, and I beat him!”
Boote then backed this up with another win at Wigram airfield.The International
Later in 1974 Boote decided to race the TZ750A at the Penang and
Selangor circuits in Malaysia, where he created yet another Boote bluff by
installing a small fuel tank in the large seat ducktail.
“Selangor was a long race - you had to refuel. I had a guy called John
Appleby, an apprentice of Steve Roberts, build an auxiliary fuel tank on the
back of my bike so I didn’t need to stop. So I went to Selangor and beat
Wiley by not having to stop.
“He tried to have the tank outlawed and all sorts of things. The following
year I went back up there but I broke my collar bone in practice at Penang,
and I won in the afternoon with a broken collar bone. I went down to
Selangor and won the following weekend, still with a broken collar bone!”
Commuting between NZ and Australia for two years, Boote also won many
races in Australia as a member of the prestigious Levis team, with team-
mates Greg Hansford and Warren Willing. Boote and Willing had finished
second in the 1973 Australian Castrol 6 Hour on a Kawasaki H2.
Willing remembers Boote, “The first time I saw him, when I came to New
Zealand to race (1972), he was pretty impressive riding a Kawasaki triple. I
met him through Stu Avant and Mike Sinclair. John was fast wherever he
went, he seemed to do it quite easily.
I think his talent was evident in the results he had, like when he went to
America for the first time, when he went to Assen, he was just fast! Which
made a lot of people pay attention. At that stage there wasn’t a great
number of races we rode in the same races, probably on average he was
Still a teenager, during a hectic 1974 John Boote owned a TZ750A in New
Zealand, and raced two more in Australia! He placed third overall in the
first two Marlboro Series, ‘73/’74 and ‘74/’75.
But this furiously fast Kiwi also enjoyed success racing in the US, and is
often remembered as The Suitcase Racer.
John Boote is the author of one of the best-known stories in New Zealand
racing circles - The Suitcase Racer.
In 1975 the 20 year old Kiwi cut and welded the twin-shock frame of his
Yamaha TZ750 into a factory-like monoshock bike, then packed his fully
dismantled bike into suitcases to take as luggage to the USA, and finished
second to Kenny Roberts at Laguna Seca!
Now bored out to 747cc, this was the original machine which Boote won on
world TZ750A debut in January 1974, although many parts had since been
swapped around from his other two TZ750s. Caught Red Handed
Flying from Sydney to Singapore the check-in staff had trouble moving
Boote’s heavy carry-on bag, full of engine parts. As a result John and his
father, Allan, didn’t make the flight. The pair found a locker for the parts
and re-checked in for another flight to catch up with their luggage.
Boote takes up the story, “By the time I got to the counter this very nice
check-in guy, who was a motorcycle fan, was expecting us. He was really a
top guy and said, ‘Look, if you have any issues about this sort of thing, just
come and see me, I’ll sort you out’. Because it was standard practice in
those days with all of us that we would hide stuff behind the pillars in
Sydney or Melbourne airport, and we’d just sneak on all this extra carry-on.
“I even used to wear my leathers on the plane to keep the weight down!
Have you ever tried to get a sweaty pair of leathers off in an airplane
toilet? It’s not easy!” Boote is 6’3”.
“Subsequently, at various destinations I go to around the world, I’d ring
him up and say, ‘What shift are you on?’ and I’d make sure my flight left
when he was on the check-in counter. He’d say, ‘Come on, what else have
you got? Go and get it’, and I’d go and bring all these things I’d hidden
around the airport terminal and he’d put them through!” The Whole Bike Checked Through
Boote had completely stripped his TZ750, right down to the crankcases,
and shoehorned it all inside a pile of suitcases. “In the end it culminated in
me checking a whole motorbike through, the whole thing! Me, Linda and
one of my mechanics kept bringing these suitcases. They were all disguised
in suitcases and I sent this whole thing in a suitcase to San Francisco.”
The frame was the most difficult so it was just wrapped in bubble-wrap and
polystyrene, “That was the tough bit, you couldn’t get that in a suitcase! I
took the whole motor apart, I could do that with my eyes closed.” Much of
it was hand luggage.
“When I got to the other end, the customs lady in America, she said, ‘What
are yours sir?’ and I said, ‘Well, mine start there, and they go all the way
down to over there’, and she just looked at me and she said, ‘Right, okay,
away you go’.”
Suzuki factory rider Ron Grant, picked Boote up from the airport and
helped him out at Laguna Seca, as he did whenever Boote raced in the
States. Port Hills Raceway
Making his own monoshock chassis helped propel the lanky racer to an
incredible result on his second visit to Laguna Seca. “The previous year the
factory boys, Kel Carruthers and Kenny Roberts, had monoshocks, and the
factory wouldn’t give me one. So with my little Kodak box Brownie I’d
secretly taken pictures and took them home and blew them all up, we
graphed them, and we built our own.
“Ron Grant managed to get me a works motocross monoshock unit which
was alloy and magnesium, so I took that back home and we made a
monoshock frame with my gas plant, and my drawings.”
Mike Sinclair, Dad and I went up into the Port Hills of Christchurch and
tested it, and I could not believe it. It didn’t wobble, it didn’t slap its head
around the road and I just thought, ‘Wow this thing is unbelievable’.”
Thinking the monoshock oil gallery hole was too big Boote modified the
unit by placing carburettor main jets inside the shock, allowing him to fine
tune the dampening rates. “It worked a treat!” Star Quality
Boote suffered engine problems during practice and qualifying at Laguna
Seca and managed only 12 practice laps, forcing him to start last on the
55-strong grid. Behind 12 rows of five riders in one of the most important
F750 races in the United States!
Boote made a lightning start to cross the line 12th on lap one. He charged
through the field from so far back he was unnoticed by commentators, until
he started passing factory riders including Pat Hennen, then Steve Baker on
the final lap for second at the famous ‘Corkscrew’. Kenny Roberts won the
75 mile race, just 12 seconds ahead of the Kiwi privateer, on a self
modified monoshock bike he’d brought over in suitcases, assembled
himself, used a 250cc spec rear tyre that the Goodyear tyre technicians
told him not to and, started last on the grid!
Boote says, “I came off the back of the grid and I was quite despondent,
but I ended up finishing second. I passed Steve Baker on the last lap, so
there were three mono-shockers on the podium, Kenny’s, my home made
one, and Baker’s! Ron had a smile from ear-to-ear - he was chuffed as hell.
He said, ‘You’ve finished second’, and I said, ‘you’ve got to be joking,
you’re joking!’ It was all a very exciting time.” European Success
He was then invited to go to the F750 round, at Assen, his first time in
Europe. “I got a lot of interest from all the journalist in Europe and
everyone was talking to me through Ron, and we decided to do the
Formula 750 round at Assen.”
In the Assen F750 race Boote repeated his Laguna success with a second
placing in the first heat (Laguna Seca was a long distance race), crossing
the line behind Canadian Yvon du Hamel (father of Miguel du Hamel - also
a successful AMA racer). And ahead of the world’s established stars,
making the young Kiwi an instant hit.
“In the first race I was in cruise mode. I was grinding the side off my little
toe because I was that in tune with it that I would slow down, speed up
and slow down, and nobody told me [his position], Linda was doing my lap
times but not the pit board position. I didn’t know that I was second to du
Hamel. And I was just cruising around, and finished second. Like it was
His luck ran out in race two when Boote crashed on the second lap due to
youthful over-enthusiasm. He was holding second position behind local
racer Boet van Dulmen, who went on to become a top 500cc GP rider. “He
was quick! I remember thinking to myself, ‘Who are you?’ That crash was
probably the most disappointing crash of my life actually.” In reality it was
probably more like they were saying who was this young Kiwi!
Boote was then approached by respected English journalist Mick Woollett
who arranged £800 start money for him to race at Mallory the following
weekend. “I thought, £800! What are the others getting?”
He travelled to England where the lanky Kiwi repaired his TZ750 after the
Assen crash with a the help of a factory Yamaha mechanic, but the
expected results didn’t follow as Boote had to learn the new circuit in
atrocious wet conditions – and failed to qualify! He was still paid. Malaysian Shock
Boote also raced with considerable success in Australia. In 1975 Boote and
Levis team-mate Warren Willing were the first in Australasia to test slick
tyres – Goodyears at Oran Park. Greg Hansford was also in that famous
team. Boote says, “There was the three of us, Warren, Hansford and me. It
was always a question of which one of us was going to win.”
After three hectic seasons racing in Australia, Malaysia, the US and Europe
on Yamaha TZ750s, in 1976 John Boote picked up a factory Suzuki RG500,
arranged by Coleman Suzuki. On one of only four prototypes made based
on Barry Sheene’s ’75 works bike, and was sent to Malaysia.
Suzuki invited the Kiwi to ride in the Malaysian GP, providing first class air
travel and factory mechanics. Kiwi Stu Avant also raced one, but the bikes
had a problem. Boote recalls, “Going down the front straight the bike
became electrified. As soon as you touched the brake lever it gave you a
CDI type shock, and Stu freaked out so much that he jumped off it and
destroyed the prototype. I told him I was horrified he jumped off as I
would have stayed on a factory bike if it electrocuted me to death! When I
went out the same thing happened, and I wasn’t jumping off mine - it
wasn’t a very pleasant experience.” The spark plug caps were shorting on
the close-fitting fuel tank.
Coleman Suzuki bought the RG500 to NZ for Boote to race but, due to
mechanical problems, he ended up riding his TZ750 in the Marlboro Series
in an unwelcome move from his sponsor. Although John’s view was he’d
rather race than sit on the fence.Early Retirement
Then, suffering from anorexia, John Boote was forced to quit racing before
realising his Grand Prix dreams. Although in ’78 there remained some
unfinished business in Malaysia on his final big Yamaha, a TZ750D. “I sold
it to some racing team up there and effectively quit. After my bout of
anorexia I went back to prove that I could still do it! I won in Penang and I
crashed in Selangor on the second lap. John Woodley and I both crashed in
the same corner at the same time.”
Boote made a brief comeback in the mid 1980s riding a Suzuki RG250 and
a Kawasaki GZP550, then a GPZ600 and a Yamaha RZ250 with respectable
results, including fourth in class with Darren Baylis during the 1985 Castrol
6 Hour on the GPZ600. He stopped racing the second time to concentrate
on his shop ‘The Pits’. Today, John Boote operates several businesses and
lives in Christchurch. Teen Racer
A fifth former, Boote bought his first bike in 1970, a 1969 Kawasaki GA90S.
Stu Avant attended the same school and soon Boote was hanging out at
Only 15, Boote saw a crash, “Right in front of me was this horrendous
prang, and I can remember it being like a light bulb going off in my head
going ‘This is exciting, I’m going to have a piece of this.”
Still at school, a Suzuki T500 soon followed before moving onto a 1971
Kawasaki 500 H1A, backed by Kevin and Tommy McCleary snr. “Whatever I
needed was never an issue. If my bike needed working on, they would do
it for me for nothing.”
He raced the triple against Brian Scully and Owen Galbraith on H2 750s
and John Woodley on a Honda 750. Riding against faster bikes resulted in
the purchase of Scully’s 750 triple, and good results followed, including the
Porirua street circuit in 1972, where his victories got noticed.
“Tommy told Dad that he got a call from the Coleman brothers to do
whatever he had to do to get that kid off the 750 Kawasaki and on to a
Suzuki. So Tommy offered me one of the Dickie Lawton-Steve Roberts
TR500s, the NZ built ones, with Mike Sinclair as the wrench, because Mike
worked for Tommy at the time.”
Boote’s parents were instrumental in John’s success, and later they
travelled the world in support of John’s racing activities. John’s brother,
Gary, was also a successful racer.