R.I.P. Famed Race Tuner Steve Johnson

R.I.P. Famed Race Tuner Steve Johnson

© 2021, Roadracing World Publishing, Inc. By David Swarts.

Steven Taylor “Steve” Johnson, of Bend, Oregon, died June 9, 2021. He was 69 years old.

Johnson is survived by his brothers Sandy, Matt, and Patrick; and his children Ryan, Neal, and Jenna.

Johnson, originally from San Diego, California, grew up racing on two and four wheels and competed against the likes of King Kenny Roberts when they were dirt track Novices together in 1970, according to a biography prepared by the Trailblazers’ Hall of Fame.

While road racing in England, Johnson hooked up with Phil Read, became part of his crew, and helped Read win the 1971 250cc Grand Prix World Championship. Johnson was only 20 years old.

That led to Johnson working for Kawasaki building motocross racebikes and tuning for the likes of 1972 AMA 500cc Motocross National Champion Brad Lackey and 1974 AMA 500cc Motocross National Champion Jimmy Weinert, among others. In his spare time, he built Kawasaki road race bikes for Yvon Duhamel.

Kawasaki shifted Johnson over to road racing, and he worked with Freddie Spencer in 1979, when Spencer won two of the four AMA Superbike races on a Kawasaki and placed third in the Championship.

Johnson was then linked up with Eddie Lawson for 1980 and 1981. Lawson won the AMA 250cc Grand Prix Championship both years and the AMA Superbike crown in 1981.

Wayne Rainey then joined Kawasaki’s team, and Johnson tuned for both Lawson and Rainey, winning the 1982 AMA Superbike Championship with Lawson and the 1983 AMA Superbike Championship with Rainey.

Johnson next bounced back to Kawasaki’s motocross program, where he had several more successful seasons working with Jeff Ward, among other riders.

Johnson later joined Vance & Hines’ road racing team and won the Daytona 200 and the AMA 600cc Supersport Championship with David Sadowski in 1990. Johnson added another Daytona 200 victory with Lawson in 1993, before moving to Rob Muzzy Racing.

Johnson worked for Rob Muzzy Racing from 1994 until 1999, running its World Superbike team from 1994 to 1996 and later winning the AMA Superbike Championship with Doug Chandler in 1997.

After Rob Muzzy Racing stopped road racing motorcycles, Johnson moved to North Carolina and started working for a NASCAR team and eventually became a professor at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill teaching Motorsports Racing Management until he retired and relocated back to Bend, Oregon.

According to the Trailblazers, Johnson built and/or tuned motorcycles that won two World Championships and 21 National Championships in motocross, supercross, and road racing. He was inducted into the Trailblazers Hall of Fame in 2020, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the induction ceremony did not take place before his passing.

A Celebration of Life in conjunction with Johnson’s induction into the Trailblazers Hall of Fame will be celebrated Sunday, August 29, in the Waverly Chapel at Fairhaven Memorial & Cemetery, 1702 Fairhaven Ave., Santa Ana, CA 92705 at 11:00 a.m.

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