I suppose if you are around long enough, everyone you know will leave this mortal coil before you. And so it is with Rich Thorwaldson (1946-2004), who succumbed on June 20 to injuries sustained in a road racing accident. In the formative days of motocross when we were all newcomers to the sport, Thor was an established veteran of motorcycle racing. He had cut his teeth in the desert and dirt tracks of California, and came to the AMA National Motocross Championships in 1971 at the ripe old age of 25. Most of us young bucks, back in 1970 and 71, thought that Rich was the ancient mariner. He was an adult. He lived an adult life. He had responsibilities. He was already a successful racer. He was the oldest guy we knew. We were ragged teenagers, armed with vans, long hair and a willingness to hang it out for a few minutes of every moto. To Richard Thorwaldson motocross was a job…a job he loved.
I looked up to Rich Thorwaldson. He was the most professional motocrosser of the 70s. We called him The Wedge. When I first met him he was on the Suzuki team, paired with Mike Runyard, riding the infamous TM-models. Rich was a class act. He was quiet, reserved and, although he never said a bad word about anybody, you didn’t have to be a mind reader to know what Rich thought. Although Rich was a factory rider and one of the most consistent riders on the circuit, he never got much press or acclaim. He was steady, reliable and indestructible.
A RECORD TO BE PROUD OF
Rich finished second in the 1973 250 Nationals (behind Gary Jones) and won the Pocono 250 National that year. Rich tied for third in 1974 250 National Championship (with Jimmy Ellis). Rich was fourth in the 1972 500 National Championships and finished second in the original 1974 250cc Supercross Series (and was sixth in the 1975 500cc Supercross series). He was First American at several Trans-AMA events (with finishes as high as sixth place). Thorwaldson spent four years at Team Suzuki, but was replaced in 1975 by an 18-year-old kid named Tony DiStefano.
Upon retiring, Thorwaldson founded Thor Racing. I used to stop by his shop off the 91 freeway to get swingarms for my bikes. There was a time in the late 70’s when half the bikes on the National circuit had Thor swingarms on them. I never really lost touch with Rich, but when he moved from SoCal to Northern Nevada to open up a Honda dealership, I only saw him at the occasional vet race. He was fast at 25 and he was fast every year after that. His Honda dealership became a business success.
A LIFE WELL LIVED
When I first heard that he had crashed at a road race and was in a coma, I was disheartened and later I was saddened by his passing, but my sadness is metered by the fact that Rich Thorwaldson did what he loved his whole life. He was a flat tracker, a desert racer and a factory motocrosser. He will live on in the memories of everyone who ever saw him race or even looked at a photo of number 26 on his Suzuki (or number 11 on a Maico). We will always have The Wedge in the back of our minds…he will always be young (Except to me, for me he will always be the oldest guy I knew who was racing a motocross bike back in ’71. Yikes, he was 25.
Richard Thorwaldson is survived by his wife, Patricia, daughter, Marcy, son, Richard Jr. and several grandchildren. The family has a memorial website at http://www.richardthorwaldson.com.