By Mike Marion
In mid-July Tom White stopped me after practice in front of the REM tower and told me that he had a Yamaha YZ250 two-stroke with five hours on it. He said he wasn’t riding it anymore because he had ridden Jody’s KTM 450SXF the week before and had rushed out and bought one. He proceeded to explain that he had added an intake and flywheel, but other than that it was stock. I asked him how much he wanted for it. He thought about it for a moment and said, “To you, $4000.”
I had no intentions of buying a new bike at the time, but I knew that this was a good deal. Tom took tremendous care of his bikes and this one looked brand-new. When I returned to my pit and told my friends about the offer, they told me to buy it and, if I couldn’t afford it, they would lend me money. I thought I could sell my 2005 YZ250 for $2000 and easily pay off the balance. So, after an hour of consideration, I went back to Tom and told him it was a deal. He said, “Call me on Monday,” and gave me directions the number.
I was kind of sad about the whole thing because I knew that Tom was battling cancer and I didn’t really want to take his bike away from him. I called on Monday, but he said that he had just had chemo and that he wasn’t up to dealing with anything on that day. I understood.
Then he said that he had changed his mind about selling the bike to me. I was disappointed until he said, “I’m going to give it to you for free.” I was shocked. I knew that he didn’t need the money and just wanted me to be able to ride his bike. He repeated several times that he just “wanted me to ride the bike.” It was kind of strange to be getting a new bike for free, but at the same time not being excited to be receiving such a gift because of the circumstances.
A day later I called him for directions to his house. He sounded much better on the phone, and he proceeded to tell me that I could come over to his house and pick up the bike. He said he had all the paperwork done–bill of sale, etc. I was still in shock! I said, “Tom, are you really giving me the bike for free?”
He said, “Yes. I told you that.” I told him that no one had ever done anything for me like this. And he said, “Well, they have now.” I’ve know Tom for years and knew that he was dirt track racer, AMA Hall of Famer, had won the World Vet Championship, was a wildly successful businessman and owned a famous motorcycle museum, but we had never spent any real personal time together. I was just a guy who raced at the same REM races every week as him. So I asked him, “Why me?” He told me that he admired me for being a loyal two-stroke guy, a dedicated racer and he thought I was the perfect person to appreciate a new bike.
I became very emotional and had to clear my voice and wipe my eyes. It seemed surreal. I was amazed at his generosity and his bravery in thinking about others while fighting a terrible battle with cancer.
I had never been to his house before, and I asked if I could bring a friend, Bill Reimer, with me. He said, “Sure.” When we got there, Tom took us to his office and gave me the bill of sale and then showed us around his museum. He had told me earlier on the phone that he did not have a lot of time, but he showed us his 150-bike museum from from top to bottom and then took us to another building and showed us his flat track museum. Eventually, we loaded the bike and said our goodbyes. I thought, “What an act of generosity.”
I wanted to do something for him, but I didn’t know anything that seemed appropriate. I decided that I would use the bike to honor Tom and his achievements. I designed the plastic and graphics to look like a 1974 Yamaha that I saw in his museum. It was silver with red stripes. But, there was no source of silver plastic. Then my friend Bill at M&L Auto Collision told me that he painted lots of plastic car bumpers and had a special treatment that would work on plastic motorcycle parts. He painted the RTech Revolution plastic silver and ZLT did the TW-80 graphics. Bill’s Pipes graciously donated a pipe and a silencer with the mere mention of Tom White’s name. And Dan Berg gave me a brand-new set of Dunlop tires.
This bike meant more to me than just a gift from a friend. It was a gift from his heart, and Tom White has plenty of that. Before this brief encounter Tom White was just a racing buddy, but now he will be in my thoughts and prayers forever.