THE BEST OF JODY’S BOX: MEN WHO RACE TOGETHER HAVE A CONNECTION FORGED BY FIRE
BY JODY WEISEL
Men who race together have a connection that is forged by fire, albeit ignited by the spark of an old Champion plug. Tom White was special to me—very special. We raced together through the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, right up until the end. I knew him as a racer before I knew him as the founder of White Brothers Cycle Specialties, which he formed with his brother Dan. Tom wanted to make motocross better for the guy in the pits by building hop-up parts that he could use.
Way before there was even a whiff of a Yamaha YZ400 on the horizon, the White Brothers were the kings of four-strokes. They made every conceivable item that the crude four-strokes of the 1970s and 1980s could use. Additionally, Tom threw the might of the White Brothers into founding the World Four-Stroke Championship. He put up the purse, organized the races and even acted as the announcer—all of this at a time when no one took four-strokes seriously. And, he did the same thing with the World Vet Motocross Championship, which has celebrated its Over 36 years of racing. Tom worked tirelessly in the motorcycle industry to make our sport better.
Don’t hold it against him, but Tom was rich. But, he used his wealth for the good of the sport. He contributed to the AMA Hall of Fame Museum, paid the greats of motocross to come to charity events, sponsored racers and pioneered new events—and never for his own profit.
Although I hung out with the mega-rich Tom White, he always made me feel like he was hanging out with me. Mostly, I knew the hard-working, nonstop, not-so-rich Tom White (before he sold his company for millions). I remember the hours we spent in the water talking while waiting for a set to roll in. He would tell me about the financial end of the motorcycle business, the horror of the accident that left his son Brad severely disabled, and the quarrel that drove a wedge between Tom and his twin brother Dan. I’m sure that on his death bed Tom wished that Dan would have been by his side.
While getting ready to go to a race at Glen Helen, Tom White felt a pain in his stomach. Thinking it was indigestion, he kept on working on his bike. The pain persisted so much, though, that he decided not to race. Tom went to his doctor, who poked and prodded and decided that maybe it was an ulcer. What followed was a series of endoscopes, MRIs, PET scans and barium swallows. The finding? Cancer that had spread to his intestines, liver and lungs.
When he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, he called me on his way back from the doctor’s office. He said, “If I only have six months to live, I want to live them to the fullest. I’d rather have four months on my motorcycle than six months in bed.” He laid out his grand plan to me. He wanted to race his KTM 450SXF with his buddies at REM one last time. He wanted to see his new granddaughter born to son Mikey and wife Parisa. He wanted to ride the Indian FTR flat tracker that he had bought to get back in touch with his dirt-track roots. He wanted to ensure that his motorcycle museum would continue to exist, and he wanted to help other people in his last days.
Tom White was genuine, outgoing and totally involved. Even though he could have lived the life of a country squire, he was the busiest retired guy I’ve ever seen. When you called to see what he was doing, he’d reel off a list of board meetings, business trips, charity events and races that he had volunteered to announce (almost always for free). It may seem strange, but I don’t feel intense sorrow for the loss of my friend. As in everything he did, Tom was prepared to die and he prepared his friends for that day too.
Tom lived a full life, even if it was cut short. He got bang for his buck. He was a Grand National dirt tracker, successful businessman, World Vet Champion, museum owner, AMA Hall of Famer, husband, father, friend, philanthropist and one heck of a guy. He did it all in the sport—and did it “for the good of the sport.”
But, I’m mostly proud of Tom because, in his dying days, when others would have taken to their death beds, he raced his KTM 450SXF between chemo treatments, did four laps of an AMA Grand National dirt track on his new Indian FTR750, held his newest granddaughter in his arms, bought a rare vintage bike for his museum (even though he would never get to enjoy it) and organized his life to take care of his family after he was gone. I’m sad that my dear friend is gone, but I’m glad that he got to go on his own terms. I know that he wishes the same for all of us.