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For those of you who know Tom White’s story, this adventure will not come as a surprise. Tom is a former Grand National dirt tracker, AMA Hall of Famer, World Vet Motocross Champion, White Brothers Cycle Specialities founder and Early Year of Motocross Museum owner. He has done it all in the sport. However, six months ago, while getting ready to go a motocross 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 that Tom decided not to race. After a couple days of his stomach aching, 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, PETscans and Barium swallows. Ulcers were ruled out after the endoscopy. The MRI showed nothing wrong. Finally, the doctor ordered a PETscan. The finding? Cancer in his intestines that had spread to his liver and lungs.
Strangely enough, Tom was scheduled for a big profile in the Los Angles Times about his life, motorcycle collection and philantrophic endevors to help fight brain injuries that same week. Tom thought that the L.A. Times would cancel the story, but instead they switched the focus to all of the above, plus his cancer fight. In the finished article, Tom’s doctor, Oncologist Dr. Ralph Hanahan, was quoted as saying, “Tom has advanced cancer, and it has spread to other organs. He has limited life expectancy.”
That quote shocked the motorcycle world, but it didn’t deter Tom. He started chemotherapy and even returned to racing his motocross bike. Those who have lived with cancer in themselves or with a loved one, they know that trying to survive cancer is an adventure. And, more than other adventures, it has big risks. Tom faces those and says, “I want to do the things I love, while I’m healthy enough to do them. If I don’t do it now, I doubt if I’ll ride again as I continue to get weaker.”
Tom wants to live his life to the fullest for as long as he can. Tom’s struggle caught the attention of not just his friends, but of some of the most influential people in the sport. Glen Helen owner Bud Feldkamp unveiled a large Tom White Memorial monument on Glen Helen’s Walk of Fame, and to put icing on the cake he asked Tom to emcee an “On Any Sunday” movie night with Malcolm Smith, Gene Romero and Bruce Brown as the special guests the night before the Glen Helen AMA 250/450 National—except that it was all a ruse, when Tom took the microphone to introduce the honored guests, a film chronicling Tom’s life began to play in the background. It was surprise party for Tom—and the unveiling of the giant stainless steel monument was the highlight of the evening. Tom was totally surprised, but later joked that it was like “attending my own funeral to hear all these people say such nice things about me.”
Alan Olson handled the wrenching chores just as seriously as when he was the AMA Supercross Mechanic of the Year when working for Chad Reed. However, it was a brand-new bike and only doing four laps on a perfectly prepped flat track. Alan did not actually turn any wrenches.
Then Chris Agajanian, Indian Motorcycles and Perris Auto Speedway reached out to Tom, knowing that Tom was a former AMA National dirt track racer and the owner of a brand-new Indian FTR750 dirt track, they asked Tom if he’d like to come to the American Flat Track series final round at Perris Speedway and actually ride his Indian dirt tracker. Not to race it, after all Tom is 67 years old, but do some laps of honor. To feel the thrill one more time.
Tom was ecstatic. With mechanic Alan Olson helping him, Tom showed up before the Flat Track Nationals started and did four laps on his FTR750. He also was surprised how many of the current crop of AMA dirt track racers came out of the pits to shake his hand and slap him on the back.
If Tom White is right, we will never see him race a motorcycle again—but that’s okay with Tom because he got to live the dream of going full-tilt down a dirt track straight thanks to the help of his friends.