Tom White Memorial Ride

Kevin Duke
by Kevin Duke

Bidding farewell to one of the moto industry's best friends

Tom White, a motorcycle-industry entrepreneur, AMA Hall of Famer and philanthropist, is one of the rare people who absolutely no one has anything negative to say about him.

This we already knew before attending last weekend’s Tom White Memorial Ride at Glen Helen Raceway, but the respect for White was emotionally on display by the who’s who of SoCal motocross luminaries that showed up to pay their respects to the inspirational man who succumbed to cancer November 2, 2017 at the age of 68.

Tom White Obituary

White first gained prominence in the early 1970s as a national-level dirt-track racer and motocross competitor before he and his twin brother, Dan, founded White Brothers Cycle Specialties, which grew into a successful venture that employed nearly 200 people in its glory years before the business was sold in 2000. White continued his enthusiasm for the off-road industry, creating the World Four-Stroke Championship and World Vet MX Championship, and he also founded the Edison Dye Motocross Lifetime Achievement Award, which recognizes the person or persons who have made the largest impact on the growth of motocross in America.

White, a devoted family man, also established the Early Years Of Motocross Museum, a collection of more than 200 vintage motocross bikes that is one of the best MX museums in the world, if not the best. Click on the link below to see our article on White’s 10 favorite bikes in his museum located on his family’s property in Orange County, California.

10 Best Motorcycles At Tom White’s Early Years Of Motocross Museum

The author of that story, Scott Rousseau, and I were fortunate to be at White’s museum this summer when Indian Motorcycle was delivering one of its formidable FTR750 dirt-track racers, the last piece added to his marvelous moto museum. (This article’s lead photo I shot was taken that day in August, with wife Dani and daughter Kristen by his side.) Check out the video below to see the enthusiasm White displays for his new toy, despite the cancer that was eating him inside.

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White rode his Indian FTR750 for a few demo laps at a dirt-track in Perris, California, this past October, and Rousseau says his pace was surprisingly brisk. White also competed in several MX races this year. He was determined to eke out maximum joy from the last months of his life, an inspiration for us all.

White has been inspiring motorcycle enthusiasts for decades, as evidenced by the hundreds of people who came out to Glen Helen on November 11 for White’s memorial ride at Glen Helen. Mixed in among regular SoCal locals were 5-time world MX champ Roger DeCoster, famed dirt-trackers (and On Any Sunday stars) Gene Romero and Walt Fulton, former factory Husqvarna motocross racer and fellow AMA Hall of Famer Mark Blackwell, off-road legend Scot Harden, Yamaha’s motorsports manager Keith McCarty, and KTM North America president John Hinz, among many others.

One of the many sano vintage dirtbikes that took part in the Tom White Memorial Ride.

Attendees gathered in the track’s main building prior to the ride, where one of White’s dearest friends, longtime Motocross Action magazine editor Jody Weisel, offered a touching tribute that was heartfelt and unexpectedly happy in its tone.

“I think if I took away anything from the Tom White experience with cancer, it’s that you’ve got to live while you are dying, Weisel told the crowd. “You’ve got to do the things that you want to do. Tom made a list of the things that he wanted to do. He said, ‘I’d rather live for two months and live life to the fullest than live six months in pain.’

“He wanted to race,” Weisel continued. “He wanted to ride his dirt-track bike. He wanted to see his granddaughter born. He wanted to go on a road ride. And in between chemo and feeling bad, he was able to go and do every one of those things. So, when he died, I didn’t really feel like it was a loss.”

So, with surprisingly buoyant mood, riders headed out to their bikes for a lap of honor to White’s legacy. Mixed in among contemporary motocross bikes, like the Honda CRF450RX I rode, were dozens of vintage machines, and the sound of air-cooled thumpers and the smell of Bel Ray two-stroke smoke was thick in the air. It was a fitting and glorious way to bid farewell to the respected and loved Tom White.

Rider’s head out for the Tom White Memorial Ride at Glen Helen Raceway.

White’s daughter, Kristin Anderson, intends to honor her father’s legacy by continuing to operate the Early Years of MX Museum and supporting White’s philanthropic efforts.

“We’re humbled by the turnout,” Anderson said appreciatively, “but it’s not a surprise because we know that he had a really big impact on the sport. Seeing everyone here really helps us kind of fill the void that he left. He has had so many whose lives he touched. He wanted us to celebrate (not mourn) him, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Here’s our colleague Scott Rousseau next to Tom White at Perris Auto Speedway on October 7, the date of the final round of the 2017 American Flat Track Series, where White rode his FTR750 to fulfill another one of his bucket-list wishes less than one month before his passing.

“Even at the very end he still did not complain about anything,” DeCoster said about White. “He was matter-of-fact, and he was planning what he had to do, but he never said, ‘Why me?’ We all complain about things that we shouldn’t, and Tom was the best example of being positive no matter what.”

“We hope that Tom’s life story serves as inspiration to everyone that fierce determination and good will can yield a life extraordinarily well lived,” the White family said in a statement upon the passing of Mr. White.

Tom White’s life and the way he lived it should be an inspiration to us all. His bravery, passion and enthusiasm never waned even as his days came to a close. Godspeed, Tom, you’ll be dearly missed.

Kevin Duke
Kevin Duke

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Join the conversation
  • John B John B on Nov 16, 2017

    Well done, Kevin.

    • Kevin Duke Kevin Duke on Nov 17, 2017

      Thanks, JB. Tom White was a really good man with a high regard for other people. He deserved something nice on MO as a tribute, as he's the kind of guy the world needs more of.

  • Mark Dickinson Mark Dickinson on Nov 17, 2017

    Thank you for sharing this. Feeling like I missed out getting to know Tom. God's speed Tom.