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,
every conceivable item
that the crude
the 1970s and
1980s could use.
threw the might of
the White Brothers
into founding the
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
which has celebrated its 33rd
annual edition this year. Tom
worked tirelessly in the motorcycle industry to make our sport
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.
Earlier this year, while getting ready to go to 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 prod-
ded and decided that maybe it was an ulcer. What fol-
lowed 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
continue to exist,
and he wanted
to help other
people in his
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, muse-
um 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. ❏
Tom and Jody.
Photos by Jon Ortner.