That pretty much sums up Tom White's involvement in Motocross. However, calling him a legend would likely elicit a quick turn of the head, an immediate change of subject or a well-timed quip on how that statement is a bit, if not, a lot misleading.
But it's true.
No, he didn't win Supercross or Motocross Championships. Turns out that was before his time. He went pro though, as a flat tracker. Excelled at that prior to starting one of the largest performance parts companies serving the industry with his brother and dad that lasted 25 years. Oh, he also worked as a mechanic.
In 1985, he founded the annual White Brothers World Veteran MX Championships at the iconic Glen Helen Motocross Park and 12 years later the event was so big he used it as a catalyst to honor one of the greats every year. Names like Roger DeCoster, Rick Johnson and Edison Dye were among the honorees.
Funny thing. He didn't start riding at age 4 or 5 like so many do. He first threw a leg around a motorcycle at 15 and promptly crashed. That started a love affair with riding that continues to this day. The assortment of motorcycles he might ride on any Sunday is, as they now say in sports, ridiculous. But, the number of dirt bikes he actually owns? Staggering.
In 2014 the American Motorcyclist Association bestowed on him the highest of honors anyone in the industry could achieve: Induction into the AMA Hall of Fame.
Owner and founder of the Early Years of Motocross Museum in Villa Park, CA, which houses more than 150 vintage dirt bikes (among other historical artifacts), White started collecting in the 80s and now has run out of room. It's not open to general admission but he holds fund-raisers there several times a year for the High Hopes Head Injury Center.
White recently lost a long-time friend in Kelly Owen, owner and founder of the Owen Vintage Motorcycle Collection, but graciously took time out for an interview. This is what he said:
What age did you start riding and on what? 15 years old
What do you ride now?
- Motocross race bike is a 2016 KTM 350SX
- 2-stroke Motocross bike is a 2013 Yamaha YZ250
- Dual Sport bike is a KTM350EXC
- Sport/track bike is a KTM 1190 RC8
- Adventure bike is a KTM1190 Adventure R
- When I ride with my bride, Dani of 40 years, we're on our 2012 Honda Goldwing. I've got more bikes that I ride, but these are my regular rides.
- Huntington Beach Racing Association #1 in 1970
- Top Ascot TT Pro Novice - 1971
- Top Ascot TT Pro Amateur 1972
- Winner Castle Rock TT National in 1972
- Winner of 5 Ascot TT Main events in '73, '74 and '75 and 6 trophy dashes
- Being one those guys, and most important, I had fun and lived to move on
Years Pro: 1971 to one race in 1976.
- White Brothers awarded with #1 Off-road Performance Parts supplier by Dealernews Magazine in '91, '92, '93
- "Dealernews" mag survey said White Brothers was the #3 supplier of motorcycle parts in America in 1999
- Sponsored many of the top riders in the world in almost every motorcycle discipline
- Museum is just a way for me to enjoy the bikes and share history of our amazing activity with friends
- Also proud that 1/3 of our sales was business outside of the USA
Number of Dirt Bikes at Museum: 115 in Motocross museum; 20 in Flat-Track Museum; eight in house, and another 30 or so in the garage, storage, or on loan.
Hall of Fame Inductee: 2014
Website: The Early Years of Motocross Museum
Tom White with his wife Dani and their son Brad
1. How did you get started riding motorcycles?
A friend let me ride his Honda 50 and I almost got around the block before forgetting how to slow it down and hit a parked Cadillac. Sixty-five dollars in damage. Parents paid for the repair and never wanted me to ride again. But, they were OK with my twin brother Dan riding. He was always better at anything we attempted. So Dan got involved and he tried to teach me how to ride. I bought my first motorcycle in 1967, a Yamaha 100cc Trailmaster.
2. You gravitated towards flat track racing. Why this over Supercross/Motocross?
AMA Pro Flat-track that featured all disciplines was way more significant than Motocross in the late 60s and early 70s.
3. Once your racing career came to an end you stayed in the industry in a very big way. Tell us about White Brothers and how it got started.
I worked at Orange County Cycle for six years. My boss and mentor was Bob Maynard. He was flexible enough to allow me to follow my dream of becoming an AMA pro and also sent me to Yamaha mechanics school to learn that trade as I worked as a mechanic. We also had many of the top Motocross riders racing out of our shop. I ported their cylinders, rebuilt their engines, and worked on their suspension. Bruce Baron, Morris Malone, Jon Derhammer, Mike and Scott Gillman, David Boydstun and the list goes on.
By 1975 I wanted to move on and start my own business. Plan was to continue to race, but a head on collision at Saddleback while trail riding helped me focus on this new business. At first, it was just my dad and I, then a few months later we convinced brother Dan to join and we became - White Brothers.
4. You also got bit by the collecting bug and in 1985 started buying old Motocross bikes. At the time, were vintage bikes simply a passion or was there a purpose like preserving them for future generations?
In 1984 my 6-year son Brad and I were at Perris Raceway, me on a modern bike and him just hanging out, and Brad says, "Dad, check out this Greeves (it was a '64 Challenger) in the back of a truck!" We should buy that and restore it together." He was and is the inspiration for the museum.
5. Then tragedy struck in 1997.
Brad was 18 at the time and had surpassed me on speed on the Motocross track. He was by best friend. Dan and I had just purchased a new building a few weeks before and I had moved the collection of 20 plus bike to the building. Brad drove his El Camino to the building on a late Sunday afternoon and was working on his favorite Honda XR75 mini bike. He took it for a test ride and didn't see the chain that a neighbor had put up to block what looked like an exit to the area. Saw it too late and it closed lined him, crushing his larynx.
6. Three years later you sold White Brothers. Was this to help with your son?
Absolutely. Also to take care of my wife Dani who was struggling. Personally, I was ready to move on with my life as the pressure of a nearly $40 million company was getting to me.
7. How is Brad doing today?
Though Brad is 100 percent disabled - blind, quadriplegia, can't eat or swallow - his mind is sound. We take care of him at home with the help of loving nurses 24/7 and 365 days a year for the last 19 years. He inspires us everyday and we believe he will outlive me and Dani.
8. You sold all of your bikes except three after Brad's accident. How many was that? Was it difficult to let them go?
I didn't sell all of them, just the valuable one's and my wife's '64 Mustang convertible. We got $13,000 for it and that paid for the Hyperbaric Chamber therapy. Didn't help him get better, but we had to try.
9. Then you started building the collection again. Was your approach to collecting the bikes different this time around?
The inspiration completely changed when I met Edison Dye.
10. We interviewed you for the article "The History of Motocross - American Style" and you helped get Edison Dye the recognition he deserved for bringing Motocross to the United States. Did you have a relationship with him or did you simply discover a man who got unfairly pushed out of the industry you were a big part of?
No, I didn't have a relationship with him other than meeting him at Orange County Cycle in 1970. Two weeks before the 1999 White Brothers World Veteran MX Championships, I still hadn't decided who we would honor. I reflected on a story Lars Larsson shared at the Vintage Iron Vintage World Championship Banquet the year before. Lars shared how just a couple days before, he and Bengt Aberg decided to visit the man who brought them and the sport of Motocross to America. He went on to share that the man, Edison Dye, was overtaken with emotion on seeing Bengt and Lars and also mentioned that Mr. Dye had not been to a Motocross event in over 20 years.
I found him and brought him out to the World Veteran MX Championship in 1999 and honored him with the MX Lifetime Achievement Award. Then we became friends.
11. Today, you've got more than 100 Motocross bikes on display. How do you find them? Do you look for them or do people come to you?
Great question, I've actually stopped looking for them, as I'm very happy with the collection and out of room. Word of mouth has been #1 and many are good leads and others are guys calling saying, "Hey Tom, I hear you are addicted to old bikes and I've got this POS in my garage and I've heard you'll pay double what it's worth."
OK, I'm having a little fun here. But, I've found that fellow enthusiasts give me the best direction to find the bikes and also Ebay and motorcycle auctions. My Dutch friend, Frans Munsters, who founded Twin Air Filters and a partner in business, has helped me find the best bikes in Europe.
12. Do you buy any as restoration projects or only those ready for show?
All of the above, but the restorations are done by my experts. Favorites would be the original and unrestored that I have found. I think more than 10 in the collection.
13. What's your favorite one?
I like my '67 Greeves 360 Challenger and the '67 Greeves 250 Challenger that Brad and I found in '84. If you ask me tomorrow, this could change.
14. What's missing you've been on the hunt for?
I just received my 10-month chip from Bike A-holics Anonymous. I'm trying to quit as I'm out of room and money. OK, on second thought, if Chris Carter's (owner and founder of Motion Pro) Suzuki RH68 goes missing... (laughs)
15. Do they require any maintenance or just frequent dusting?
Rubber parts are always falling off and I have a friend, Alberto, that comes in several times a year to detail the bikes. Also, the bride, Dani, helps clean them.
16. Do you ever ride any of them?
Rarely, I ride and race the latest and greatest. Sorry!
17. Is the museum open to the public?
Private visits can be arranged during the week, but the museum is private (museum property is also our home) and open for events only. Check out my website at www.earlyyearsofmx.com or my Facebook with the same name.
18. In 2014, you were inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame. You said "There is no higher honor in motorcycling." What was your initial reaction to the call? Did you have an inkling it was coming?
Initially my friend, Don Rosene, who chairs the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame, called me for a bio. I thought this was just to promote associates of the Hall of Fame. Later I saw I was on the potential ballot under Ambassadors and Industry. So many significant people, I never thought I would make the cut. So, I'm out at Glen Helen racing a vintage bike on the front track and my modern bike on the REM track and see that I have a voice mail message from Don. I close the doors on my Sprinter, just behind Glen Helen's starting line and called him. When I got out of the van everything had changed.
19. Today, you're involved with High Hopes Head Injury Program.
Brain Injury affects tens of thousands every year. Life changing for my family as both my son, Brad, and my wife, Dani, have experienced traumatic brain Injury. Unfortunately, in motorcycling as we fall and hit our head, problems can arrive and they affect not only the individual's quality of life, but also the entire family. High Hopes has helped many, definitely my family, and I will continue to support them with my museum and ask that others join in.
20. Finally, you've had a storied career. It seems you've touched almost every aspect of the industry. What are you most proud of?
The many friends I have made in the motorcycling world and having access to my heroes.
Not to miss: Check out White's very cool story visiting with Mike Goodwin at the High Desert State Prison. Considered the "Father of Supercross," Goodwin was convicted of murdering racing legend Mickey Thompson in 1988.