Written by Bob Chase, Published March 21, 2007 Print Version
He came from a state where the tracks are covered with snow half the year, was far from the factory
breeding grounds of southern California, and had little history of producing top professional
motocross riders. But for a few years in the early 80s, Minnesota native, Tom Benolkin, was a
force on the national Motocross circuit, and then just as quickly, disappeared. For those that
live outside of the Midwest, he may be the fastest rider youve never heard of.
Tommy, as he was known then, along with his brothers, Jim and Steve, were regular front-runners
at Minnesota amateur Motocross events starting in the late 70s. District 23 had a history
of having some of the fastest amateur riders in the region, but had very few professional riders.
Tom moved up quite quickly in the local and regional ranks, and started looking towards competing
as a pro.
This photo is from his first race on a 125 back in 1973, which he won
But being one of the first from Minnesota to go national had many challenges. The primary obstacle
was getting sponsorship. Up to that point, the factories and support teams had never really looked
much in the Midwest for talent. There was a kid from Illinois named Mark Barnett who was starting
to change that, but this was way before his many AMA championships. Tom rode a few nationals
in 1978, beating Jeff Ward in a qualifier at the Herman, NE national, but not getting any offers
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