Out of Minnesota – The Tom Benolkin Story
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 you’ve 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 of help.

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