Tom Kullen and the Bonneville Vintage GP

Nothing holds back AHRMA racer Tom Kullen as he prepares for the 8th annual Bonneville Vintage GP.

| July/August 2013

Nothing holds Tom Kullen back. The man behind the successful Bonneville Vintage GP races, Tom has spent most of his life with the throttle pinned. His right hand only slightly rolled off the gas three years ago when he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.  

“Throughout March and April I was coughing,” Tom says of 2010, the year his illness made itself known. “I was prescribed antibiotics and was tested for allergies, etc. They didn’t do a scan right away.” A resident of Park City, Utah, Tom Kullen's been a skier since he was 7, and spends much of his time as a ski instructor — often at 10,000 feet above sea level. “I had a coughing fit that put me on the ground; that’s when they finally discovered I had a tumor blocking 70 percent of my airway. I was told it looked ‘troublesome.’”

Getting into bikes 

At home, Tom displays several black and white photos. The images showcase proud relatives astride circa 1908 Harley-Davidson and Indian motorcycles. In another image, taken around 1917, his grandmother poses with a Harley-Davidson Silent Gray Fellow. “My grandfather was a machinist, and he had an Indian or two. They were always in pieces, though, from what I can remember,” Tom says.

Unlike other parents who told their children they couldn’t have motorcycles, Tom’s didn’t have an issue with powered two-wheelers. A Hodaka Super Rat served as a bush beater, and Tom worked as a busboy during high school to buy his first road machine, a Honda Dream 160. From home on Long Island, Tom and his friends would take road trips into upstate New York. His next ride was a 1972 Honda SL350, but when the cam chain tensioner failed the cam seized in the head. That’s when he bought his 1970 Dunstall Norton 810.

“My practical, BMW-riding uncle told me not to get the Norton, that I’d always be fixing it,” Tom recalls. “I rode it quite a bit, but there was always a lot of fixing, too,” he admits. After high school, Tom and his good friend Rick Pellegrino traveled to Utah and became ski bums. They got maintenance jobs in Alta at the Goldminer’s Daughter Lodge, and two years later Tom returned home, loaded his Willy’s wagon with all his worldly possessions — including the Dunstall Norton — and headed back to Utah.

Back in Utah, he enrolled in the arts department at the University of Utah, figuring he could ski while going to school. “I was paying for school, and I couldn’t even afford a lift ticket,” Tom laughs. To get his fix, he volunteered as a ski patroller. “I wasn’t getting paid, but the big thing was I was skiing.” Tom graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts and put his hands to ceramics, sculpture and graphic design — a little bit of everything, he says. Tom planned to teach high school art, but life took a turn when he designed a bag to carry medical equipment.

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