This story originally appeared in Ride Oklahoma Magazine August 2007:
Six seconds. That’s not much time. A tight end can run 50 yards in six seconds. A Nissan Altima goes zero to 60 in just six seconds. And a Tommy Bolton-built motorcycle rips through the quarter-mile in a fraction over six seconds, at more than 200 mph. Oklahoma motorcycle enthusiasts respectfully refer to this as “The Tombo Touch.”
Southern California was the hotbed of motorcycling in the late 1970’s. As a teenager growing up there, Tommy Bolton became known as the “King of Cali.” He had no formal drag racing experience, but he did have quick reflexes and a penchant for power. With those assets, Bolton made a living on the unforgiving streets of his neighborhood, daring anyone who fancied having a fast bike to race for real money – over forty thousand dollars at one high-stakes competition. No timing lights and no rules, except those of the street. Just put your money where your mouth is, find an empty road and get it on – mano-a-mano. You were quick or you were gone. Or, at least your money was. Tommy would tune his bike during the day and hustle street races at night. His reputation of street racing for big bucks is still a legend on the rough-and-tumble streets of Southern California.
Fast forward five years. Bolton had moved to the more organized world of the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) and International Drag Bike Association (IDBA). There, he was the first African-American to run over 200 mph on a drag bike. He recorded more than 200 wins and four championships in a stellar career as a professional drag racer. Bolton also served on the prestigious NHRA rider advisor board, helping to shape the sport of drag racing for future riders.
In 1994, the drag racing scene in California was changing, with tracks closing and government regulations making it increasingly difficult to build new tracks. Because of his nationwide travel schedule, Bolton decided to move to the Central U.S. to make it easier to travel to races on both the east and west coasts. Lucky for us, he chose to base his activities in Oklahoma City. Bolton decided at that point to concentrate his efforts on building and tuning drag race bikes rather than riding them. He spent two years as crew chief for multi-time national champion Ricky Gasden just before Ricky moved to a Kawasaki factory ride, and also served as crew chief for multi-time NHRA and Prostar winner Michael Phillips.
In 1995, Bolton met Glen Nickleberry, an Oklahoma youngster with the lightning reflexes of a drag racer. Tom decided to sponsor Glen and put together a winning team, with Nickleberry assumed the riding chores. Out of Bolton’s shop in South OKC, Tombo Racing quickly dominated the local drag race scene, still holding the fastest recorded elapsed time on a motorcycle at Thunder Valley Raceway in Noble. Bolton and Nickleberry now run Funny Bikes. With over 150 wins as a bike builder, Tombo Racing is a force to be reckoned with at any drag strip, being the only Professional Motorcycle Racing Association (PMRA) rider/tuner team to have won a Prostar national-level race.
In addition to drag bikes, Tombo Racing Engines and Performance Toyz builds fast, powerful bikes for well-heeled street riders who not only want to look good, but also want the fastest machines on the street. Specializing in Suzukis, Tommy and his team will modify stock Hayabusas or GSX-R1000s and add nitrous oxide, turbochargers, stretched swingarms and extra-wide rear tires to stick the 500+ horsepower to ground. These tire-shredding, pavement-scorching monsters are the baddest of the bad. Able to run subeight- second quarter-miles on street legal motorcycles without wheelie bars, bikes with “The Tombo Touch” rule the underground world of street drag racing. Of course, plenty of chrome and custom paint make the bikes look as good as they go.
If you notice a motorcycle with a “Tombo Racing” sticker on the swingarm at your next local bike night, you might think twice before challenging the rider to a drag race. You could become a victim of “The Tombo Touch” and find your wallet a little thinner than it was maybe . . . six seconds . . . earlier.