MX775 Icon – Rich Thorwaldson Jr.
By Clifton Kump, with Ty Erquiaga and Robert Beaupre
Welcome to the first installment of the MX775 Icon series. This area of MX775 will showcase local motocross history and highlight deserving people in the 775 moto community. There are plenty of worthy candidates for this distinction, and our hope is that we can tell their stories and give them the thanks they deserve.
Rich Thorwaldson (Jr.) is the subject of our first MX775 Icon feature. Rich and his father, the late Richard Thorwaldson (Sr.), both deserve massive credit for their contributions to local motocross in northern Nevada. Today, Rich is a motorcycle service and customer service leader in Reno through his Mill St.-based shop, Moto Source. But to fully understand his commitment to motocross, we need to go back several decades.
Richard Sr. founded Big Valley Honda – a shop Rich would later manage – after a highly successful career racing dirt bikes throughout the 1970s, which included a ride with Team Suzuki alongside Roger DeCoster. Richard (a.k.a. “the ol’ man” to those that loved him) was also the founder of the now legendary “Thor Swingarms,” which were as commonly found in the AMA pro pits in the late 70’s as a pair of Fox Airs – and if you know your history, that says a lot! Thor Swingarms were handmade pieces of art. Their functionality and cool factor was unrivaled!
Richard had a saying that encapsulated his approach to business and customer service: “I want to make sure to treat people the right way, so when I see them at Raley’s, I don’t have to walk down another aisle.” Rich approaches business in a very similar way to his father. He says that his greatest satisfaction is the patronage from his customers, and that he built Moto Source to represent his feelings about service. He knows that service, whether it takes place at the workbench at the back of his shop or his parts counter, drives his business. He takes great pride in signing his own paycheck – something Moto Source’s loyal customer base enables him to do.
I feel unusually qualified to write this piece, as I worked at Big Valley Honda from 2005 to 2010 and again from 2012 to 2013. I had the unique opportunity to work at the shop in its heyday and work with Rich closely.
Big Valley Honda was highly respected in local motocross because of the way the Thorwaldsons ran the business. BVH supported the moto scene and put a lot of money back into the community. If you went to a local race anytime from the mid-90s to 2007, you saw a lot of Hondas with BVH graphics on them. If you didn’t ride for BVH, you just weren’t that bad-ass – at one point or another we all rode for BVH. Guys like Mike Mason, Kenny Lash and Nate Tiearney were regulars in BVH parts manager Layne Kolbet’s office. Big Valley Honda owed this status in large part to the respect surrounding the Thorwaldson family. It was not uncommon in the least to walk into the shop and see Richard bench racing with the likes of Brad Lackey or Gary Jones, who would often drop in for a visit with the ol’ man.
Moto Source, now the home of Rich and the Thorwaldson brand of customer service, has built a devoted following of its own. Rich opened Moto Source in 2010 after his non-compete clause with BVH expired. Richard succumbed to injuries suffered in a road race in 2004, so Rich’s departure from BVH meant that, for the first time ever, no one from the Thorwaldson family was involved with the shop. But it didn’t take long for Rich to find his way back to the motorcycle business.
“I was doing marketing for a construction company and hated it,” says Rich of his life between BVH and Moto Source. “I walked in, quit my job, called my wife and two weeks later we were building Moto Source.”
There’s a sort of customer that comes into motorcycle shops to have repairs done to his bike, only to learn he can’t afford them. He’s likely to walk disappointed out of most shops. But Moto Source is not like most shops.
Rich understands the passion of his customers, and that two wheels are their therapy and recreation. While Rich appreciates payments in full, those who know him are never surprised to see him extend kindness to a deserving rider in need. Rich is in the motorcycle business for all the right reasons, and it shows.
Beyond his respected new business, Rich’s Icon status also comes from him being an all-around bad dude. Although he no longer rides seriously, he was always competitive in the Pro class throughout his many years as a racer, even when he was a little older than the rest of the guys on the line. A little-known fact about Rich: He was also a professional AMA road racer and was awarded the No. 5 plate in AFM. He is also an avid exercise enthusiast, training with his wife and co-owner of Moto Source, Shalie, at Double Diamond Athletic Club. He can fix virtually anything, and he is a heck of a fabricator.
Rich’s ability to build from scratch one of the most successful local shops in recent memory says a lot about his ability to excel at anything he does. As an employee, I always enjoyed going into his office at BVH – if only to be told to “get back to work.” That kind of personal touch, among many other things, makes him the first MX775 Icon.