Sunday Sit-Down: Who The Hell Is Tom Parsons?
Photos: Chris Kimball
For many who watched the Dirt Shark Biggest Whip contest at this year’s Monster Energy Cup, they might have been asking themselves that very question. So who the hell is Tom Parsons? The first time we met Tom, it wasn’t at the track, on the ramps, or in the hills. It was last May at a Subway restaurant in Las Vegas, Nevada, and he was just a normal dude ordering a Cold Cut Combo and a soft drink. He had just attempted to qualify for the final Supercross round of the year, and we had sparked up a conversation with him like we would with anyone who loved racing. We had no idea, however, that Parsons had one of the nastiest whips in the game, and when we ran into him again at the 2013 Monster Energy Cup, he was getting handed a fat trophy in front of thousands—and millions at home watching it on their TVs—for taking down the likes of Josh Hansen, Jarryd McNeil, Jeremy “Twitch” Stenberg, Todd Potter, Edgar Torronteras, and Billy Laninovich. It’s safe to say that Tom had us scratching our heads in bewilderment, so we caught up with the 31-year-old Florida native to find out more.
First question: who the hell is Tom Parsons?
[Laughs] Good question. I've been racing for a long time—I raced Supercross. I rode for the Wonder Warthog team for a couple years. I was injured badly a few years back, and I messed up my arm. After getting a few surgeries I knew it would never be 100 percent again, and that's what led me to freestyle and freeriding. I always had a thing for whips, but I never really expected it to take me anywhere.
When we met you in Las Vegas in May after Supercross, you mentioned wanting to ride the X-Fighters course, but you never said anything about doing freestyle or competing.
I had surgery earlier in the year on my arm, and I made it in time for the last Supercross. I felt alright in Vegas, and then I just went out for the X-Fighters media day. I've always been a whipper, but being from Florida there isn't a much attention out there. The people that I ride with know that I throw whips, but I guess for everyone else it came as a surprise.
Do you do anything else other than riding to support yourself?
With racing I only make a little bit. It's pretty tough to make a living unless you're a factory rider, but I do freestyle shows back home and some photography on the side.
How did the Dirt Shark Biggest Whip contest come together?
I didn't even know I was in it until I saw the video. They sent out invites and I never got one, so I assumed I missed out. But then the video came out and people started texting me about it, and I didn't even know what they were talking about [laughs].
So from there you just went out and gave it a try?
Yeah, as soon as I saw my name on that video I knew I was coming for sure. It was just too big of an opportunity to pass up. I've been trying for X Games and other whip contests for about three years now, but nobody has really given me a chance. Luckily, they barely let me into this one and they told me that I was the last guy invited. So I guess I barely made the cut.
Take us through qualifying earlier in the day and then the competition.
The whole day was pretty crazy—dudes in the first practice were already throwing gnarly whips. They were the biggest whips thrown by the most people at one time that I've ever seen. You could tell from the first practice that it was going to be a crazy day. I felt comfortable with the ramps and thought I could at least have a chance to get in, but any of those guys could have been top three—it was insane. I went out there and just tried to throw the biggest whips that I could. When they started calling names at 10th place and went up the list, they got to fourth and I hadn't heard my name, I thought, "Oh man, I made it in." That was originally my main goal, because the biggest thing that I wanted to accomplish was to get into the final. I had no idea that I would actually be able win it. As soon as it went into the night show and we did the first warm up jump, it felt good and I was like, "Alright, this is it." I knew that I had to really show what I could do.
Describe your whip style.
The cool thing about it is that everyone has their own whip style; it would be boring if they were all the same. I focus a lot on being smooth and fluid, and landing in the sweet spot every time and trying to make it look effortless. I think I have a fairly traditional type of whip—a motocross whip—mixed in with the newer style technique that you have to do when you're going upside down. It's a little bit harder to get it back, but I try to stay with the traditional moto-style whips and turndowns—like a scrub.
Did you throw any that got your heart beating or that you didn't think you would bring back?
I felt pretty good most of the time. There was one turndown and one upside down whip that I felt was good—you can tell when you throw it really big if you think you're about to crash. I think I had a few towards the end that I felt were really good, and that's what probably put me in a better position to do well.
So how did it go down after it was over? It seemed a little confusing.
They stopped us all so they could do the scoring. They told Twitch to go up to the podium, and then pointed at me and told me to head up too. I looked around and didn't see them say it to anyone else, and I thought, "Wait, did I just win?" Then they stopped me on my way up and I asked them, "Did I just win?" They said yes, and I just couldn't believe it!
What did you get for winning?
The coolest thing was the trophy. I also won a cash prize, which I didn't even know until I was sitting there and Todd Potter asked what I was going to do with the money. I was like, "Wait, there's money?" I think it was like $7500.
What was it like beating all of the top guys in one night?
It's still pretty crazy honestly; when I think about it, it feels like I just woke up from a dream and it didn't actually happen. I've had to line up with some of the best riders in the world as far as racing goes, but I've never been good enough to compete with guys like Stewart. It was nice to go out to a competition and feel like I was good enough to compete with all those top guys, but at the same time I just tried to do my best. I didn't really know where I would end up, because everyone had ridiculous whips. I don't know how you would even judge it, but I guess I did something that they felt was better.
That was a big example of what can happen when it’s not a “popularity contest” and the fans don’t vote to decide the winner.
A lot of people talk about the popularity thing, and it's nice being in a judged event, but at the same time when it comes to something like X Games, they're thinking about viewership and selling tickets. It would be nice if they changed it, because I think they would have a better competition, but that's their decision.
Have you had any offers or sponsorship deals come your way since?
No, I've had all my sponsors for quite a few years now. The only new one that I picked up recently was Alias, and they picked me up right before Monster Cup. Other than that it's been the same people supporting me throughout the years, and they stayed with me even when I was hurt and struggling.
What did you do to celebrate after?
Once I was done I was pretty tired, but we were in Vegas so you have to go out and do something. I had a few buddies that came out from Florida, and Jimmy Decotis was super pumped too—I think he was my super fan of the night [laughs]. We did the normal Vegas thing; we went to the Monster after party at Treasure Island, and then we headed to the Hard Rock. I think we went to sleep when the sun came up [laughs].
So how many new Instagram followers did @tomparsons930 gain since? We saw Dirt Shark blowing you up.
[Laughs] I think I gained like 1,500 in the first 48 hours, but I didn't have that many to begin with, so that was a lot.
What's next for you?
I just want to keep going. I'm definitely into freestyle, I think I have a long ways to go before I can be competitive, but it's something that I'm working on to see how it goes. Other than that, hopefully more whip contests are in my future, and I like filming a lot so hopefully I get more opportunities to do some video parts. I just want to keep riding my dirt bike, whether it's racing, freestyle, or whatever—I'll do it all!