After bout with prostate cancer, Duluth’s Tommy Archer drives on
Duluth race car driver Tommy Archer went out to dinner with a friend three weeks ago when he heard a candid admission.
His friend had discussed what it would be like going to Archer’s funeral.
“I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ ” Archer said. “And he said, ‘Nope.’ And I said, ‘Man, how come you gave up before I did?’ He said, ‘We didn’t give up, but we just didn’t see a way out.’ And I said, ‘Well, we proved them wrong.’ ”
Quitting isn’t part of Archer’s DNA. Going really fast is.
Archer hopes to do just that this weekend when he competes in the TA2 class as part of the Sports Car Club of America’s Trans Am Series stop at Brainerd International Raceway. Archer believes it’s his first time racing at the Brainerd track since 1990.
Archer and his Camaro were at his two local sponsors, Kolar Chevrolet and Black Bear Casino Resort, on Wednesday to sign autographs and pose for pictures.
“Just something for the fans to get a glimpse of the car, before it gets dirty,” Archer said, laughing. “I don’t want to hold up the semi, because he’ll be ready to rock ‘n’ roll. I think the guys are more excited than me. A lot of these people never thought they’d see me race again, and now, here we are. Going back to Brainerd, the track where we kind of grew up.”
Never mind that Archer is 60 years old. Or that he recently overcame a bout with prostate cancer. He said he looks and feels the best he has in years.
“The age thing is what you make of it. I feel like I’m 35,” Archer said. “I’m cancer free and my energy level has come back. It’s like somebody living high in the mountains, where they don’t have any air, and then coming down to Duluth and feeling like they are 20 years younger because they have so much oxygen. It’s pretty cool.”
DEALING WITH CANCER
Archer received a physical early in 2012 and his prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood tests were high. The doctor called him a day early, which Archer thought was good. Instead, it was just the opposite. He had an aggressive form of cancer that had spread beyond the prostate.
“The doc said when he got done with surgery, ‘You know, if you wouldn’t have done this, you were going to be dead before 2014.’ Fortunately they caught it early enough so they could fix it,” Archer said.
But it wasn’t without a catch.
The rigorous treatment regimen took its toll, and just when he thought he was cancer free, Mayo Clinic doctors in Rochester, Minn., noted a significant PSA increase, but they couldn’t find the tumor. Archer was taken off medication to let the tumor grow so it could more easily be detected.
It was found and removed on March 17. Archer said it had grown to the size of a “Cadbury Creme Egg.”
“It would have killed me,” Archer said. “But we had to take that chance of letting it grow. Otherwise, I was going to be on medicine the rest of my life, and I didn’t want to be on medicine the rest of my life. It just makes you feel like a walking zombie. This is way better.”
The 5-foot-11 Archer weighed 215 pounds during his cancer ordeal but is now down to 190 and ready to race. He works out three or four days a week, about two hours each time, saying it is necessary to keep up with other drivers, some of whom are 40 years younger than him.
“They call me dad,” Archer said, “and I tell them they better be careful. I love it.”
Archer might go for a 10-mile bike ride or shoot sporting clays. He’ll go to the gym or come home and do push-ups and sit-ups.
“All kinds of stuff,” Archer said. “About a year ago I’d go home and look for a chair to sit down. I didn’t have the energy to go do stuff.”
BACK IN THE SADDLE
Archer’s racing resume is the stuff of legend. He raced for years with his brother Bobby and won multiple championships in SCCA and IMSA (International Motor Sports Association). He twice finished at the renowned 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Tommy Archer mostly served as a driving coach the past 10 years. Younger brother John owns Archer Racing Accessories in Duluth, a business that helps people with fast cars go even faster, so Tommy was perfect in that role.
But each time Tommy helped somebody go faster, they were never as fast as him. So when the Archer Brothers racing team was reborn earlier this year, ending a 20-year hiatus, Tommy was the natural choice to be the lead driver.
“Tommy never lost it,” John Archer said. “He’s as fast as ever.”
Added Tommy: “Why would you want to go find someone else to go fast when we’ve got me sitting here?”
John Archer is team owner and Bobby came on board as a driving mentor to 16-year-old John Vining of Fort Worth, Texas, with the team hoping to add more cars and drivers as early as next season.
Tommy Archer finished fourth at the season-opening Foametix Trans Am 100 on March 1 in Sebring, Fla., before dealing with his surgery. The plan is to race the final seven races of the Trans Am Series starting with Brainerd.
“We couldn’t say, ‘Let’s hold off until December,’ because I could have possibly died before December,” Tommy Archer said. “Our goal is to show our marketing partners we can run up front, and then next season go after the championship. The pieces are in place. A winning team takes care of its issues the best or the fastest. We don’t have to go borrow something, and we don’t have to beg somebody for it. We have it. It’s kind of like going fishing. You can go fishing with one lure, or you can bring a whole box. And we’re bringing the whole box.”
John Archer, 45, said it didn’t take Tommy’s recent bout with cancer for him to be an inspiration.
“Tommy has always been an inspiration to me,” he said.
Ted and Barb Archer had seven children, five boys and two girls. Bobby is the oldest, and Tommy second. John is the youngest. Barb is still the boys’ biggest racing fan; Ted, a former Minnesota flat-track motorcycle racing champion, died of a heart attack when John was just 10.
“Tommy has been like a father figure to me,” John Archer said. “He sets the example with the way he approaches life. He has that drive where he wakes up every morning knowing it’s a new day, and he wants to make the most of it. People can learn a lot from him.”
Tommy Archer has a habit, a good habit, of saying “we” instead of “I.” Archer knows it takes a team to win races, and a team to overcome cancer.
While it is something he will have to deal with the rest of his life, Archer has learned a lot about family and friends, and the value of prayer.
“A lot of people at the race track knew God, which I didn’t realize,” Archer said. “Cancer changes your life, but it doesn’t have to end it. You just have to stay positive. The message I’m trying to get out to people is don’t ever give up. Keep pushing. Even if you have a five-percent chance, take that five percent, and be glad that God gave you it, because if you give up, you have no chance. Fortunately, we pulled through, and now it’s time to go have some fun.”