Archer Brothers put Duluth racing on the map

Of all the high speed races former drivers Bobby and Tommy Archer have been in over the years, of all the horrific crashes they've seen, nothing threatened their lives like the challenges they've faced over the last three years.

Of all the high speed races former drivers Bobby and Tommy Archer have been in over the years, of all the horrific crashes they've seen, nothing threatened their lives like the challenges they've faced over the last three years.

Not even close.

Bobby Archer, 59, overcame two heart attacks around December 2009 and then a triple bypass in January 2010, and doctors didn't think he would make it through the surgery. Tommy Archer, 57, was diagnosed with prostate cancer this past March and had surgery May 30, but the latest tests have been positive.

They're survivors, and to say they feel lucky to be alive is an understatement going into Wednesday's DECC Athletic Hall of Fame induction, where they will be the first motorsports legends to be enshrined.

"Somebody said to me the other day, 'It's good to see you,' " Tommy Archer said. "And I said, 'It's just great to be seen.' They say that 900,000 males a year get diagnosed with prostate cancer in the U.S. Think about that. There are a lot of guys who don't like going to the doctor, they don't go to the doctor, and they're walking around with prostate cancer.


"I feel very lucky because in another 12 months I would probably be gone if I hadn't gone in for a checkup. I used up another one of my nine lives."

The numbers the Archers put up in roughly 40 years of racing speak for themselves.

Bobby Archer has lived in Texas, near Fort Worth, since 1994. He was going to Proctor Speedway and working on stock cars before he was even old enough to drive. The brothers quickly made a name for themselves on the local ice racing circuit in the 1970s, dominating the action on the frozen bay just at the end of Park Point and dabbling in other forms of racing with the Arrowhead Sports Car Club. It was road racing, however, where they really carved their niche.

In 1980, the brothers got a one-two finish in their first start in the Sports Car Club of America's National Run-Offs, and in 1984 they secured the International Motor Sports Association Champion Spark Plug Challenge national title for Renault. They were so successful rules had to be adjusted to rein in their dominance, and they did all this racing out of Duluth.

"I'm not trying to blow our own horn here, but just look at the sheer numbers," said Bobby Archer, the oldest of seven Archer siblings, including five brothers. "We've won more championships than a lot of guys have won races. We were trailblazers."

The Archer Brothers Racing team hit an all-time high with eight straight SCCA World Challenge Championships from 1989-1996, including the first professional series win for an Eagle Talon in 1989. In 1992, Tommy Archer earned the first win for Dodge in the Trans-Am series 25 years, building a relationship with Dodge that continues to this day.

Younger brother John Archer owns Duluth-based Archer Racing Accessories, and if a client wants to get higher performance from his newly purchased Dodge Viper, John sets him up with his brother Tommy, who still lives in Duluth but does a lot of traveling for his job.

"I still enjoy instructing," Tommy Archer said. "It's not nearly as fun as racing but I drove a long time and it takes a toll. Eventually you have to move on. I've had really good success at getting people to be successful, and that's something I take pride in and want to keep doing. They're after the same exhilaration that Bobby and I were after when we first started. We were just lucky where it became our job and we were able to put Duluth racing on the map. People didn't think you could be from Duluth and race, but we proved you could."


Bobby Archer's last professional race was in 2003, while Tommy Archer's final season was in 2008, when he won half of his races while racing a partial schedule.

Tommy Archer lists his victory at the Detroit Grand Prix in 1992, as well as winning the SCCA World Challenge Speed GT series in 2004 at age 50, among his proudest achievements. He didn't list his second-place finishes at the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans in France in 1998 and 1999.

"It's a highlight, but as a racer, if you took second, you're the first loser," Tommy Archer said. "For us, you get paid to win, so if you didn't do it, you didn't do your job. You have to be hard on yourself. That's the mentality you have to have."

Local stock car driver Mike Bellefeuille knew the Archers when they were ice racing and worked for them as a teenager. After graduating, he went to work for Tommy Archer as part of his truck racing team.

"Tommy's ability to tell you what's wrong with a race car, it blows your mind. He can feel things that other drivers simply can't feel," Bellefeuille said. "Him and Bobby both put in their time. They grew up where if you wanted to do something, you did it yourself. You would never know those guys did what they did. Tommy used to go to France, and he was like a god over there, signing autographs and everything else, but then he'd come back here and go out to lunch with you and it was like no big deal."

Bobby Archer never had a serious accident over the years while Tommy Archer avoided serious trouble, for the most part. Their health, unfortunately, hasn't been the same away from the track in recent years.

Bobby, who has dabbled in antiques since retiring, continued to have heart symptoms after having two heart attacks around December 2009, but went ahead with a triple bypass the following month even though doctors told him his heart was likely too weak to survive it. Today, he celebrates two birthdays, Feb. 16, 1953, his usual birthday, and Jan. 21, 2010, the day of his triple bypass.

"I was born again," Bobby Archer said. "I wasn't supposed to wake up, and when I woke up, I realized I had survived and how wonderful that was to be alive. The way I looked at it, that surgery was my only option. I've never been a quitter and wasn't about to quit then."


The same goes for Tommy.

The Archers don't feel pity for themselves about their health issues; just joy in knowing it could have been worse. People who attend the DECC Athletic Hall of Fame ceremony on Wednesday are going to see two brothers who truly feel blessed for what they've done. And what they're still doing.

"The cancer was a little bit of scare, but things are getting better," Tommy Archer said. "You live your entire life on the edge doing racing, but cancer was something that was just out of your control. You just had to trust the doctors and physicians and hope that everybody gets it right, so life goes on."

Jon Nowacki is a former reporter for the Duluth News Tribune
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