How Randle went from fighting cancer to battling for Supercars contention

After his fledgling career was paused by a battle with testicular cancer, Thomas Randle then had to wrestle with finding a drive in Supercars after he got the all-clear. It's been a long road for the Melbourne native but, after two lengthy battles, he's finally got a full-time drive to look forward to

How Randle went from fighting cancer to battling for Supercars contention

Thomas Randle has been fighting two battles over the past 18 months. One has literally been life and death. The other has just felt like it.

That’s not to trivialise testicular cancer by comparing it with the quest for a seat on the Supercars grid. They aren’t the same thing and Randle knows that better than anybody. But for the likeable lad from Melbourne those two battles seemed to have worked hand-in-hand over the past year or so, each providing their own moments of deflation just when things were looking up.

Not any more though. Thomas Randle is in remission from cancer and has now locked in a full-time Supercars drive for 2022 with Tickford Racing.

Let’s rewind to November 2019. Randle was already on the hunt for a promotion to the Supercars main game. He had plenty of runs on the board, both at home and overseas. He’d won the Australian Formula Ford title, competed in BRDC British Formula 3, Formula Renault 2.0 and 3.5 and won the 2017 Toyota Racing Series title against the likes of Richard Verschoor and Marcus Armstrong.

He’d become a winner in Super2 driving for Tickford Racing and had made a serious play for Lee Holdsworth’s main game Tickford seat for 2020. When it didn’t happen, Randle was a little disappointed, but decided to dust himself off and sign on for one last swing at the Super2 title with the crack MW Motorsport outfit.

Then, on 6 January, 2020, Randle decided to take a precautionary trip to see his GP. During the Super2 season-ending Newcastle event there’d been a run-in between a crutch strap and his nether regions. That’s not uncommon for race drivers and it was an uncomfortable sensation that Randle knew all too well. But, unlike other times, the pain lingered. For weeks.

The decision to see a doctor turned out to be an important one. Within days he was going under the knife to have a cancerous tumour removed from his testicles. The prognosis was good, given his age and the type of cancer it was. But there would be ongoing treatment that wouldn’t be all that much fun. And it was all happening right when his career was at a critical point.

Thomas Randle, Tickford Racing Ford

Thomas Randle, Tickford Racing Ford

Photo by: Dirk Klynsmith / Motorsport Images

“Initially, when I was first given the news... there was the shock component, but there was also frustration,” Randle tells Autosport.

“I had done all this hard work, there had been all of this sacrifice over 15 years. I'd just signed to do my third year of Super2, and it was win it or bust. I announced I was doing that third season in late December and in early January I was diagnosed with cancer. I felt like I just couldn't catch a break.”

For a while it looked like the cancer would de-rail his 2020 programme entirely. Randle had to sweat on being able to take part in the season-opening Adelaide event, but there were no guarantees beyond that. Then he got a reprieve on two fronts. Firstly, there were promising numbers from post-surgery tests that suggested he may not even need more surgery or chemotherapy. And secondly, the pandemic both delayed and shortened the Super2 season, so that Randle had time to properly assess where his body was at.

While he wasn’t quite lucky enough to avoid surgery and chemotherapy, he was able to push it all back until the Super2 season was declared, and he was named champion, after the Bathurst 1000 weekend.

“Going into Bathurst, I knew that I was going to have to have another operation,” he says.

“I then went back to Melbourne and had the operation around the middle of November. Not long after that they told me there was still active cancer. And that's when we followed up with chemotherapy” Thomas Randle

“When I was first diagnosed and had the first operation, the doctors thought I would have to do chemotherapy straight away, just based on the tumour markers. We waited... and then they started settling down. Suddenly there was a chance I didn't need chemotherapy.

“So we monitored the blood tests and the CT scans and all the way through the blood tests were normal, but the CT scans showed something a bit odd. By August last year I knew I was going to have to have another operation. But I was lucky that I had time.

“At no point did anyone say 'hey, we have to operate right now'. The doctors don't care about careers, they're just trying to keep people alive. It can be the case that someone says 'well do you want to go racing? Or do you want to live?'

“I was lucky that it never came to that. I could wait and the outcome wasn't going to change. So I could go to Bathurst and do the 1000 with Nick Percat. And that's where I won the Super2 series as well.

Nick Percat, Thomas Randle, Brad Jones Racing Holden

Nick Percat, Thomas Randle, Brad Jones Racing Holden

Photo by: Dirk Klynsmith / Motorsport Images

“I then went back to Melbourne and had the operation around the middle of November. Not long after that they told me there was still active cancer. And that's when we followed up with chemotherapy.

“Really I couldn't have been any luckier. The timing all fell in the right place. I could do the chemo over the Christmas period, which was good for racing, but still sucked. My last day of chemo was on New Year's Day…”

At the same time that Randle was undergoing chemo, he was also in another round of talks about a main game promotion with Tickford.

Once again it was Holdsworth’s seat that was up for grabs. There was nothing left for Randle to win in the second tier and, given his long ties with Tickford part-owner Rusty French (who has funded a lot of Randle’s career through his Skye Sands business), Holdsworth was right to be nervously looking over his shoulder. Especially when Randle was announced on a multi-year Tickford deal in late 2020 (although not one that formally committed him to a main game drive in 2021).

But there was an additional complication the second time around. Tickford had found itself one Racing Entitlements Contract short for the 2021 season.

RECs are a crucial commodity if you want to go racing in Supercars. It’s an obligation to turn up to every race (or significant fines apply), and a revenue stream as it claims its piece of the broadcast deal pie. They are traded on an open market, subject to approval by the Supercars Commission. And if you don’t feel like you can meet the obligation of fielding a car, and you can’t find a buyer for your REC yourself, you can simply hand it back to Supercars. They will then find you the best buyer, at some point, and you’ll get a share of that cash.

And that’s exactly what Tickford did at the end of the 2018 season when it struck a deal to bring Phil Munday’s 23Red Racing entry in-house. It didn’t need a fourth REC of its own anymore, so it handed it back to Supercars.

Thomas Randle, Tickford Racing Ford

Thomas Randle, Tickford Racing Ford

Photo by: Motorsport Images

When Munday sold his REC to Brad Jones Racing for the 2021 season, Tickford suddenly needed its old entry back from Supercars to continue running four cars. So they just asked Supercars and got it back straight away, right? Wrong. It doesn’t work like that. Supercars has an obligation to tender the REC and get the best price for it, but it doesn’t have to sell it. To anyone. Even the team that handed it back in the first place.

Tickford did its best to get that REC back but couldn’t get it across the line with the commission. Initially there were concerns from rival teams that another car on the grid would dilute the TV income. So, Tickford offered to run its fourth car without it earning any income. But even that got rejected.

So eventually the Holdsworth/Randle question became irrelevant. Neither of them were going to be on the grid full-time in 2021. We’ll never know for sure who would have got the seat, but Randle is adamant it would have been him – and says it was a huge blow when the REC acquisition fell through.

“That whole time [through the chemotherapy] we were talking to Tickford about 2021 and a full-time drive,” he says. “My expectation was the main game. It was all looking pretty good and everyone was confident that the REC wouldn't be a problem at all. It's the one thing that shouldn't be an issue, especially at a team like Tickford that has run four cars for so long. That's their business model.

“All of a sudden they were making staff redundant because they had to go back three cars.

“When the REC fell through, it was a massive blow to the team. And then you think 'crap, is this ever going to happen?' You get to a point where you do start to wonder that. You don't know how many opportunities you'll get.

“As soon as the REC got denied we decided to do the three wildcards for 2021 and race at Bathurst, and then make sure the full-time drive happens for 2022... either way.”

When the news broke that Tickford Racing had successfully bid for a fourth REC for the 2022 season on the Friday morning of the Darwin Triple Crown, the next domino had already fallen. Randle had long known that a successful tender meant he’d be in a full-time seat and, amid swirling speculation that an announcement was imminent, had finally plucked up the courage to ask Tickford CEO Tim Edwards about it on the Thursday afternoon.

Thomas Randle, Tickford Racing Ford

Thomas Randle, Tickford Racing Ford

Photo by: Motorsport Images

“I'd been seeing all these articles about the RECs popping up,” says Randle. “Up to that point, I didn't want to bother Tim or [part-owner] Rod [Nash] about it. I had no input in it, they wanted it to happen, so pestering them wasn't going to help.

“But on the Thursday afternoon in Darwin I thought I'd ask Tim about it. I said 'are there any updates?' and he said 'look, between you and me, I've got it'. It all happened very quickly.”

Formal confirmation of Randle’s promotion came immediately. Finally, his long journey to the main game was given a definitive end date.

“It's funny, if you look at Formula 1 there are 17 year olds already there. I won the TRS championship in 2017 when I was 21. We were trying to approach Red Bull about getting into the junior programme and they said 'no, you're too old'"Thomas Randle

Given what French has done for Randle’s career, it’s fitting that he ended up with Tickford, despite how easy it may have been to go chasing a seat elsewhere this season. According to Randle, that was never an option. He says even his 2020 break from the Ford team, where he raced for MW Motorsport in Super2 and teamed up with Percat at Brad Jones Racing for the Great Race, was more about broadening horizons than it was about looking for long-term opportunities.

“Tickford and I never ended on a bad note,” he explains. “It was just one of those things. We felt at the time that the Matt White Nissan was the car to have, and I got three out of five poles and won the championship with it. Our worst race finish was second.

“I had a good chat with Tim and Rod about it and they understood that. And then the offer came up with Nick to co-drive with him. He asked me in December 2019, he said 'hey are you available?'. And I was. He's the leader at BJR so it was a good offer.

Thomas Randle, Tickford Racing Ford

Thomas Randle, Tickford Racing Ford

Photo by: Motorsport Images

“The weekend was pretty average in the end, but it was still great to work with him. He's extremely driven, super competitive and I learned a lot off him. I've known him for a long time, he was at my 18th birthday so we've got that personal relationship.

“But, as soon as I won the championship, I knew what the scenario was with Tickford. In this sport you can't burn your bridges with anyone, it's so small.”

It’s been a marathon, not a sprint, for Randle to get to this point in his career. It’s felt like it’s taken too long, but the man himself disagrees. The 25-year-old says he’d rather be over-prepared than under-prepared.

“It's funny, if you look at Formula 1 there are 17 year olds already there,” he says. “I won the TRS championship in 2017 when I was 21. We were trying to approach Red Bull about getting into the junior programme and they said 'no, you're too old'.

“In Supercars, the right age to come in is about this age. If you enter too early and you don't have the experience, and you don't understand the cars, it doesn’t go well.

“I've never want to come into a championship without merit. Until you prove yourself, you shouldn’t move up.

“As a kid growing up, I wanted to watch the best drivers in Supercars. It's the same as any sport, you watch tennis to watch the pros, you watch cricket or AFL to see the best of the best. It's no different here.

“I feel like I've done everything I can to prove I should be here. I guess now the real work begins.”

Thomas Randle, Tickford Racing Ford

Thomas Randle, Tickford Racing Ford

Photo by: Motorsport Images

shares
comments
Supercars names 'drop dead date' for Australian GP
Previous article

Supercars names 'drop dead date' for Australian GP

Next article

Winton Supercars round postponed for a second time

Winton Supercars round postponed for a second time
When Nissan ruled Australia with its 'Godzilla' Group A special Plus

When Nissan ruled Australia with its 'Godzilla' Group A special

The Nissan Skyline R32 GT-R was the fastest Group A touring car ever. It cleaned up at the Bathurst 1000 and in the Australian Touring Car Championship, and is fondly remembered by the drivers who monstered it to success on the world-famous Mount Panorama

Supercars
Feb 8, 2022
Ranking the top 10 Supercars drivers of 2021 Plus

Ranking the top 10 Supercars drivers of 2021

It may have been a one-man title fight in Supercars this season, but behind dominant champion Shane van Gisbergen were some fascinating performances. Autosport picks out the best drivers of the 2021 campaign.

Supercars
Dec 10, 2021
The well-travelled racer now Supercars' elder statesman Plus

The well-travelled racer now Supercars' elder statesman

James Courtney has been around the block in his motorsport career it's fair to say. After a single-seater career cut short, he's won everything there is to win in Supercars. Following a rocky ride recently in the Australian category, he's found a happy hunting ground with Tickford Racing, as Andrew van Leeuwen explains

Supercars
Oct 19, 2021
How taming his temper shaped Supercars' slow-burn star Plus

How taming his temper shaped Supercars' slow-burn star

His decision to leave Brad Jones Racing was the biggest shock of the Australian Supercars silly season so far. But for Nick Percat, it comes as the culmination of a personal journey that has made him into one of the most rounded drivers in the series, now in search of a seat that can make him a champion

Supercars
Sep 16, 2021
Why replacing Supercars' GOAT with a teenager is worth the risk for T8 Plus

Why replacing Supercars' GOAT with a teenager is worth the risk for T8

On the face of it, picking an 18-year-old rookie to replace arguably the greatest Supercars driver of all time is a risky move. But as Jamie Whincup takes up a team principal role and hands his car to Broc Feeney, it's one that he is confident will be rewarded in the fullness of time - time which wasn't afforded to Whincup in his early days

Supercars
Aug 31, 2021
Can DJR still be a Supercars powerhouse after Penske? Plus

Can DJR still be a Supercars powerhouse after Penske?

OPINION: Roger Penske's operation helped lift Dick Johnson's faltering Ford team back to the top of Australian tin-tops. But, despite The Captain's departure, along with star driver Scott McLaughlin, there's no reason to expect an imminent decline from DJR

Supercars
Feb 26, 2021
Why Whincup's next move is no calculated gamble Plus

Why Whincup's next move is no calculated gamble

Supercars' most successful team of the past 15 years is set for a radical shakeup next year when Jamie Whincup retires from driving and takes over the reins at Triple Eight. But the team's outgoing boss Roland Dane has full faith that he'll be up to the task

Supercars
Feb 5, 2021
The top 10 Supercars drivers of 2020 Plus

The top 10 Supercars drivers of 2020

In a year of few constants, the Australian Supercars championship could be relied upon for its usual blend of rough and tumble racing with a V8 soundtrack. But who were its top performers in 2020?

Supercars
Dec 27, 2020