Thousands of Kurt Caselli fans attended the beautiful tribute to the international off-road racing legend at Glen Helen Raceway on November 6. The following is a perspective by one of them.
It is inevitable that all humanity are touched by tragic events that unfold in our lifetime, and nowhere is this more true than for the motorcycle racing community. We marvel at our talented heroes, whose skills rise above ours to such heights that they raise grace to an art form. We stand mesmerized by the speed they display as they hurtle across the open desert or fly over a gap that we would never attempt to span ourselves. We are amazed by their amazing resilience when it all goes wrong and they endure catastrophic incidents.
And we hurt deeply in the wake of those predestined moments when we lose one of them.
On Friday, December 6, motorcycle racing fans, friends, family and industry members associated with Kurt Caselli came to Glen Helen Raceway to pay tribute to their hero, who passed away after a crash while racing the 2013 Tecate SCORE Baja 1000 on November 15. Attendance figures for the event are estimated to be around 3000 with as many as 800 motorcycles taking to the Glen Helen track for a parade lap in Caselli’s honor.
Attendees were lining up to get into the track well before 8 a.m., and even an hour after the event’s official start time there was a line of cars and trucks, many of them loaded with bikes, that extended over a mile outside Glen Helen’s gates. But even if the sheer number of people at Glen Helen wasn’t impressive, the overwhelming outpouring of support for the Caselli family, the celebration of his life and sharing of his passion for motorcycling certainly was.
Among the attendees were bona fide off-road heroes, including many of Caselli’s FMF/KTM teammates such as Ivan Ramirez, Charlie Mullins, Kailub Russell and Mike Brown, as well as his former ISDE teammates like new KTM recruit and friend Taylor Robert, and Zach Osborne, just to name few. But Caselli was also respected by some of the sport’s biggest legends, including On Any Sunday and off-road hero Malcolm Smith, eight-time National Enduro Champion Dick Burleson, former 250cc World Motocross Champion and rally champion Danny LaPorte, and desert racers Ty Davis and Destry Abbott, just to name a few. For his part, Smith said that Kurt Caselli was someone that he actually looked up to.“Absolutely,” Smith said. “Kurt has been my hero for the last 10 years. I knew him when he first started riding as a kid, and he was such a nice guy. He would spend time with the little kids or just anybody. He was always smiling and happy. The last time I saw him before the Baja 1000, he had come back from the Argentina Rally, and I said, ‘Kurt you are going to win a couple Dakars before your career is over.’ This really is a sad deal, but these things do happen in Mexico. I remember all the close calls I had, and I was just lucky to survive.”
In addition to the camaraderie, which beheld a National-like atmosphere, there was a formal ceremony on the front straightaway, emcee’d by Glen Helen announcer Tom White of White Brothers fame. Mr. White was his usual reverent and well-spoken self, and the sport should be glad that he is one of its true caretakers.
“It’s a sad day for all of us as we celebrate all of our love for motorcycles,” White said. “Kurt Caselli was no doubt one of the greatest off-road racers of all time, but as an individual and a human being, that is where the warmth and the character of this gentleman came out.
“When you look at the grave marker that will appear sometime in the future or the obituary on his life, you will see that he was born in 1983 and died in 2013, but there is that dash in the middle which is where all the significance in our lives as human beings on this earth takes place,” White continued. “Kurt Caselli, at only 30 years of age, lost his life early, but what he did in that 30 years of life has had a profound impact on each and every one of us.”
White went on to list all of Caselli’s accomplishments, an impressive body of work that certainly made him worthy of his “Captain America” nickname. It includes multiple WORCS championship titles, three consecutive AMA Hare and Hound Championships, ISDE gold medals, stage wins in the Dakar Rally and an overall win in the Desafio Ruta 40 Rally in Argentina.
“But they pale in comparison to his accomplishments as a human being,” White said.
Emotion got the best of even the most stoic attendees when Caselli’s fiancee Sarah White (no relation to Tom White), whose jersey appropriately wore the name Sarah Caselli, addressed the crowd. Although fraught with emotion, hers was the bravest of gestures, and that strength made it easy for anyone there to understand why Kurt loved and adored her so much.
“Kurt and I were a team of our own, and I know that if anything like this had happened to me, he would always stand up and talk for me,” White said. “He was such an amazing speaker. So when they asked if I wanted to talk today, there wasn’t a doubt in mind. I will always stand and talk for Kurt. On behalf of the family, we want to thank KTM, FMF and Glen Helen. There is no way that we could have ever organized something like this, and we truly appreciate that. And Red Bull, and DVS, and everyone else. It is so amazing to us that all of you guys are here today. The support today is so amazing, but the support that we have been given the last three weeks has also been so amazing. We appreciate it so much, and we love all of you so much. Thank you for honoring Kurt. Let’s keep Kurt’s legacy alive forever, and remember him as our Captain America, our American hero and our American legend.”
And then came the most golden moment of silence.
It was shattered by the roar of over 800 motorcycles coming to life, a choir-like cacophony that Caselli certainly must have been able to hear from above as his teammates, family and close friends led an endless sea of riders and machines on a parade lap of Glen Helen in his honor.
Kurt Caselli’s legend will extend as far as the east is from the west, and he is fully deserving of that. A big reason for it because he never, ever treated anybody like a nobody. From the slowest rider on the track to the fastest, teammate or competitor, casual fans to the most hard-core, Caselli’s calm demeanor and well-spoken charisma attracted them all, and he made time to help out or listen to each and every one of them. In fact, it’s a wonder that he ever actually found the time to focus on racing. It also made him a sponsor’s dream, and none was a bigger Caselli fan than FMF Racing’s Don Emler Jr., who would definitely qualify for brother status in Caselli’s extended family.“Kurt was more than just a racer, he was known for being a great person,” Emler said. “That’s why all of these people showed up today. They know what kind of a guy he was. For me, Kurt was part of our family. He was actually the very first rider I sponsored when I started working with my dad at the age of 18. Kurt was 16, and I picked him up as he was coming through the ranks as this gnarly off-road racer and kid, and I had to have him. We did whatever it took to get him, and it has been a great relationship ever since. So to me, he was a great friend and a part of the FMF family. This is a tragic loss, but it is also great to see the outpouring by the fans of motocross and off-road coming together as one big family to support his family.”
Teammates and competitors alike also benefitted from Caselli’s wisdom. Ivan Ramirez was Caselli’s roommate, training partner and friend as well as teammate.
“This is unbelievable,” Ramirez said of the support for the event. “I’ve lived with Kurt since March, and I spent a lot of time training and living in the same house. He was like no other person that I have ever known. He was always there for people. If they needed help, he would help them. He was an amazing guy, and the same on and off the bike. I am just glad for the time that I was able to spend with him and the things that I learned from him. This is very sad, but at the same time this has me motivated for next year to keep doing what we both love.”
There was a moment of levity to be enjoyed when Ramirez was asked if he would still be able to balance his motorcycle properly since Caselli would be sitting on his shoulder whenever he raced.
“Yeah, well, he is not that heavy,” Ramirez joked. “For sure, he is going to be watching over us, and it will be good motivation for us. We’ve just got to keep doing what we love—take all the risks but be safe at the same time. We love Kurt, and we are going to miss him, and I know I will see him again someday.”
New FMF/KTM rider Taylor Robert said that he looked up to Kurt more than anyone else in this sport, and he made a legitimate point regarding his status on the team. (And Robert was being courted by KTM weeks before Caselli’s passing)
“I don’t want anybody to think that I am replacing Kurt, because Kurt Caselli is someone who will never be replaced,” Robert said. “I just hope that I can keep moving forward in my career and use the advice that I have gotten from Kurt over the past five or six years of my career. I know Kurt wouldn’t want us to stop racing because of what happened to him, so we just have to keep pushing forward.”
And that’s all we can do. For in the wake of Kurt Caselli’s passing, we are still left with the darkness of our mourning for the loss of the racer, the legend and the man. Caselli was our American hero. But attendees of the Kurt Caselli Memorial Ride also know that the other kind of morning is already on its way—one of healing. It may still be a long ways off for those who knew and loved him, but they must know that dawn always does come.
In the meantime, true Kurt Caselli fans will always keep his memory alive if they live as he lived, with passion and vigor, and with responsibility and honest caring for fellow humans, even those they don’t know well. If we could all follow his example, then at least we’d know that we had lived full lives whether we were 6 or 66.
Kurt Caselli did.