Photos by Shan Moore, Adam Booth, Mark Kariya, Joe McKimmy, and from the Dirt Rider Archives

From the September 2014 issue of Dirt Rider Magazine.

It has been more than 1 since Kurt Caselli's sudden passing, and yet the news of the friendly racer's fatal crash at the Baja 1000 still seems unbelievable and unreal, much like a bad dream. But as the initial sting of the mourning, sorrow, and grief slowly eases, an endless string of positive memories have flooded in to help fill the loss of all those whose lives were touched by this charismatic young racer. Like too many others before him, Caselli left this world too soon, but he went out doing what he loved, and he certainly lived more in his 30 years on this planet than most people could live in several lifetimes.

  1. Note: Magazine story from September 2014 ↩︎

Kurt Caselli
American off-road legend, Kurt Caselli.Dirt Rider

Keeping in mind Caselli's enthusiastic, full-throttle approach to life, we wanted to take some time to properly remember him—not just for the racer he was but also for the person he was. With that inspiration, we've created the first-ever Of The Year award, which will henceforth be an annual event—much like our Product Of The Year and Bike Of The Year decorations—designed to honor individuals who have made a positive impact within our industry. To say that Caselli is a worthy candidate for this inaugural recognition would be a major understatement. Between his inspiring attitude, unwavering determination, enduring patriotism, and everlasting talent, Caselli is as deserving of hero status as any other man we've ever known. What follows is not an obituary but rather a celebration of Caselli's life and an account of how one man with a huge heart and incredible character can make a permanent mark on an entire sport.
—Chris Denison

Kurt Caselli
Train like a beast, ride like a champion act like a gentleman. Caselli lived his life by a code that all men should strive for.Dirt Rider

The Man Beneath the Helmet

I grew up racing Kurt in District 37 races in Southern California, and as soon as we met we became instant friends. Our careers went in different directions, as he stuck with off-road racing and I went toward motocross, but that didn’t stop our friendship. Kurt was the kind of guy who genuinely cared about how you were doing. He called me once a week, and if I didn’t call him back, he always used to tell me, “Since you didn’t call me this week, I’m going to bug you until you ring me back.” We would talk about motorcycles for a brief minute, but most of our conversations revolved around our families and the direction in which we wanted our careers to go. For instance, my mom passed away in December of 2004, and every day after her passing he called me just to check in on me. Even if I didn’t answer, he always left me a message that made me laugh to cheer me up, even on the days I didn’t think I could laugh.

Kurt was as selfless as they come. After riding one day, while we were driving home, he looked at me and said, “I want to buy your bike.” I looked back at him strangely (because I was on a different brand of bike) and said, “What are you talking about? You can’t buy my bike. You’re a KTM factory rider!” He grinned. “No, I want to buy your bike to give to my buddy. He hasn’t had a dirt bike in a couple years, and I want to surprise him. He seems like he’s down in the dumps a little, so I really think he just needs to get out and ride with me.” I sold Kurt my bike later that month so his buddy could just go ride to clear his head, as all of us motorcycle enthusiasts need to do from time to time.

Kurt and I also shared a common bond in that we both grew up in the high desert of California. Every time a rainstorm hit the desert I would get a text saying, "Your place or mine?" It became our only argument that we ever had—just two dudes bickering about whose place is better to ride at after a rain. Over the course of my 15-year friendship with Kurt one thing was always apparent: He wasn't just Kurt the factory off-road racer. He was a man of his word and a man who took care of people less fortunate than him, which is a rare quality to find in the world today. He recognized the position he was in (as a professional off-road racer) and made sure to be a great role model for people on or off the track. Even if he was still here, he would still be a great " Of The Year" candidate because of the person he was under his helmet and because of all of the lives he has touched over the years. —Kris Keefer

Kurt Caselli
Kurt Caselli had a fantastic, fun-loving attitude that was admired by anyone and everyone.Dirt Rider

Chasing the Checkered Flag

Rich Caselli, Kurt’s dad, taught him at a very young age the importance of sportsmanship. Kurt wasn’t allowed to lose his cool, and those lessons as a kid stuck with him throughout his career. Kurt was quite possibly the most graceful non-winner (you can’t call him a loser, as he always took away the positive from a bad situation) in racing. Even when Kurt wasn’t standing on the top step of the podium he had a smile on his face and showed zero animosity toward anyone around him.

Before a race even started Kurt rolled to the line knowing he had what it took to win. His training program and life routine could have easily been categorized as compulsive. Many pro racers train hard, but he took it to another level, and he often did it in secret, not talking of how hard he really trained. Kurt had a plan, and he stuck to it, helping him reach goals only someone with his drive and love of riding could make possible. His fluid and natural style on a bike was fun to watch, and he always looked so relaxed.

Kurt Caselli
Kurt Caselli made sure to be a great role model for people on and off the track.Dirt Rider

While he excelled at cutting up the desert at blinding speeds, his skills had him on the pro gate at an outdoor national (he went 24-25 at Southwick in 2012) and at the X Games competing in Enduro X. Kurt and his dad helped make the International Six Days Enduro cool again for Americans, and there has never been another American with such impressive results in ISDE history. His first outing at the Dakar Rally (he won two stages) shocked everyone except Kurt, who knew he was good on a rally bike. I have no doubt that he would have dominated World Rally within a year or two with his speed on a rally bike. I don’t think there was another rider in the world who could apply and adapt his skill to conquer any new challenge. He would leave a number-one plate in a series to win at another series.

Other racers still look up to Kurt, not only for his ability to dedicate his life to racing and winning but for his attitude and ability to make everyone around him feel just a little happier. Photographing Kurt racing was easy; he always looked good on a bike. Photographing him on a testbike, for a riding tip or for a team poster, took twice as long as with any other rider thanks to the fact he was always goofing around, making anyone in his presence smile.
—Adam Booth

Kurt Caselli
"Other racers still look up to Kurt, not only for his ability to dedicate his life to racing and winning but for his attitude and ability to make everyone around him feel just a little happier.Dirt Rider

For Country

I don’t believe anyone can deny the influence that Kurt Caselli has had on the US ISDE effort. Since 2000, Kurt and his father, Rich, had been a driving force behind the American Six Days team and, in effect, its personality. Out of all of his racing endeavors, Kurt had a special love for ISDE.

I spent a small amount of time talking to Kurt during the last two Six Days in Germany and Sardinia, and it was quite evident the pride he took in representing the United States and also in leading and mentoring the newcomers to the team—as well as the veterans. And while he was several times the top American in Six Days competition, his main goal was leading the US World Trophy Team and pushing his teammates to new heights. He was particularly pleased with the US Trophy Team’s runner-up finish last year in Sardinia, telling me, “I’ve been doing this a long time and it’s good to finally see this happen.” Kurt was often called “Captain America” for his role in pushing his teammates to excel.

In 12 years of Six Days competition, Kurt was Top American eight times and two times he won his class.
—Shan Moore

Kurt Caselli
"It is easy to see that Kurt was, and still is, a hero, not only displayed by his results as a racer, his admiration from his fellow riders, mechanics, team manangers, and sponsors, but by people he never knew personally: his fans."Dirt Rider

Hero Status

Everyone knows a hero must have courage, outstanding achievements, and noble qualities, but the full definition of a hero is someone who is also admired and respected by others. A hero cannot exist without fans, supporters, followers, and admirers. It is easy to see that Kurt was, and still is, a hero, not only displayed by his results as a racer, his admiration from his fellow riders, mechanics, team managers, and sponsors, but by people he never knew personally: his fans. Kurt made time to talk with his fans who, when you think about it, are complete strangers who sometimes forget they are one of many, many people demanding a racer’s time. But he made that time, and it wasn’t forced or disingenuous; he was just that nice of a guy.

“Kurt to this day is the only racer I’ve ever had volunteer to help me on any event that he wasn’t required to go to,” recalls Christy LaCurelle of KTM North America. “All of the kids who raced the KJSC [KTM Junior Supercross Challenge] event in Dallas in 2013 had a special treat getting to spend time with him as well as every racer whose life he touched through all of his other endeavors.” Part of being a hero is also being a leader, and no one can deny that Kurt was a fantastic leader. “He was a leader who everyone enjoyed following,” LaCurelle continues. “He encouraged me to follow my heart, and he led by example. Kurt lived life as if nobody was watching, but everyone was always watching. He taught us how we should be living.”

Looking toward the future, Kurt was also just beginning a new heroic venture: becoming a world champion rally racer. With two stage victories in the 2013 Dakar and an overall win at the Desafio Ruta 40, Kurt was poised to paint the rally-racing scene with the red, white, and blue of his home country. We can always speculate on how things would have turned out, but what is certain, in our eyes and so many others', is that Kurt Caselli was a true American hero.
—Sean Klinger

Kurt Caselli
A strong love of country and incredible talent made Caselli the perfect ambassador for the International Six Days Enduro. He made Team USA proud every time he competed in the historic event.Dirt Rider

Remembrance

With high levels of natural talent, intelligence, and athleticism, Caselli could have been anything he wanted in life—a baseball player, a soldier, a business owner, or a construction worker—and yet he chose to follow his heart and pursue a career on two wheels. Whether or not you knew Caselli personally does not change the fact that he provided daily examples of what a role model should look and act like; his classy approach to life and his dedication to racing continue to be an inspiration to us all. The fact that Caselli is no longer with us is tragic, and he will be sorely missed. But when you take a look back at the person Kurt Caselli was and consider the way that he lived his life, it’s easy to see that our sport is better off for having known him.

Kurt Caselli
Kurt was a focused competitor on the track, but off the bike his witty humor and complete humility were a constant source of smiles. The above outtakes from a KTM poster shoot are proof that Caselli didn't take himself too seriously.Dirt Rider

The Kurt Caselli Foundation

In the months following Caselli's passing, what began as a discussion of rider safety has evolved into a full-fledged organization that is dedicated to protecting off-roaders and minimizing dangers that are encountered both on and off the bike. Founded by a core group of industry insiders and Caselli's close friends and family, The Kurt Caselli Foundation is quickly becoming an influential source in the enduring mission for increased rider safety. To make a tax-exempt donation—in exchange for some Caselli 66 stickers—and to learn more about the Kurt Caselli Foundation's mission and goals, log on to kurtcaselli.com.

Kurt Caselli
"He wasn't just Kurt the factory off-road racer. He was a man of his word and a man who took care of people less fortunate than him."Dirt Rider
Racing Highlights
2013 2nd place ISDE World Trophy Team member
2013 Winner of two stages of the Dakar Rally
2013 Winner Desafio Ruta Rally
2012 AMA National Hare & Hound Series Champion
2012 1st place San Felipe 250
2011 3rd place ISDE World Trophy Team Member
2011 Winner ISDE E2 Class
2011 AMA National Hare & Hound Series Champion
2011 WORCS Champion
2010 4th place ISDE World Trophy Team Member
2010 WORCS Champion
2009 5th place ISDE World Trophy Team Member
2008 3rd place ISDE World Trophy Team Member
2007 AMA Sportsman of the Year
2007 8th place ISDE World Trophy Team Member
2007 Winner ISDE E3 Class
2007 WORCS Champion
2006 1st place ISDE Junior Trophy Team Member