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November, 2014

A Letter to Caselli: The Home Stretch

It has been almost one year to the day since you’ve been gone; nearly 365 days of simply missing Kurt Caselli. November 15th, 2013 marked a special day in your timeline; changing the world you knew in the most positive way. But your timeline didn’t stop on Friday the 15th, it continued in a way you would have only imagined.

It’s easy to recall Friday November 15th, as many of us were multi-tasking with Baja updates and work. The excitement was almost over; would Factory KTM see their first SCORE Baja championship? All over the Nation friends and fans were glued to social media with the anticipation of seeing you claim your first Baja championship. After all, it would be another epic notch to your prestigious belt. But after a day and a half of racing, the battle between KTM and Honda had come down to the wire. The time was 2:45pm and you had just taken the bike from Ivan for the final 104-miles to the checkers. It was time to do what you did best: pin it to win it. You were on the final stretch, the home stretch.  

But suddenly, things got weird and no one could find you. Everything went wrong, and there was zero time to spare. No one could be held accountable, not even yourself. It’s so strange how these things happen.

The stars had aligned, and it was clearly your time. We weren’t ready for you to go. How could we be? Facebook and Twitter turned into a fully functioning rumor mill, and people began posting the idiotic and unimaginable. By Friday night, nothing was confirmed for the public; were you alive or not? It’s safe to say hardly anyone slept that night. The thought, “Is the Kurt Caselli really gone?” was followed by an unwelcome and overwhelming emotion. By Saturday it was official; our idol, our friend, our Captain America had been called home.

In the moments, minutes, days and weeks following your departure; the heartache could be felt all over the world. Literally. Incredible and unique stories of your humor and kindness accumulated from people of all sizes and walks of life. The off-road community came together in a way never before seen, and our energy must have beamed to the moon. We immediately embraced you the best way we knew how; by riding our dirtbikes. As we rode with tears in our eyes, we solemnly had to remind ourselves you wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. We had to remind ourselves you left us doing what you loved, and only a fortunate man could be so lucky.

It hardly took a moment to realize the best way the world could honor you, and it was then that the Kurt Caselli Foundation was born. The Kurt Caselli Foundation has since been brilliantly developed and executed by your closest family and friends. Your name alone has become the inspiration to innovate dirtbike safety, protection, leadership and teamwork within the off-road community. The Kurt Caselli Foundation has become just that; a foundation of principle and an extension of you and your legacy.

It's pretty amazing to see the aftermath of a man who changed peoples lives the way you did. On just about any given day, you can find a Kurt Caselli sticker on the back window of a vehicle in the state of California. Or watch the On Any Sunday sequel dedicated to you at a big ol' movie theater. You even have your own personal documentary, dreamed up by Wiley of course. You have graced plenty of magazine covers, and Roland Sands even built a one of a kind motorcycle in your name.  Dirt Bike Magazine changed the 'Off-Road Rider of of the Year' to the 'Caselli Cup' and you were the comforting backdrop for the USA ISDE team. Every highway Route 66 sign is still a smooth reminder of you. How has it been a year already?

 

Time keeps moving, and life maintains its balance. But in the short time you spent with us, you gave us more than most. Perhaps the most important thing you’ve passed is a valuable lesson to the present and future generations; that a life well lived, can live on well beyond our time.  So we say thank you for the life you lived Kurt. For those of us down here thinking of you every day; we have reached the home stretch. We have reached the days before the one-year mark that changed our lives, our industry and our future forever. #kc66

Megan Blackburn


The Ones He Left Behind

A cool morning welcomed August 24, 2013. It had rained all week in Panaca, Nevada, and the 100-mile course for round nine of the 2013 AMA National Hare and Hound series would be prime for the guy who could muster the speed to be out front all day. This round was a deciding race for the Champion, and all he had to do was finish in front of the guy who was second in points.

Hundreds of racers rolled up to the line of the bomb run, ready to transfer their nerves into speed. Dark clouds of thunder rolled in just minutes before the banner was to drop, and soon raindrops small enough to be a nuisance on their goggles fell from the sky. The banner rose and the raindrops grew, falling heavier and faster. Claps of thunder roared from above and lightening reached across the horizon. The intensity was at an all-time high, as if nature knew a Champion was about to be crowned.

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The banner dropped and the rider on the #1 Factory KTM 450SX-F quickly lit his electric start machine, winning the duel against his peers. Instantly the heavy rain turned into hail, pounding against the helmet, hands, and back of the #1 racer. In his own iconic way, he held the throttle wide open, and with tunnel vision, stared through the raindrops, to the banners that marked the course. With nothing to fear in his heart, he left his friends and fans behind as the adrenaline pumped through his veins. He pushed faster and faster through the mountains and valleys, over rocks and brush. There was nothing that could hold him back. His innate ability and poetic speed are what separated him from the riders he left behind.

Every turn was calculated, every sprint was timed, and every motion was precise. His mind raced faster than his bike could carry him because to be a thought ahead of his actions was key. In this moment, his mind was free, and his clarity of purpose allowed him to be the best possible version of himself. He trusted his team to refuel him, and they did it perfectly without hesitation. He was the one that no one could catch, the lesson to be learned by those he left behind.  

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 This course was like no other he’d seen all year. The rain had dampened the dirt beneath him and there was no tread that lay before him. His lines were smooth as he positioned his body with grace—a racer couldn’t be more perfect. The rain had cleansed the desert of its imperfections, and he would be the one to pave the way for the riders he left behind.

Kurt Caselli became the Champion that day. Nature greeted him at the finish line in the same way as the starting line, with a sudden burst of heavy rain that came now in a cheering fashion.  He accomplished what many had come for, but failed to achieve. His smile beamed from east to west while his team, friends, and fans walked up to him proud of their Champion. Kurt respectfully sat at the finish line waiting for the riders he left behind.  He took more wins in three years than any of his peers who finished alongside him in his Hare and Hound career.

Kurt's racing life began in the desert just as it had ended: victoriously.  

Born into the Prospectors M/C of District 37, Kurt began riding alongside his father, Rich Caselli, to ribbon Enduro races in the Southern California desert. By age 14, Kurt had become the Mini Enduro K1 Champion.  In 1998, at age 15, he had earned the K1 plate in Desert. In 2000, Kurt put all his cards in and took the C1 plate in Enduro, Desert and GP. Year 2002 brought even more excitement to Kurt’s progress when he took the overall win at the Vikings MC National on a 125. And in 2003, the H1 Heavyweight award went to Kurt in GP. Through his growth as a racer, Kurt also dominated worldwide and garnered a list of accomplishments in the International Six Days Enduro (ISDE) since 2000, including his revolutionary efforts bringing Team USA to the event. Kurt competed in the ISDE event for 12 years, 8 times he was Top American and 2 times winning his class.  Kurt was called "Captain America" for his role in encouraging and promoting his teammates.  The USA Junior Trophy Team won in 2006 and the Trophy Team placed second in 2013.

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That was truly just the start of Kurt's career, as he moved beyond local competition to nationwide and worldwide events. After reaching the professional level, Kurt took his first WORCS Championship in 2007 against the likes of Nathan Woods, Robby Bell, and Ryan Hughes. In 2009, Kurt switched gears and committed to racing the GNCC series, but came home after realizing that the Western desert is where he truly belonged. He returned to WORCS in 2010 and worked hard for the Championship over Ricky Dietrich and Mike Brown. Year 2011 marked Kurt's final year in WORCS, and he concluded his year again with the Championship.

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However, WORCS wasn’t Kurt's only success in 2011. The Factory KTM rider decided to go back to his roots of true desert racing and committed to the AMA National Hare and Hound series. Kurt officially dethroned JCR Honda/RedBull rider Kendall Norman after almost taking every win of the season. A repeat performance in 2012 secured his second consecutive National Hare and Hound Championship ahead of Dave Pearson and Destry Abbott. Kurt decided to give the Hare and Hound series one last run in 2013 and of course, completed the season just as years before: #1. 

Before his final victory in Panaca, Nevada, Kurt and KTM Europe made the decision that he would be moving on to new endeavors, this time in rally racing after finding himself able to challenge the front runners at the 2013 Dakar. Kurt even won the Ruta 40 in June of that year. But to complete his 2013 season in North America, he had to take on the SCORE Baja 1000 finale with teammates Ivan Ramirez, Mike Brown, and Kendall Norman for KTM North America. Ultimately, this would be Kurt's final run in both racing and in life. He left this world after colliding with a large animal (horse or cow) that caused fatal injuries. Kurt is survived by his mother Nancy, sister Carolyn, fiancée Sarah, other family members, and countless friends and fans.

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Simply put, Kurt Caselli left this world doing what he loved: racing off-road. And those in the racing world are grateful such a man didn’t go out any other way. From the desert to Dakar, from his family to his fiancée to his friends, and from everyone and everything in between, Kurt gifted this world with a legacy for the ones he left behind.

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"I know the truth, and I will tell you now: He was admired, loved, cheered, honored, respected. In life as well as in death. A great man, he is. A great man, he was. A great man he will be. He died that day because his body had served its purpose. His soul had done what it came to do, learned what it came to learn, and then was free to leave" ― Garth Stein

Words: Megan Blackburn