By this time everyone in the off-road racing community is aware of Kurt Caselli’s tragic passing at the 2013 SCORE Baja 1000. I remember getting the text from a buddy telling me the news. I didn’t believe it. I jumped online in search of news that I hoped would say otherwise. I didn’t find what I was hoping for. The only thing I found was confirmation that Kurt had lost his life in a crash while leading the race with less than 100 miles to go. My stomach churned into a knot and I could feel the hair stand up on the back of my neck. I got goose bumps and my eyes filled with tears. I just sat still.
I didn’t know Kurt personally, but I had met him a couple of times. I was 14 when asked Kurt for his goggles after he put on a clinic at the 2005 Goldendale WORCS round. I remember he had just crossed the finish line and taken his helmet off. He was sitting on his bike and clearly exhausted but excited about the win. Everyone from his team was around him but I ran right up and asked him for his goggles. He looked at me and said “Sure man.” Then he wiped the sweat from his face with a KTM towel and handed me the sweaty goggles that were hanging from his handlebar.
“Thanks Kurt!” I replied. “Awesome ride out there!”
He replied with a smile and a quick “Thanks.”
After that I jumped back into my motorhome and my family and I started our long drive home. That small gesture made my entire weekend. I still have those goggles in my trailer and I even raced in them a couple of times.
Later that year while I was spending time on MySpace, I was 14 remember, I messaged Kurt and explained that he had given me his goggles after the Goldendale WORCS race and that he was my hero. To my surprise he messaged me back. I don’t remember exactly what he said, but in typical Kurt fashion it was friendly and made me look up to him even more. I wish I could find that message.
At the Burnt Ridge WORCS race in 2006 Kurt finished a close second to Ricky Dietrich. I went up to Kurt on his way to the podium after the race and asked him for his jersey. I got the same reply as the year before. “Sure man. I’ll get it for you after the interview.”
I was stoked. That was the first pro jersey I ever got. I don’t think I even washed it because I didn’t want to wash the signature off of it. My favorite memory from that weekend was walking with Kurt from the podium through the pits to his car. I exclaimed again that “That was an awesome ride today.” Again, I received a smile and a “Thanks.” We made small talk on the way to his car before he signed and gave me his race jersey. I smiled and said thanks, shook his hand and then ran back to my motorhome with the biggest smile on my face. Then I hopped into my motorhome and again my family and I started our long drive home. That jersey stayed on my wall for years. I just recently pulled it out of my closet. I plan on getting it framed soon.
I also got to call Kurt a teammate in Greece at the 2008 ISDE. I didn’t see much of him as we were racing at the same time throughout the week, but whenever I would pass him in the hotel or pits I would say “Good luck out there, Kurt.” He always replied with a smile and a “You too.”
The thing that got me, the thing that hit me the hardest was the outpouring of support from the off-road community. The amount of people that attended his ride day at Glen Helen on December 6th showed exactly that. Nearly 3000 people attended the event with over 700 riders on the track for the first lap. He was a genuinely kind man and one of the best on a dirt bike. Even if you never met Kurt, you knew who he was and heard only good things from those that did know him.
Like a good friend of mine said that night I heard the news
“It doesn’t seem right. The dude could do no wrong in the desert, he was so fucking good.”
I still don’t understand why this had to happen to such a good man, and unfortunately I know I never will. But I at least find comfort in knowing he died doing what he loved, while leading the race of his dreams.
This article written by Alyssa Roenigk, titled Kurt Caselli’s Last Ride, explains all the details about what happened leading up to, as well as during the 2013 Baja 1000. It brought tears to my eyes and made my heart ache for Kurt’s family and friends. It also answers a number of questions that I’m sure many people had after hearing the news. But this article by Megan Blackburn titled, The Ones He Left Behind, is my favorite of all the articles I’ve read. It explains the race where Kurt captured the AMA National Hare and Hound Championship for the second time. This is my favorite line from Megan’s piece
“Kurt Caselli became the Champion that day. Nature had greeted him at the finish line in the same way they met before; with a sudden burst of heavy rain that came now in a cheering fashion. He accomplished what many had come for but failed at. His smile beamed from east to west while his team, friends and fans walked up proud of their Champion. Caselli blissfully sat at the finish line waiting for the ones he left behind.”
Megan finished her beautiful piece with a quote from Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain. I don’t think this quote could be any more fitting.
“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”
I’m sure I’ll be watching videos of Kurt’s Hare and Hound helmet cams as well as past WORCS and ISDE video displaying his aggressive but smooth style for years to come. I won’t forget the few times I met him and I know he will pop up in bench racing stories throughout the off-road community for years to come.
Here’s to an off-road legend and a genuinely good man. Ride in peace, KC66.