Ride in Peace: Off-road champion Kurt Caselli

Publish Date: 
Nov 16, 2013
By Mary Slepicka

BAJA CALIFORNIA, Mexico - The industry mourns the loss of off-road race champion Kurt Caselli who died from injuries sustained while competing Nov. 15 in the SCORE Tecate Baja 1000 in Baja California. He was 30.

Caselli, regarded as one of the top off-road racers in the world, was a multiple AMA National Hare & Hound champion, WORCS champion and a repeat ISDE gold medalist. He was racing as a member of the KTM team. 

According to SCORE International Off-Road Racing, Caselli "died of serious trauma incurred when he apparently lost control of his KTM motorcycle in a sandy, high-speed section at approximate race-mile 792" at 4:30 p.m. Pacific Time on Friday.

Caselli posed for the Dealernews "Gear" special issue in September 2008. Here are a couple of the photos from that issue (photography by Gary Rohman).

KTM on Saturday afternoon issued a statement that indicated Caselli may have collided with an animal. "The team, who have now recovered Kurt's bike, discovered traces on the machine that indicate he had collided with some animal, which apparently caused the crash," the company said.

The American Motorcyclist Association on Saturday expressed "deep regret" for Caselli's death. 

"Kurt Caselli was one of American desert racing's finest champions, and his early and untimely death is a major blow to the hearts and minds of all of us who knew him or knew of him," said AMA President and CEO Rob Dingman. "Caselli was a gracious competitor, a team leader and a fan favorite. His love for motorcycling showed through in everything he did, whether he was leading his fellow racers as the U.S. team captain for the International Six Days Enduro or signing autographs for a young fan.

"On behalf of the AMA Board of Directors, our staff and AMA members everywhere, we offer our condolences to the family of Kurt Caselli and thank them for sharing with us one of the sport's finest racers and greatest men," Dingman added.

Caselli's was the 2011, 2012 and 2013 AMA National Hare & Hound National Champion and 2007 AMA Sportsman of the Year. He won numerous ISDE gold medals, several first-American ISDE finishes and an overall ISDE E3 class victory in 2007, AMA noted. Caselli also was a member of the World Championship-winning 2006 ISDE U.S. Junior Team.

"Caselli had recently announced a shift to international rally racing for KTM, a move that was expected to fuel additional American interest in the sport of rally racing and was chronicled in a cover story in the off-road version of the December issue of American Motorcyclist, the journal of the AMA," the association added. 

KTM's Saturday statement contained the following messages from senior management:

Pit Beirer, head of KTM Motorsports, said, “Today we lost a KTM hero in the worst possible circumstances. We are shocked and saddened by this tragic news and our thoughts and deepest condolences go out to Kurt’s family. Kurt was much more than a very talented rider; he was also an exceptional team player. He represented and lived by the values and a passion for racing that lies at the very core of KTM. Our sport has lost more than a great rider; we have also lost an excellent ambassador for offroad racing.” 

From KTM North America President Jon-Erik Burleson: ”We at KTM can't put into context the loss everyone in the motorcycling community is experiencing. Beyond his racing successes and talent as a rider, Kurt was above all else a core member of our greater off-road family that simply can't be replaced. Kurt inspired the KTM family to keep pushing the limits of racing. He was the driving force behind our renewed efforts in Baja, Hare & Hound and the International Six Days Enduro. His work ethic, attitude and graciousness will never be matched.”

Antti Kallonen, Factory FMF/KTM team manager, stated, “The loss of Kurt is immense to the sport, our team and to our family. Kurt has been on KTM his entire professional career. Even in the early years he brought something special to the off-road environment by bringing a leadership role like no other. He had the uncanny ability to bring a team together for efforts big and small.

"Professional motorcycle racing is always considered an individual sport, but Kurt made it a team sport," Kallonen added. "Whenever there was an opportunity to lead, help, inspire, advise or coach Kurt went into it like he went into a race — completely prepared, completely confident and knowing he could win. Kurt was the most galvanizing force I’ve ever seen. Those who knew him were lucky. Those of us who got to work with him were blessed."