I don’t remember the first time I met Kurt Caselli, but I certainly remember the first time I saw him ride. It was many years ago, at a WORCS race I believe, and he was tearing it up on a 125cc two-stroke in the amateur class. I had heard the name Caselli many times, but I’d never seen him ride or knew much about him. I did know that people were talking about him and once I saw him ride I understood exactly why. Man, that kid could ride.
Hearing about his death on Friday night had a numbing effect on me, as I am sure it did on a lot of you. Kurt Caselli? No way, I thought. I just couldn’t believe it. But it was, in fact, tragically true. Just like it was true when I was first told about Danny Hamel losing his life while also competing in Baja - in the 500. Again, I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t want to believe it. And both times I was awoken by a phone call to be given the horrible news.
As hard as it was for me to accept Hamel’s death, it’s been even harder to accept Caselli’s. And that’s only because I had really gotten to know Caselli more than I did Hamel. Both on and off the track. Unfortunately, I only got to meet Hamel a few times and I never really got the chance to know him like I did Caselli. Turns out they shared more than just their ability to go fast on a motorcycle. People liked them both for good reason: They were some of the nicest people who walked the face of the planet.
And Caselli seemed to only get nicer the faster and more successful he got. Although that’s almost unheard of with superstar athletes, it was definitely true for Caselli.
He never seemed to lose sight of his friends and fans no matter how many race wins or championships he was racking up. He was too good for that. Instead, Caselli always reached out to his fans and to all those he had previously met. In fact, the last time I spoke to Caselli, he actually made the effort to approach me – just to say hi and to see what I was up to. As a reporter, usually it’s the other way around but not with Kurt. He was the ultimate ambassador for the sport of off-road racing and the sport will miss him dearly.
The most memorable time I had with Caselli is when I spent the day with him at his house in Palmdale, California, to do a hanging-out feature story after he had won both the WORCS title and his first Hare & Hound title in the same year - not to mention having had a stellar performance at the ISDE a few weeks earlier. He was in contention for our annual Cycle News Rider of the Year award, but I got out-voted. But not by much.
The day, however, got off to a rocky start. I was set to meet him at a breakfast joint near his house and I arrived a wee bit late (well, quite a bit more than a wee bit), having turned east instead of west en route and having gotten lost somewhere in the nearby Mojave desert for a while. He gave me a little stink eye – which I deserved – and that was that. It was over with. Afterward, we hung out as though we had been best friends since high school. We talked about a lot of things, like him winning his first Hare & Hound Championship and his desire to race Baja and get into rally racing.
At that time, the then 28-year-old Caselli was thinking about his future, how he could prolong his off-road racing career by concentrating on longer and more distance-orientated races, like rallies – races where intelligence is often far more important than sheer speed. He had a desire to be the next Cyril Despres or Marc Coma.
Later that day, we hopped in his car to do a photo shoot in his local riding area – a spot not far from his house where he learned his trade and honed his championship-riding skills. I had these crazy ideas for some different photos and he didn’t balk one bit. “Whatever you want to do,” he said. In fact, he came up with some crazy ideas of his own.
It was a great day. One I’ll never forget and one that I will now always cherish. Since then, we’ve had many other great times together. And it makes me sick to think there won’t be any more.
When my wife asked me what that phone call was about that woke us up on Friday night, I didn’t say that Kurt Caselli had died. Instead I said a friend had passed. And I truly felt that way.
But not only was Caselli a friend of mine, he was a friend to so many others. Just look at all the Tweets, Facebook entries and chat-room comments regarding Caselli’s passing. Obviously, Caselli touched a lot of people. Not only was he a great off-road racer but, more importantly, he was a great person.
Kurt Caselli will be missed.