450 Words: RedBud

450 Words RedBud

July 5, 2011 4:40pm
On Monday morning, Davi Millsaps told me his longtime friend Josh Lichtle had passed away at a hospital in Michigan, a day and a half after having some kind of seizure at the end of the first 450 moto. Millsaps and Lichtle had grown up together racing Suzukis for the national amateur support team, and although their careers went in different directions once they turned pro, they remained friends. As kids, Millsaps' number was 118, Lichtle's was 811. Josh may have been from Michigan and Davi from the Southeast, but both were on the amateur national circuit for many years, seeing one another often. They did video shoots together, Suzuki-supported events like the annual RM Cup Challenge, and even won titles together at Loretta Lynn's. But for whatever reason—talent, injuries, breaks both good and bad—their career paths split at some juncture.

Then they crossed together again at RedBud.

Josh Lichtle at RedBud.
Photo: Andrew Fredrickson

The cruel coincidence from the whole terrible turn of events is that in the race that would ultimately mark the end of Lichtle's life, his old friend Millsaps was the early leader. Josh, a privateer, had gotten caught up in the chain-reaction crash that began with title contender Ryan Villopoto's crash a quarter of the way around the track. The Joe Gibbs Racing-backed Millsaps ended up out front, putting in some of his best laps of the season as he led the two other title contenders—Chad Reed and Ryan Dungey—at the front. Lichtle got up and got going again, doing his best to make an impression on the fans and the industry that had gathered at what was basically his hometown round of the series.

It was shortly into the tenth of sixteen total laps that the riders’ career paths would intersect one last time. That's when Millsaps, now back in third, lapped his friend who had fallen on the start. It was a moment of little importance then, but given the context, it became one of sad relevance.

On the last lap of the race, Lichtle fell again -- the third time in the moto, as he tipped over a couple of laps earlier in front of Racer X photographer Andrew Fredrickson on the second of the two infield off-camber hairpins -- and as he struggled to restart his bike, the leaders went past him again. It soon became obvious to a nearby official that Josh was having difficulty, and immediate medical attention was sought. He was attended to on-site, then quickly transported by ambulance to a nearby hospital. The race went on.

Davi Millsaps at RedBud.
Photo: Andrew Fredrickson

Medical reports explaining exactly why Josh Lichtle passed away on Monday morning are not complete, so it's hard to make any assumptions about what caused him to struggle at the end of the moto like that. By the looks of his lap times and progress, he rode hard and well throughout before falling toward the very end. It was a tragic turn of events for his family and friends, Michigan motocross, the track, the series, and the sport as a whole. His was the first death of an athlete in the forty-year history of the AMA Motocross Championship.

Millsaps was devastated by the news, and in passing it on to me, first via Twitter and then on the phone after I called to confirm, he had become the messenger of terrible, unexpected news. Believe me, having played that role before, that's a heavy burden. But then he talked about lessons to learn for all us here, and how he wanted to continue the conversation as soon as it became more clear what happened to Lichtle at RedBud. And that's a message he should be proud to carry in memory of his friend.

Lichtle was 23 years old. Godspeed, Josh.