On the last day of every year we take a moment to remember our friends and fellow riders who shared a passion for motorcycling. With a nod to The New York Times’ annual requiem about the lives they lived, we offer our thoughts and condolences to all of those who lost someone special in 2014.
Peggy Robinson was never a motocross racer, but her influence and work goes back to the very beginning of professional motocross in America. Peg and her husband Ward Robinson owned a farm in upstate New York that first held a Trans-AMA race in 1970, the very first year of the AMA’s involvement in professional motocross. The Robinson family farm was right on the Unadilla River, and from that point on the motocross track would be known as Unadilla. Over the years it held 250cc Grand Prix races, countless AMA Motocross Nationals, Inter-Ams, and Trans-AMAs, and it also had the distinction of being the first track in the US to host the annual FIM Motocross des Nations. It also now hosts GNCC off-road events, major amateur events, and a wonderful vintage/vet weekend called Unadilla Remix.
“The whole Robinson family was always involved, but Peg was the one that really got things done,” said Roger DeCoster, a regular visitor to Unadilla since 1970. “Ward was one everyone knew as the promoter, but if you wanted something done right away, you went to her. She was the foundation of the family, and it’s very sad that she will not be there when we return next year. She was a great lady, always very polite, and she just did a lot of great things for motocross over the years. We will miss her very much.”
She is survived by her husband Ward and her children Greg and Jill, who had previously taken over the race activities at what’s now one of the best known brands in motocross, Unadilla.
Tyson “Tiger” Lacey’s death came on New Year’s Eve one year ago. No sooner had we posted last year’s column did we hear the news that the popular and fast rider from the Northwest had passed away after a brief illness. Lacey had just returned home from one of his many overseas racing trips when he began feeling ill. Doctors discovered he had contracted viral meningitis, and he did not recover.
Tiger, 31 years old, left behind his wife Dana and son Lynx, barely a year old. Several hundred people showed up on January 4 at the Roseland MX Track to honor one of the faster riders to ever come out of the Northwest.
“My husband was the best daddy and an awesome person the love of my life I will always remember our memories of how we always had laughs and jokes to always make us happy,” wrote Dana after a GoFundMe page was set up to help her and Tiger’s young son. “All I can tell people is Ty traveled the world he lived his dream.”
You can find Tiger Lacey’s AMA Pro SX/MX results here.
Kenny Zahrt grew up in the golden age of motocross and dirt-bike riding in Southern California. He hailed from Woodland Hills and quickly rose up through the ranks in the early seventies to become one of the fastest young men in America. Zahrt even won the 1974 RedBud 250 National aboard a Bultaco, which gave him the unique distinction of being the last man to ever win an outdoor national aboard the Spanish brand. With his long hair and smooth style, Zahrt was as photogenic as he was fast, and he made the perfect test rider for magazines like Motocross Action. Years after Zahrt stopped racing professionally, with only that one outdoor national win, MXA asked him if he had any regrets.
“The one regret was never taking it seriously enough,” said Zahrt, whose AMA career record can be found here.
“I was just a regular guy who had some gifts when it came to riding motorcycles. I was always having so much fun that I never thought of it as having a career.”
Looking back at the magazines where Kenny would show off his no-handers, no-footers, and wall jumps, it’s easy to see that he was a pioneer in what would become the free-ride movement of the nineties and the FMX to follow. Kenny Zahrt passed on November 14 after suffering a stroke. He was 58 years old.
He started riding dirt bikes at the age of 3. He was inside half-pipes on skateboards and BMX bikes. He landed his first backflip on a bicycle at the age of 13, and then caught a 100-pound tarpon fish by the age of 15. He drove a Chevy pick-up. Last year, he raced in the Ricky Carmichael University Amateur Supercross at Daytona and finished fifth. He was an honors student in high school and widely admired. But then in October, while practicing at Sunshine Motocross in Pinellas Park, Florida, Devin Chester (above) died. He was 17 years old. Students at Osceola High took the news hard. They spread the news on social media with the hashtag #ripdev and, according to Tampabay.com, “The death cast a pall over the school on Friday. Grief counselors were busy. Students wept in halls that on any other day would be echoing with chatter and laughter.”
The day after Devin Chester passed, many students at his high school paid tribute at that night’s football game by wearing his #191 painted on their faces. The team’s mantra that night for their game against Palm Harbor? Do It For Devin.
There was also an outpouring of grief used for another motorcycle rider, but one who rode and lived in much different circumstances than Devin Chester. Kyrell Tyler, a 23-year-old resident of West Philadelphia, was known as “Dirt Bike Rell.” He was one of those street riders that pop up on YouTube and Instagram doing incredible wheelies down the middle of streets, weaving their way in and out of traffic, dragging one hand on the pavement, brazenly taunting the police to come after them.
“Dirt Bike Rell” did not die on the track or even on his motorcycle. According to local news reports he was shot and killed near the 2100 block of 60th Street. That was in October, and the police have yet to figure out exactly who shot him or why. A few days after the murder, an impromptu parade of dirt bikes and ATVs rode up through Center City in a celebration of his life. Police even shut down part of Westminster Street to give them a place to ride, but it soon turned chaotic.
"He was the King in Philly, King of Philly Dirt Bikes,” explained Chris O’Connell to a local news reporter.
According to Philly.com, “Though Tyler died a violent death and had his own run-ins with the law, fellow riders insist that bike life is a way out, or at least a way to avoid other temptations. Tyler had more than 83,000 followers on Instagram and was crossing over into mainstream dirt-bike success.”
Horst Kaudela Jr. also made videos of himself riding a motorcycle, once again under much different circumstances. He hailed from Austria and was not only a racer, but his family also had a motorcycle business. He raced in the German ADAC events and even came to the States to do some races. But his claim to fame came from a hilarious online video he made using a half-cut helmet and a POV camera rigged to point back at him and record his facial expressions as he did some “Serious Gooning” around a motocross track. While Kaudela only lived to be 27 years old, his video will likely be around forever.
Ray Spence was a genuine motorcycling legend who grew up in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He raced everything from street side-hacks to motocross scrambles, which meant he got to race against the likes of both Mike “the Bike” Hailwood and Joel Robert. He spent his long life involved in the sport, opening a dealership after his own professional racing days were over, and then he raised a son named Laurence to become the youngest Irish MX Champion ever. Ray Spence (below) passed this year, after a life rich in motorcycling. Before he passed, he said, “Motocross is a great, great sport and I am just glad to be a part of it.”
Arnold “AT” Taylor (below) grew up in the Santa Clarita area riding motorcycles with childhood friend Eddie Cole. He worked as a designer, and when Cole and his sons decided to start Matrix Concepts, they called Taylor to be the creator of their new product line of hard parts for motorcycles, bicycles, garages, and more. Taylor then put his prodigious skills as a designer/engineer to work and helped Matrix Concepts quickly gain a reputation for making innovative and quality pieces. Now, as a tribute to honor Taylor, an “AT” design logo has been placed on all of Matrix’s 2015 products. “It is a tribute to honor a dear friend and designer who left us too soon,” the company said as they relayed the news of Taylor’s death. “Matrix Concepts has a very bright future because of him. Thank you, Arnold, for all you have done, you will forever be missed.”
Lisa Lorusso was the wife of longtime New England pro Tony Lorusso. Together they raised a beautiful daughter named Chellsie. They also ran the CTMX track just outside of Hartford, Connecticut, one of the few legal places to ride in that state. Lisa was very active in running the business side of the track, just as she supported his long racing career. In fact, she was one of the first women to ever be a professional mechanic, helping her husband get by as a privateer racing all over the country and breaking down a gender barrier in the process. Her passing was unexpected, and the emotional outpouring from people all over the country who knew her from the races was moving, to say the least.
“These last few days have been the hardest of my life,” Tony Lorusso wrote on his Facebook page. “I now realize the unconditional love I have had for my wife… I see all the beauty and passion she had as an animal lover, and how important having a family was for her… She has touched so many people lives. I believe she is in a much more peaceful place now.”
Kasper Lynggaard was one of the fastest and most popular motocross riders in Denmark. He grew up racing all around Europe with his parents Helle and Erling and his brother Rasmus. Kasper followed the ADAC SX Cup and ADAC MX Masters Series, which are based in Germany and offer some of the most competitive races in Europe. Kasper was good enough to represent his home country in the Motocross of Nations in 2013.
In January, Lynggaard (below) was participating in the Dortmund Supercross in Germany when he crashed by himself in the whoops. His own bike hit him, according to reports, causing his heart to stop. Paramedics did their best to save the 24-year-old rider, but were unable to revive him. The fallen rider was honored by many of his fellow competitors, including Tony Cairoli and Justin Barcia. Wrote Motosport-Magazin.com of Kasper Lynggaard, “So we remember him: A fun loving young man who spared no risk, loved his sport and retired too early in the life."
This tribute video was posted shortly after the race.
If you ever raced in Eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, or Maryland, chances are that Henrietta Steiner signed up, watched you race, scored your number, and maybe even handed you a trophy. Henrietta, who was 78 years old when she passed, was one of those grand dames of motorcycle racing, a lifelong enthusiast who found her way into racing as part of the officiating crew. She was secretary of the Lebanon Valley Motorcycle Club and a congressman of AMA District 6 Sports Association, and she kept everything organized at Sleepy Hollow MX Park. If there were a Motorcycle Hall of Fame for people who devoted their lives to help others follow their dreams, Henrietta Steiner would have been inducted long ago, and then she would have organized sign-up for everyone else as they came in the door.
Jesse Tucker worked at Appalachian Off-Road Motorcycle Company in Charleston, West Virginia, along with his wife Melinda. The shop not only sold a lot of bikes to riders young and old, they also sponsored racers. Jesse (below) was an avid rider and fisherman, and after he passed following an illness in September, the club he belongs to—Appalachian Off-Road MC—renamed their Man of the Year Award, which is given to the one who shows outstanding service, loyalty, and devotion, the Jesse Tucker Award. And the recipient for 2014 was the late Jesse Tucker himself.
Ron Bishop started his motorcycling life on a Cushman Eagle, near his family’s home in Escondido, California. In 1960, at age 17, he started racing TTs and scrambles aboard a Zundapp 250cc Super Sabre. From there he would begin a long-distance, off-road racing odyssey that took him all over the world. Bishop raced the Baja 1000 a record forty consecutive years, as well as shorter races like the Baja 500, the Mint 400, the Mexicale 300, and the Tecate Enduro. He competed in the International Six Days Trials events, as well as countless local races.
"I’d race a TT every Friday night at Cajon Speedway in El Cajon," said Bishop when he was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2001. "Then I’d put knobbies on the bike and go scrambles racing that weekend!"
Bishop (below) rode a wide variety of motorcycles, and he was even a factory rider for Rokon for a while, racing around the desert on the funky automatic motorcycle. He would later open his own motorcycle dealership in Escondido, sponsoring a new generation of racers. In September he passed away due to natural causes, not long after his seventieth birthday.
You may not have ever heard of Chris Blankenship before this summer, but you’ve no doubt seen his work if you follow Monster Energy Supercross. Blankenship was a member of the Dirt Wurx track-construction crew, helping to build and shape the tracks we see on Saturday nights. He was a close friend of Kevin Windham, often helping him shape the transfer jumps that became wildly popular at the end of K-Dub’s career. He was also a husband and father, and a highly respected local racer in the St. Louis area.
Blankenship (below) was helping and participating in the Washington Country Fair race when he crashed on the track he himself had built. He later died due to complications from the accident.
“We lost the best of us today,” said Dirt Wurx founder Rich Winkler. “Chris was a husband, a father, a racer, a worker, a leader, a dreamer and a doer. He loved his life, lived by a code, never shirked a task and met every situation with a smile. I’ve spent countless hours with this man over the past years, working hard, imagining and creating, running our business, along with baring our souls to one another on long hauls over the road to the next event. We probably know one another as well as we know anyone alive, and yet today I find I am at a loss as to what to say. Chris was a man in full. He was my friend. I will miss him every day.”
Two months later Kevin Windham turned his annual Party in the Pasture into a fundraiser for the Blankenship family. With the help of country music star Craig Morgan, Road 2 Recovery, and riders like Mike LaRocco, Wil Hahn, RJ Hampshire, Jordon Smith, Brett Cue, and Johnny Moore, they raised more than $100,000 for Blankenship’s wife Crystal, son Macen, and daughter Kate.
The first Sunday in June was a bad one for motocross. At two different races on opposite sides of the planet, tragedy struck. Just north of Christchurch, New Zealand, where riders gathered for the Michael Godfrey MX Memorial, #323 Trent Haywood, a promising young Kiwi, crashed off a jump and came down hard. It was the first death in the thirty-five year history of the event, and because the race was canceled immediately after his crash, Haywood (below) was declared the winner based on points he had already accrued.
“Heaven gained an angel,” wrote one friend on a Facebook tribute page. “He jumped into heavens gates with serious speed and in 1st place! He lived for racing moto!”
That same day, in Crawfordsville, Indiana, a promising young rider from Bethelridge, Kentucky, named Austin Mincey was trying to qualify for Loretta Lynn’s at his regional. On the last lap of his last moto, #173 Mincey crashed while crossing the finish line jump and landed hard. He was rushed to a nearby hospital, but doctors could not bring him out of the coma caused by the collision.
Mincey and his family were deeply passionate about racing. His Twitter account had a heading that said, “Motocross is life, God is #1.” His funeral procession one week later attracted 650 of his fellow riders, who were then invited to ride along in procession to his funeral service.
A white #173 bike was there at his service too, covered with dozens of messages from friends and family. Two months later, Ezra Hastings would go to the starting line wearing #173 to honor his fallen friend.
Besides their love of motocross and their talent and passion, Trent Haywood and Austin Mincey had one other thing in common: both were 14 years old.
Dave Jordan was not involved with motocross for long, but what he did resonates to this day in all of motocross. Back in 1980 he was an officer at Kawasaki who volunteered to shepherd a massive new amateur support program called Team Green. He was given a large budget and all of the resources he would need to go out and find the best young prospects all over the country and get them to the races on Kawasaki motorcycles. With then-wife Sandra at his side, Jordan immediately started building the program, starting out in the Southeast, an area they were quite familiar with. Georgia’s Billy Liles and Keith Turpin were given bikes, parts, and contingency money to go out and win big amateur races, which they did. They were soon joined by Eddie Warren, Paul Denis, Ronnie Tichenor, Rodney Barr, Donny Schmit, and many, many more. Jordan also got Team Green involved as the first sponsor of the first AMA Amateur National Motocross Championship ever held at Loretta Lynn’s Ranch in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee. That was in 1982, and all these years later Kawasaki Team Green is still there, set up right behind the starting gate, just like they were the first time.
Dave Jordan soon left the program, and ultimately the industry, but in the generations that followed countless kids would transition through the program he helped found: Emig, McGrath, Kiedrowski, Ferry, Reynard, Windham, Carmichael, Stewart, Villopoto, Wilson, Baggett, Cianciarulo—not to mention girls like Mercedes Gonzalez, Jessica Patterson—and many, many more.
Lazarus and Maryann Sommers owned a Benton, Ohio, company called GT Thunder, a performance shop, and sponsored the Grand National Cross Country Series, sanctioned by the AMA. They also sponsored their son Brandon, who was an accomplished racer himself. They were flying their Piper PA-32 airplane from Akron en route to the Big Buck GNCC in Union, South Carolina, when they encountered heavy rain. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, the pilot asked to alter his flight plan above Kanawha County in West Virginia to get around the storm, and was granted permission. But then the plane’s signal started fading in and out and then nothing. A few minutes later, the local emergency dispatchers were called out to investigate a small plane crash. Lazarus was 50 years old and his wife Maryann was 56. They had been sponsors of racing for more than thirty years and flew their plane to every race.
Dave Bickers’ name may not be familiar to a younger generation of motocross enthusiasts, but back in the sixties he was practically a household name in England. Bickers was a professional “scrambler,” riding for the Greeves factory team and winning European championships and riding for Great Britain in the annual Trophee and Motocross des Nations. Back then scrambling popped up on the BBC from time to time, and in turn made Bickers and fellow riders like Jeff Smith, John Banks, and Bryan Wade famous. And when his career as a racer ended, he already had work lined up as a stunt rider/coordinator for British-made film franchises like James Bond (he was Roger Moore’s double), Harry Potter, and even the more recent Top Gear TV series. (That motorcycle racer-to-film path was first blazed by Carey Loftin in the thirties and forties and since followed by Dave and Bud Ekins, Mike Runyard, Kenny Zahrt, Rick Miller, Dave Castillo, Jim Holley, Brad Lackey, Regis Harrington, Robbie Madison, and more.) Bickers also helped get the sport rolling here in America simply by participating in the early versions of the Trans-AMA Series.
“CoddenhamVillage” posted this remarkable tribute video of Dave Bickers shortly after he passed in September.
Dave Bickers (shown below) was 76 years old.
Rich Mackey liked to be called “Mack,” and he spent his working life in the military and law enforcement and his playing life as a baseball enthusiast and a Harley-Davidson rider. He found a new love in off-road racing when he found a new love in life, Jerri Headlee, who’s son Kaleb was an aspiring GNCC racer. Mack (below) attended every race, managing Kaleb’s pit area and even getting married at the Snowshoe GNCC last summer. Late this past summer, as Kaleb was on his way to a class championship he would later dedicate to Mack, Rich Mackey was on the diamond playing adult-league baseball when he suffered a massive heart attack. He was 48 years old.
Benedetto Cairoli always wanted to race motorcycles, but his father would not let him. So Benedetto vowed to himself that if he ever had a son, he would want him to race motorcycles. Benedetto and his Paola ended up with a family of three girls and one boy. When the boy was just three and a half, Benedetto bought him a tiny Italjet motorcycle so he could begin riding. Racing soon followed, and by the time the boy was a teenager, he had outgrown his limited competition on the island of Sicily, where the Cairolis lived. That’s when Benedetto made the difficult decision to allow his son to move to the northern part of Italy, where there are more tracks, more races, and more competition. By letting his boy go, Benedetto allowed him to begin to realize his vast potential. Now the world knows Tony Cairoli as an eight-time FIM World Motocross Champion. It was while Tony was on his way to last year’s title that news came from Sicily that Benedetto had suffered a heart attack while driving near the family’s home, just a couple of days after returning from watching his son in the Spanish Grand Prix at Talavera. He was 67 years old.
Later in the summer, after Tony clinched the 2014 MXGP World Championship, he said, “I want to thank all those who work with me, my fans for the great support, and I want to dedicate this title to the memory of my father Benedetto.”
Ruth Wallenberg was born in Chicago in 1933. She was introduced to motocross in 1970 and soon after as she became a motocross wife and mom. She dived right in becoming a scorekeeper for the Slo-Pokes Motocross Club and of course providing all the comforts that a racing family would need both at the track and at home. A devout Lutheran and singer in the church choir, she would be enjoying one or the other of her favorite things every Sunday. She passed away at home on July 8. Recently we featured a story from many years ago that Ruth wrote about what it was like to be a motocross mom, and you can click here to download the read the story.