On November 15, 2013, Kurt Caselli died after a crash while leading the Baja 1000. It was a tragic, shocking, sad story, and those always result in an outpouring of support from friends, fans and the industry in general. The key is trying to make something positive from all of that support. The Kurt Caselli Foundation is doing just that, raising money and then using it to implement safety initiatives at off-road and motocross races.
The foundation’s biggest event is the annual Kurt Caselli ride day at Glen Helen. The third edition comes December 4, and it’s open to anyone who wants to come and ride motocross or off-road, starting at 8 a.m. Here’s Foundation board member Donny Emler Jr. and Foundation safety director Quinn Cody, who was also one of Kurt’s KTM teammates, with an update.
Racer X: Obviously when something like this happens, when a rider is hurt or even loses a life, we see charitable events, we see fundraisers and just an outpouring of emotion. But keeping that going long-term is what’s really hard. I know it’s only been two years since we lost Kurt, but even seeing everyone on social media a few days ago, it seems like this has legs under it. You’ve got to be proud of that.
Donny: Speaking on my behalf, I was lucky enough to be on the ground level when the idea of the foundation came about, and then to get a chance to bring in Quinn. At first his role was kind of on the ground level with us, going to these events. Obviously his name throughout the off-road world brings big resonance. Then to see the foundation take that extra step and continue to grow to where we could hire Quinn as our first employee, as a full-time safety director, that was a huge step just from where I sit on the board. So that was really, really exciting for us.
I know there are different prongs to this, certainly the safety stuff and also the fundraising events in general. Is it fair to say this is the main fundraiser, this is the big one here at Glen Helen in about two weeks?
Quinn: This is our big event. It’s just like our anchor for the year. We’re trying to make it really fun this year. Glen Helen’s basically ours to just go ride in the hills, do an off-road loop, ride the motocross tracks, do whatever we want for the day. Last year it rained and the dirt was amazing. This year we’re going to add some new stuff to it. We’ve got a team challenge, it’s actually a team non-race, just for people to get some guys together and have a good time. FMF’s making a really cool trophy. It’s going to be like a perpetual trophy, so every year people will come back and kind of compete for the Caselli Challenge trophy.
So this will probably kick off what will be an annual thing, this team event?
Donny: The ride day is our staple event, as Quinn said. It’s in the same time and place every year. Really this event is the perfect spot for us to tell the public what the foundation has been up to. I feel like it’s a lot easier these days with social media and websites and stuff, but sometimes they don’t read all of that. So it’s really a good place for us to get in front of the public and talk to them. The whole idea about this foundation is to take in a large number of donations—it’s amazing the outpouring that people give and help with—but we want to show them that we’re actually doing something with that money. We kind of talked about it at the last minute. It was kind of mind-blowing because we meet once a month, and to the day we’ve raised over $450,000 for the foundation. And even cooler, we don’t want to brag about how much money the foundation is bringing in, it’s more about how much we’re actually spending on initiatives that’ll really go into safety. We’ve spent over $220,000 on safety measures.
Quinn, maybe you can speak on that, some of the things you guys have done. And I know it’s not even just on the desert and off-road side, even helping out some of the motocross folks as well.
Quinn: One of the first things we did was donate the ultrasound machine to the Asterisk Mobile Medical Unit so they could diagnose internal injuries at the track instead of having to send guys to the hospital or risk sending them back out, or sending them home with an internal bleed or something. We were really stoked to help out with that because Asterisk and Dr. Bodnar have been around for so long now, and they do so much on just basic funding. So it was really cool to help them with that. And then we just moved in to doing tons of stuff with the off-road community. It kind of started out with Baja. Baja was a big focus of ours. We’ve been really working strong with SCORE [the Baja sanctioning body] down there and trying to make that as safe as possible. It’s Baja, it’ll never be safe, it’ll always be wild. But we’re taking steps to improve things for sure.
There’s actually on the ground stuff that you’re doing at these events.
Quinn: Yeah, exactly. We have opening vehicles that go out in front of the racers and kind of open the course through some of the populated areas, giving the spectators a heads up to get off the course because the racers are coming. In Baja, you’re racing on open roads. There’s two-way traffic and guys are going wide open down these open roads that the locals use. It’s pretty dangerous as far as that goes.
Donny: Last year we hired a helicopter to be in the air from the start of the race basically until dusk, until when you can’t fly a helicopter anymore, to help follow the lead bikes. In Baja, a lot of the problem is that even if a team is able to fund themselves enough to have a helicopter, which could be anywhere from $25,000 to $30,000, that helicopter still needs to stop and refuel. So basically what we were doing is we were leap-frogging with the team helicopters so there was always a helicopter over the lead bikes. It really gives them that added safety. Last year we actually have helmet footage of Robby Bell. Quinn was up in the air with Dr. Chris Alexander in the helicopter just in case anything were to happen. Robbie was leading the event and there were some horses in the middle of the road and they were able to sweep the helicopter down, scare the horses out of the way, and you can see in Robbie’s helmet GoPro that he saw the helicopter sweep down on the ground so he knew that there was something coming up, so he kind of backed off the throttle.
This year we’re doing a little different stuff with the 1000. Quinn will be there as well. We just launched today that we’re going to have available extra spot trackers down there for all the racers to actually have on their body. SCORE provides one for the actual motorcycle, but we feel having an extra unit on your body is helpful as well if you get separated from the machine.
Actually knowing about the incident that Kurt was involved in, some of these ideas you have are directly from incidents that have happened in Baja.
Donny: I think the biggest thing is the racers know that this stuff exists, but it’s kind of overlooked. Unfortunately it’s already pretty expensive for these guys to go down there and race, so we’re trying to add any extra safety measure possible. Then we kind of take what we’ve learned in Baja and what Quinn has learned over the years as a racer and go to events like every AMA Hare and Hound—that was a big part of what Kurt was involved in here in the US—and we work with all the youth riders on safety and giving concussion management testing prior to the events. So that way these kids are really learning at a young age the importance of different aspects, whether it’s concussions or we have them in bright orange bibs out there. They’re highly visible for the parents and stuff to see. So that’s the other initiative that Quinn’s heading up for us.
Give people an idea of the vibe out there at the Glen Helen ride day. Obviously Kurt had a lot of friends in the industry, but it’s not just an industry event, this is open for everyone.
Donny: The vibe is: We get everyone together, we have a great time. It’s really about riding your motorcycle. Kurt loved just to ride from his house and go ride in the hills. So that’s why we really wanted to offer a ride day that had a little bit of everything. If you’re intimidated about maybe riding the motocross track at Glen Helen we have an off-road loop set up for you with some A&B sections for difficulty. And this year, like Quinn said, the Caselli Challenge, this kind of stems from a couple events that FMF and KTM have put on back in the day that Kurt attended, and he was so into it. So we’re kind of bringing this back because it was something that he had so much fun doing. It’s definitely not an industry day by any means; it’s a day for anyone that thought that Kurt Caselli was a legend and anyone who loves to ride their dirt bike. That’s what it’s all about.
How many people have you gotten at this in the past two years?
Quinn: I think the first year was like 1,000 riders.
Donny: The first year the people were coming through the gates and we were getting news from Lori at Glen Helen that it was backed up all the way to the 215 freeway from people still trying to get in! So we kind of were holding up on starting the event because so many people were still coming in. We were just overwhelmed with the outpouring of support. As we mentioned, last year, year two is always the biggest hurdle and we still had about 600 riders I believe. So that’s the exciting part. There is a lot of people doing a lot of amazing things for different groups or when riders get hurt and that’s awesome, but this is a foundation that we want to stick around for a long time. His family is involved. You’ve got guys like John-Erik from KTM, myself, Quinn, we definitely have the passion to keep this thing running and keep spending the money on really great things.
Quinn: It’s definitely a day about the riding. We want it to be kind of a family fun event. Glen Helen has a new kids track that they built kind of where the old supercross track used to be. So we’re going to have the kids track all prepped up so if people want to pull their kids out of school and bring them, there’s going to be plenty of places for people to ride. And like Donny said, if they’re intimidated by the motocross track we’ve got the little track, an off-road thing. We just want to emphasize that it’s a family event. Everybody’s welcome.
Donny, like you were saying, longevity is the hardest part when you have something like this. But is it possible that somewhere down the road the foundation will almost be known as much for what it’s done as just a memorial for Kurt? There might be a time, maybe 15 years from now, that maybe kids don’t even necessarily remember him as a racer, they just know of this great foundation with his name on it. That’s possible. Time goes pretty quick in this industry and there are a lot of young riders out there.
Donny: That’s a great point. It’s hard to look at it from that side, but you’re right. It’s been two years since Kurt’s passing. This will be our third ride day. Time flies. I think if we continue as an industry to help support this foundation and Kurt’s name and his legacy… it’s so cool. The photos that we have of Kurt going to kids’ riding schools and helping them at the Hare and Hounds, he’d be on the start with them during their race talking to them. Kind of that legendary rider status that he held. He was always just that person that wanted to help people and that’s what this foundation is all about.
Quinn: We’re already starting to see a lot of that. Initially people were thinking that they were donating to Kurt’s family and donating to his memory and all this stuff. Now we’re starting to see it really come to where people are coming up to say, “Thank you so much for everything you’re doing.” The foundation is not for Kurt’s family to make money, it’s to promote safety at the races. So the word’s getting out and people are starting to really realize that the foundation is here for the long haul. It’s important that they help support us for the safety aspect rather than just donate in Kurt’s memory. It’s really cool to see that kind of evolution happen.
Donny: When this whole thing came about, we threw this ride day on immediately and we weren’t sure where the money was going to go. All of a sudden Nancy and Sarah, [Kurt’s mother and fiancé] they’re like, “We don’t want the money. We want to do something with this.” I think that was a cool thing and that’s what really got us, like, wow, we need to step this up and we need to form this group and this foundation. It wasn’t about giving all the money to the family. It was really Nancy’s idea to get this thing going. That’s the cool part.
People go to this event and know this money will directly go back to some other race that other riders can benefit from. You really can’t get a better donation than that. Give us the details.
Donny: It’s December 4 at Glen Helen Raceway. They can definitely go to the www.kurtcaselli.com for more info. They can follow us on social media, which is @KC66Foundation. We’re always posting new stuff up there. They can follow and see what we’re up to. The latest is always posted to the website. Quinn’s on the ground and he’s always working, doing something. I think the coolest thing is really showing people what we’re actually doing and spending this money on really great initiatives.
Quinn: Just come out and have a good time. Let’s go have a good day riding!