We close our eyes and another year goes by….
On the last day of every year we take time to remember some of the friends and fellow motorcycling enthusiasts we’ve lost along the way. With a nod to the New York Times’ annual requiem about the lives others lived, we offer our thoughts and condolences to all of those who lost someone special in 2016.
Motocross moms often loom large in a rider’s career, vital members of the first “team” any young rider will be a part of. Ann McGrath, Jeannie Carmichael, Debbie Pastrana, Colleen Millsaps, Sonya Stewart—they all played significant roles in the most formidable years of the fledgling careers of their kids (and some stay right there in their professional years as well). Darlene Bailey was one of those moms. Her son David Bailey is a legend and still an inspiration to us all, and she was omnipresent as he and her husband Gary, another motocross legend, traveled the country as Gary hosted countless motocross schools for countless other riders. David was always there too, first as a pupil and later as the ultimate example of how to do it right, with textbook technique. Gary was called “the Professor or Motocross,” and David was soon dubbed “the Little Professor.” Darlene never got such accolades, but she did cook more meals, drive more vans and motorhomes, wash more motocross gear, and just manage more motocross kids than probably anyone in the sport (until maybe Colleen Millsaps came along and made a successful business out of training young riders). There was even a time when she was running the bike shop on the grounds of the family racetrack, Lake Sugar Tree in Axton, Virginia, where was something of a pioneer in doing all of the things that a lot more women in the sport do now, like Amy Ritchie at RedBud, Lorie Wilson at Glen Helen, Carrie Russell at High Point and more.
Like almost every mom in motocross, Darlene was a true hero in her own rite, albeit in the shadows of a couple of other motocross riders of world-renown. She passed away in June. She is survived by her sons David and Mitchell Bailey and 10 grandchildren, as well as other family and many friends.
Early in the spring racing season Ty Kesten was five miles away from the finish line on the last lap of the Cannonball GNCC in Sparta, Georgia, when he crashed into a tree at high speed. A few days later he was remembered by hundreds of friends and fellow racers at a memorial service near his home in Brentwood, Pennsylvania. A story about the ceremony from the GNCC said, “Tears came suddenly, and easily. Photo after photo flashed on the screen. By the end of the evening we felt we knew everything about him. This kid was cool … this kid was loved.” The sad memorial turned into an inspiring celebration of his life, especially when nearly a dozen of his friends took off their shirts to show the matching #16 tattoos they had just gotten placed over their hearts. Ty was an extremely polite and popular young man, and his passing was felt throughout the season as Ty Kesten #16 decals seemed to proliferate around the pits and parking lots of every GNCC event that followed. He was 17 years old.
If you went to your first supercross anytime in the last two decades, Erv Braun’s voice is the one that you probably remember the most from your day and night at the races. He was a tireless, enthusiastic, and very good public address announcer, able to tell you in one bombastic sentence that “these are the best athletes in the world, this is the greatest motorsports show on earth, Jeremy McGrath won 72 main events, and the nacho man is coming to your aisle, don’t let him go by without getting your own delicious nachos!” And he did it for hour upon hour, Saturday after Saturday, for months at a time.
But Erv wasn’t just a race announcer, he was a true race enthusiast, a racer himself, as well as a promoter, and he not only talked about supercross all the time, he lived it, breathed it and advocated for motorcycling in almost every conversation he ever had. He passed earlier this year after a stroke robbed him of what would have almost certainly been many more fine seasons as the voice of Monster Energy AMA Supercross.
Dave Mirra was not a motocross racer. Rather, he was a BMX legend who was as well known in his chosen sport as Jeremy McGrath is in ours. He was a friend to many racers, his feats in the X Games the stuff of legend. He was a tireless promoter of his sport, which has in turn spawned many motocross careers—the aforementioned McGrath, Honda HRC's Cole Seely, and MXGP rider Gautier Paulin all started out in BMX, not motocross. Mirra was enjoying a second career as a rally car racer and working on a Woodward-style BMX camp near his home in Greenville, North Carolina, in the hopes of growing the sport. He was the host of MTV's "Real World/Road Rules Challenge" and the winner of 24 X Games medals in Freestyle BMX.
Mirra was also dealing with the hidden effects of multiple concussions, his brain having been injured multiple times over the years after he sometimes missed those gravity-defying tricks he became known for. He had 127,000 followers on his IG feed @davemirra and his second-to-last post was a photo of him boxing (yet another pastime he excelled at) and he wrote, “Fight to win! We all have battles to fight. Never back down. Love you all. #diewithyourbootson" Now Dave Mirra is a cautionary tale for all, no different than the NFL and NHL players who have trouble in their post-professional lives after all of those hits and headaches they took along the way. For Mirra, his post-concussive stress took the form of depression, and on a night in early January he found himself so down in his mind that he decided to take his own life at the age of just 41.
"Dave Mirra, your courage, determination and natural skill in everything you pursued pushed the world of action sports to become a better place. From all of us at X Games and ESPN, we salute your contributions," ESPN said in a statement. "Our sincere condolences go out to Dave's wife, Lauren, his daughters Mackenzie and Madison, the BMX community and friends of Dave Mirra."
Brian Carroll Sr. was a lifelong motorcycle enthusiast from New Jersey who raced a very fast son who later became known for racing in a jersey fashioned from an American flag. Carroll loved both dirt bikes and Harley-Davidsons and he was an icon all around the Mid-Atlantic racing scene. Posted by Englishtown’s Raceway Park promoter and racing parent Rich Trevelise, “Today was the day we said goodbye to a man I’ve known since the mid-80s. Brian ‘Righteous’ Carroll was put to rest on a cold day. However, seeing new and old friends made it a warm goodbye. During the day I heard a lot of stories about him, his toughness and his passion for life and love for his family and motorcycles. He was also a longtime (AMA) District 6 MX referee that had an impact on many riders and promoters—sometimes good, sometimes bad, but he always fought for what he thought was right.”
The last decade of Jonathan Chase Border's life was a tough. Badly injured in a horrific crash at Monster Mountain, Border sustained a broken neck and was a quadriplegic for the rest of his life. That didn’t stop him from going back to the races, and he was often spotted wheeling around the pits, saying hello to old friends, making new ones and just being around the very sport that robbed him of any chance to have a normal life. When he died last spring Monster Mountain promoter Tom Brinkman wrote, “Chase was everybody's friend. With every reason to be angry, depressed, and bitter, Chase was the exact opposite: upbeat and always quick to greet everyone with a smile. Thought I'd share some of the pics from over the years. Chase cheated death so many times—I think we thought he was indestructible. Losing him is such a shock. As Kim DeLoach wonderfully put it, Chase has been perfectly healed and now walks again. Hopefully we will all get to see him again one day. Until then, here are some memories I will keep of Chase forever.”
Les Beach was an absolute New England motocross legend, predating the sport as we know it. Motocross was still called “scrambles racing” when Beach got together with the likes of Bob Hicks and Dick Bettencourt to found the New England Sports Committee, better known as the NESC, in 1957. Beach was then crowned the 125cc Expert Champion in 1959. Wrote longtime NESC frontrunner Keith Johnson, now promoter of The ‘Wick 338, “Some of you may remember him as the crazy guy that drove the water truck at Capeway in the ‘80s. He was the start flagger at the very first GP (Inter-Am) to ever come to the States in Pepperell, Massachusetts in 1967. Some say it was the very first professional (motocross) race ever in the U.S. Les had more energy at 92 than most of us have now! He and our families over the years became one. He will be missed. Godspeed, you crazy man!”
Shane Bartholf loved helping younger racers. He was a fine racer himself, having qualified for Loretta Lynn’s on nine different occasions. He did some 125cc AMA Supercross racing, and for a while lived with race-winners Casey Johnson and David Pingree. After his motocross career ended he went on to enjoy a successful second act as a real estate developer in his hometown of Rochester, New York. He was also one of the owners of Motovate Performance when he died unexpectedly after some health issues.
His poignant obituary said, “There are not enough adjectives to fully describe the life and legacy of Shane. He was a kind and loving man to all he met. He adored his daughter, loved the outdoors and riding anything on two wheels. Shane was a caring son and uncle and a cherished brother. He left us too soon on February 28, 2016 to begin his life in glory.”
At the 2016 Glen Helen National, brothers Alex and Jeremy Martin finished first and second overall in the 250 Class. Many thought that this was a first in AMA Pro Motocross history, but it had actually been done once before, way back in 1973. It happened at the old Lake Whitney Cycle Ranch’s 250 National, with Gary Jones leading his brother DeWayne to 1-2 overall finishes. The Jones brothers were American motocross royalty at the time, with Gary, already an AMA 250 National Champion, and their father Don a dominant figure, not only in his sons’ lives but also in the sport. Together the family made up the first incarnation of Team Honda in America, and before that they were Team Yamaha (and afterwards Team Can-Am). Throughout it all Don Jones was the leader, younger and faster brother Gary was the star, and DeWayne simply in the shadows—he just wasn’t as good as Gary. Even on his best day as a pro—June 17, 1973—DeWayne Jones still finished behind his younger brother.
In June, after a five-year battle with cancer, DeWayne Jones passed. He is survived by his brother Gary and his mom Melinda, and his children Stephanie and Jason. Motocross Action’s Jody Weisel, who knew the family well, wrote about the life and passing of DeWayne Jones in this eloquent remembrance.
People may not know the name Gene Ritchie, nor his results as a pioneering Midwest racer, or even the endless hours he put in while working at the motorcycle dealership he owned early on. What they will know, however, and respect with the highest regard possible is the motocross track he carved out of a beautiful valley outside Buchanan, Michigan. RedBud MX has long set the standard as the single best motocross facility in the entire sport, and its centerpiece, the RedBud National, held on July Fourth weekend, has grown into a right of passage, not only for those who grew up in the surrounding area, but for motocross enthusiasts the world over.
“Gene Ritchie built the perfect place for motocross,” said Jeff Emig, four-time Pro Motocross and Supercross Champion, upon the news of Ritchie’s passing in the spring. “The track was great, the facility was impeccable, and it never stopped improving. He and his family also built a culture of enthusiasm with Midwest fans and that made it so special. I believe every pro motocrosser that ever lined up at RedBud owes a great big thanks to Gene Ritchie. He was truly special.”
Gene Ritchie was 79 years old. He will someday be recognized in the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame.
Chuck “Feets” Minert may have a claim to have been the man who raced more times in his life than anyone in motocross history. He raced for more than 65 years, often multiple times each week. He was a BSA factory rider long ago, winning prestigious events like the Catalina Grand Prix off the coast of Southern California and earning himself a BSA factory ride along the way. He even raced the Daytona 200 back when it was held on Daytona Beach and was rougher than most motocross tracks get today. He even made a cameo appearance in Bruce Brown’s game-changing 1971 film On Any Sunday, the ultimate bona fides. Motocross Action’s Jody Weisel considered Feets, an AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame inductee, as not only a hero, but a close friend. In his recent magazine column he remembered Minert as “a father figure, a brother in arms, a mentor, and, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the nicest, most honest and humble man I have ever met…. Every motocross racer should remember Feets Minert—not just because he was a famous motorcycle racer who’s photo was on the covers of magazines, but because he was a man who so loved motocross that he couldn’t quit.”
Chuck “Feets” Minert raced right up to the very end. He was 85 years old.
Lynn Kirkland raced for much of his life, so like a lot of middle-aged moto men, he was still in outstanding shape. Having raced pro in the ‘80s, he was one of Pennsylvania AMA District 5’s fastest, most respect local pros, and he traveled the regional AMA National and Supercross schedule often with his close friend and fellow fast guy Mark Garrison. Later on, he traveled with his sons, and I saw him often spectating at local big races like the High Point National and the old Steel City National. Lynn also worked at Oberg Industries, and after 41 years of service, he was the director of operations at the company's Freeport plant. According to his obituary, “He approached every day with a positive attitude and demonstrated exemplary work ethic that will be remembered by all who knew him.”
Kirkland was out riding road bicycles with one of his sons when he suffered a massive heart attack and died. He was 60 years old.
Brad Zimmerman was a very influential and talented motorcycle journalist who wielded an influential pen in the ‘70s and ‘80s and later become a pioneer in the fledgling world of digital media. He was a test rider and editor, a race reporter, and even scored a cover of Motorcyclist Magazine riding a Kawasaki KX250 through a fire at night! He helped out Racer X Online a little when we get just getting into the game. But it was his time as feature editor at Motorcyclist than seemed to give him the most pride.
"Working as Feature Editor at Motorcyclist in the ’70s was the equivalent of a moto-journalist’s full-on factory ride,” he wrote in 2012, on the occasion of the magazine’s 100th anniversary in print. “My paycheck doubled from my previous stint at Popular Cycling. The team was eight times larger. The first day there, they gave me a van with a gas card. My office even had a door and came with a brand-new IBM Selectric 2 typewriter. I spent that afternoon at Bates getting spec’d for road-racing leathers, then over to Bell to get fitted for helmets. And it went uphill from there...
“Dave Ekins hired me. We had already worked together when he created the first Dirt Rider,” added Zimmerman, who, like Rick “Super Hunky” Sieman, Dick Miller, Kit Palmer, Jimmy “the Greek” Gianatsis, and a few other scribes all deserve to someday be in the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame. “Dave is the original Famous Unknown. An ISDT competitor, the first guy to do Baja, he’d won a ton of races that he rarely talked about. I wasn’t there long before he casually invited me to have lunch in our shop/garage with ‘Queenie.’ I’m guessing wife/daughter/mistress until Steve McQueen rolls through the door. Turns out, Ekins was one of his heroes.”
Martin Lampkin was an FIM World Champion in Trials, from a family that is true royalty in the most eloquent and personal forms of motorcycle competition. The Lampkins were a national treasure in Great Britain, much like the Dunlops are in Northern Ireland’s street racing scene. Martin Lampkin came up in the shadows of his older brothers, Arthur and Alan. And Martin’s own son, Dougie Lampkin, won the Scottish Six-Day Trials nine times and racked up an astonishing 12 FIM World Trials Championships. When Martin Lampkin died of cancer this past summer, he was 65 years old.
In a tragic coincidence of terrible proportion, two young AMA Flat Trackers lost their lives on the same afternoon at the Santa Rosa Mile in California. Kyle McGrane and Charlotte Kainz were young prospects hoping to make a name for themselves in one of the oldest forms of motorcycle racing when they suffered separate, fatal crashes.
Charlotte Kainz was 20 and hailed from Milwaukee. Kyle McGrane was from Gap, Pennsylvania. He was 17 years old. Charlotte and Kyle will forever be linked by the tragic events of September 25, 2016.
“Our hearts go out to their families and friends and they will be sorely missed in our paddock community,” said AMA Pro Racing CEO Michael Lock. “Both riders were popular figures at our events and many of you have special memories of them. In the coming days we will be working with the families to determine how AMA Pro Racing can best assist them in their time of need and honor their lost loved ones.”
Lock and AMA Pro Racing immediately began working on a new Advisory Group to help assist promoters and protect motorcycle races from freak (and separate) accidents that claimed the lives of McGrane and Kainz.
Mitch Hoad was fast and promising Australian motocrosser that grew up in the shadow of peers like Chad Reed, Michael Byrne, Brett Metcalfe and the late Andrew MacFarlane. He finished the 2005 season as the #2 ranked Australian in the Supercross Pro Lites Championship to Dan Reardon, and then second again in ’07 behind Jake Moss in the MX Nationals Pro Lites division. One friend posted on an Australian MX website, “This has rocked the moto community here as well as his hometown friends and family. Mitch had more natural talent than most the field put together, he was like a Josh Hansen-type rider, just so much natural flow on a bike, always looked like one with the bike without even trying, and unlike most he was an even better bloke off the bike!”
Mitch Hoad was a week shy of his 32nd birthday when he died unexpectedly in his sleep.
The fact that Steve Smith died in May after suffering a massive brain injury from an enduro motorcycle accident is as sad as it is cruelly ironic. Few in the dirt bike world probably knew who Smith was, outside of maybe those who knew him in his hometown of Nanaimo, British Columbia. But in the world of mountain biking and World Cup downhill cycling, Steve Smith was a global sensation. He was the 2013 World Cup Overall Champion, the pinnacle of his chosen sport. The winner of the 1991 World Cup? John Tomac.
“Today we lost a great person, who taught me about myself and influenced many,” said Devinci Global Racing team manager, Gabe Fox, in a press release on May 10, after their star athlete’s passing. “Stevie was a fierce competitor, an honest friend and a rider who made me proud on countless occasions. I am honoured to consider him my friend for so long.”
When he crashed in May while riding his motorcycle in the woods near Nanaimo. Steve Smith was 26 years old.
Carl "Big Daddy" Decotis was the father of Jimmy Decotis, a popular and successful rider not only in New England but all over the world. Mr. Decotis was something of a legend himself in New England motocross circles, a bigger-than-life presence who did his best to help countless riders, not just his own son. He often shared his second home in Florida with aspiring pros needing a place to stay over the winter while doing the Florida Winter-AMAs and training when it was cold up north. Chris O’Neal wrote of Big Daddy, “He was a very unique character that was loved by everyone! He lived life to the fullest and riding was his true love to the end of his life…. Everyone in New England is saddened of his passing. Godspeed, Carl ‘Big Daddy’ Decotis.”
Sten Lundin was one of the giants of Swedish motocross, from back in the era where the Swedes practically ruled the sport. Born in Stockholm in 1931, his first big success in racing was helping Team Sweden win in the 1955 FIM Motocross des Nations. In the years that followed he was a two-time FIM 500cc World Champion, riding the Swedish-made Monark motorcycle, against his local and global rivals Bill Nilsson and Rolf Tibblin—both world champions themselves. The generation that followed in their tracks would include Torsten Hallman, Bengt Aberg, Ake Jonsson, Hakan Andersson, Arne Kring, Christer Hammergren, Olle Petersson and more.
The fortunes of motocrossers from Sweden began to wane in the mid-70s, as did the fortunes of Swedish-made motorcycle companies like Monark, and Husqvarna, which is only now enjoying a rebirth with KTM’s influence. Lundin stayed active in motorcycle long after his professional career ended, often attending reunions and vintage events. When he passed in February, he was 84 years old.
Rick Weir was Texas Motocross pioneer and a longtime enthusiast. During the week he was a financial advisor in Houston, but on the weekends he was what we all aspire to be: an ageless motocross racer. Though the record books don’t show his successes like other great Texans like Wyman Priddy, Steve Wise, Kent Howerton, Steve Stackable or Dennis Hawthorne—Weir’s one and only AMA National finish was a 22nd overall finish on a Maico at the 1979 St. Petersburg 500cc National at Sunshine Speedway, the last race of that season—he was a big influence on the local racing scene. He passed suddenly due to a brain embolism.
“Rick was a genuine Texas fast guy, and an all-around great person,” wrote Shand Garcia, author of BERM: The Texas Motocross Chronicles. “Rick was an annual sponsor of the Old School Motocross Reunion down at Rio Bravo MX Park every year, and was always down to have some great bench racing. #222 will be missed by many of the original Texas fast guys of the 1970s and early 1980s.”
Kirk Layfield was one of the fittest, strongest and smartest men you might ever meet at a race—especially when it came to nutrition, training, and general health and well-being. And that’s no exaggeration just because he was a well-known and successful motocross trainer; Layfield graduated from the University of Florida with a Master of Science in Exercise Physiology, then earned his PhD in Sports Nutrition. Later he would become a paramedic, a firefighter, an EMS Instructor—even at the age of 50 he was fast and fit on a motorcycle, not to mention life in general, in no small part because he raced and rode motocross for 43 of those years. Then he crashed his motorcycle in September while practicing and suffered severe head and neck trauma. Despite the best efforts of the medical professionals around him, he did not make it. Kirk Layfield is survived by his loving wife Heather and his son Christian.
Later on, Heather posted this remembrance of Kirk on what would have been a special day: “A big ‘thumbs up!’ to celebrate my awesome husband, Kirk Layfield, on what would be his 51st birthday. There are simply no words to describe how much we miss him every minute of every day. I could share thousands of pictures that give just a glimpse of his dynamic personality and the countless fun, loving moments we shared, but this picture sums up who he was, the way he lived life and the description of where he is today. We love you and miss you, Daddy. Happy Heavenly Birthday! Heather and Christian.”
In the year that Team USA finally won the World Trophy for the first time in the International Six Days Enduro, the victory celebrations that followed not only included the late Kurt Caselli, a strong proponent of Team USA’s participation in this iconic event, but also for the lesser known Bill Hamilton. William Joseph "Bill" Hamilton was an off-roader from Montana who loved the ISDE with unbridled passion. He was a motorcycle rider from the age of three, and he worked his way up the ladder of enduro riding to the point where he was invited to participate in the broader Team USA contingent on three different occasions at the Six Days event. Hamilton earned a bronze medal at the ISDE in 1994 as a member of the Montana group when the event was held in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He also raced the annual ISDE when it was held in Finland as well as Poland, and was even a team manager one year when it ran in the Czech Republic. As a matter of fact, Hamilton was the only rider from the state of Montana to ever compete in the most prestigious event in all of off-road racing. Hamilton was also a snowboarder, a skier and an excellent mountain bike rider. And after earning two science degrees from the University of Montana, he joined the motorcycle industry work force with a gig at Western Power Sports. Even though he wasn’t on the job long, his dealers were said to have described him as "hands down the best, hardest working rep they ever had."
Team USA alumni Bill Hamilton passed away on September 29, at the age of 41, after a sudden blood clot. Less than three weeks, Team USA finally won the World Trophy Championship in Navarra, Spain.
Chris Jonnum, a veteran of Cycle News as well as Road Racer X, wrote these poignant words about the passing of his uncle, Roland “Corky” Jonnum:
“Born in Williston, North Dakota, Roland was the first child of Orlando and Ethel (Anderson) Jonnum. After living between Williston and Pittsburg, Kansas, the family relocated to Southern California when Roland and younger brother Jerome were toddlers. Following a stint in Bell Gardens, the Jonnums settled in Downey, where their number grew by two with the births of Stephen and Gail.
“A good student who rarely got in trouble, “Corky” grew up playing with Jerry and their friends in the then-semi-rural area, building model airplanes, riding his scooter and Harley-Davidson 125cc motorcycle along the Rio Hondo River, building forts, and having BB gun fights among the boulders along the railroad tracks. During the family’s semi-annual summer car trips to the family farm in Tioga, North Dakota, and later to Alaska and Minnesota, Roland and his siblings passed their days enjoying the outdoors.
“Roland graduated from Downey High School in 1955 and attended Compton Junior College before earning his BSME from USC in 1960. The region’s burgeoning aerospace industry provided his first engineering jobs, and he owned a series of motorcycles, hot rods, and sports cars. A pair of protracted excursions to Europe in the 1960s left an indelible mark, but more consistent were Roland’s car-camping outings to the mountains and deserts of the American Southwest. He also continued his education, earning an MSME from USC and an MBA from UCLA.
“After working on NASA’s Space Shuttle program and contracting for a number of aerospace firms, Roland lived mainly on income derived from sound investments and occasionally testifying as an expert witness on product-liability litigation.
“Although he never married or had children of his own, Roland reveled at get-togethers with his extended family, often at the Antelope Valley dwellings of his siblings or his parents’ Colorado River vacation mobile home. He sometimes chaperoned his young nephews on road trips, sharing with them his lifelong hobbies of camping, fishing and motorcycling.”
Roland is survived by all three of his siblings and their extended families. He will be missed for his quiet generosity, his unassuming loyalty and clever sense of humor. He was 79 years old.
Mike McDonald always had the perfect gear, the perfect graphics, the perfect hair, the perfect smile on his face. He grew up in racing family outside Pittsburgh, and he spent almost every weekend of the first two-thirds of his life at motocross tracks all over the East Coast. Later in life he went to work in auto sales, but he never lost his love for motorcycling, as Harley-Davidsons replaced his many Suzuki RMs as his ride of choice. Mike was living in Phoenix when he was found dead in his bed, the victim of an apparent heart attack. He was buried a week later near his home on the outskirts of Pittsburgh. He was 45 years old.
Finally, like a little boy with a minicycle Braxton Smith probably wanted to be a motocross racer when he grew up. In fact, he already was one, racing around North Carolina with his father Kevin Smith, who was well known in local racing circle. Kevin was a track owner, a racer, and continues to be one of those all-around good guys that a fellow racer could count on. His young son was preparing to qualify for what would have been his first-ever Loretta Lynn’s race when the vehicle he was riding in, driven by his grandparents, was hit by a truck. The accident cost Kevin Smith his son Braxton, and it cost the sport of motocross and even the world in general the chance to get to know this fine young boy with a very bright future. Godspeed. Braxton Smith was six years old.
You can also read "The Lives They Lived" 2015.