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 2020.
In a year of extraordinary loss to the coronavirus, Michael Mars may have been the first person many in the motocross world knew who succumbed to COVID-19. Mars, who hailed from the Sacramento area, was a member of the Dirt Diggers North Motorcycle Club, the organizers of the Hangtown Classic. Mars was also an infield flagger on both the AMA Supercross and Pro Motocross teams, traveling around the country to be close to the sport he dearly loved. His real job, though, was as a guard at Folsom State Prison, not far from the Hangtown motocross track. Mars was 54 years old and he took care of himself, but early this summer he got really sick. At first he thought it was just a cold, but it progressed quickly, and he ended up in the hospital. He posted a message on Facebook on July 12 after an outbreak at the prison led to more than a hundred positive cases.
Update: Well as many of you know I went to the ER last Tuesday. I was diagnosed with Pneumonia and a few other things. Friday morning I got the test results back from Covid and unfortunately I am POSITIVE. It really really sucks!!! Zero energy, body hurts, no appetite, along with all the other symptoms. So, here are the positives that I am looking at... I’m actually glad it has happened in Summer, my Dr. and I are doing “At Home” treatment, and I have the best girlfriend Christine taking great care of me. I appreciate all the love and support, but I would like you to pray for all the doctors and nurses out there, not me. I got this you guys!
Unfortunately, his health worsened, and he was readmitted to the hospital and put on a ventilator for four weeks. When he died in early August, his family had to say their goodbyes over Facetime due to hospital restrictions. And when the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship finally started back up on August 15 at Loretta Lynn's Ranch, his friends and coworkers held a small memorial for Michael Mars behind the starting gate, under the AMA tent, where he was always smiling as he worked with the riders and mechanics during tech inspection. For the rest of the series, Mars' hard-card credential hung in the doorway of the AMA rig from a black ribbon as a reminder to his fellow officials to take the virus seriously and employ every precaution they could to keep themselves safe.
It’s not a perfect photo by any technical standards—grainy, busy, flat, blurry—yet it's the most perfect picture to illustrate what made Marty Smith our first motocross idol, and forever an American motocross icon. It was shot on April 4, 1976 on the infield of the Hangtown Motocross Classic at Plymouth track when Smith was at the peak of his stardom, despite only being 19 years old. Already a two-time AMA 125 National Champion, he was Team Honda's #1 rider and everyone's favorite to dominate yet another season on his exotic Type II Honda RC125 prototype works bike. But it didn't work out the way anyone expected, least of all Smith. That the bike proved to be unreliable was one thing; the fact that Smith and everyone else were completely caught off guard by an ascendent and explosive new rival in Bob "Hurricane" Hannah was another. These two realizations happened at once for everyone. Twenty minutes into a fierce battle on the opening day of the season, Smith's engine let go and Hannah raced away toward a shocking win. Smith suffered the indignity of having to push his fire engine red Honda through the Hangtown infield, right through the middle of a crowd of spectators every bit as stunned as he was. Having won three times as many 125 Nationals as everyone else combined to this point, it had to be the most challenging moment of his still-young career. Yet there is Marty Smith, the very picture of grace under pressure, marching his broken bike through it all like a proud prizefighter following an unexpected knockout, defiantly up off the canvas, his unsnapped red Jofa hanging down from his hand-painted Electro helmet, parting an adoring crowd in that signature red-white-and-blue gear, the fans then following him like they were his entourage. Which the first generation of American motocross enthusiasts were in the 1970s: Marty Smith fans, one and all.
There are hundreds of thousands of photos of the charismatic Smith showing off either his matinee-idol looks, his perfect riding form, his contagious smile, or his immaculate red-white-and-blue riding gear, but this one shows his depth, his pride, and what he meant to an adoring public on his worst day.
When Marty Smith his wife, Nancy, died on April 27 in the Algodone Dunes of Southern California in a dune buggy rollover, we lost a childhood hero and a motocross god. Smith was the epitome of cool in the mid-seventies, the first American superstar of motocross. There's not enough room on the internet to explain all the things he meant to the then-fledgling sport and industry—the awards, the titles, the accolades, the influence, the honest idolization—though since his death we've all tried. There are countless photographs of this legend at the peak of his career, but it’s this photo, shot by an unidentified person on the infield of Hangtown in April of 1976, and shared after the passing of Nancy and Marty Smith, that really says it all.
There was a time when Gary Wells was among the most famous motorcycle riders of all, though not always for the right reasons. Wells was stuntman and long-distance jumper in the 1970s with aspirations to be the next Evel Knievel. At one point he even held the world's long-distance jumping record at 176 feet. He was featured on the CBS Sports Spectacular, NBC Nightly News, and various late-night talk shows
He spent years lobbying the people at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas to allow him to replicate Evel's famous jump over the fountain outside the grand entrance of the hotel casino. When the approval finally came, Wells teamed up with the popular ABC reality show That's Incredible to perform the leap on live television. It did not go well. Wells was riding a Honda "red rocket" and outfitted himself in a matching red tuxedo for the stunt. Pinning the throttle for a parking lot, he was up to reached 85 mph when he took off from the ramp. He had the distance to clear the mountain but unfortunately just missed the narrow landing ramp, clipping it to the right. He landed hard and somehow stayed on the bike, but he was out of control and slammed into the casino's cement wheel, breaking both legs, racking his pelvis, and severing his aorta. Doctors performed surgery on him the next day, and he began a long recovery. The Caesar's Palace attempt was the only time in his jumping career that Wells suffered a major crash.
After a long recovery, Wells, a motocross and flat track racer before he started jumping, returned to motorcycle riding, but in a much safer manner. He toured Latin America doing stunt-riding shows, eventually working his way to Sonora, Mexico, where he went into business hosting trail rides along the Sonoran coast. Locals affectionately referred to Wells as El Gringo Loco, or crazy white man. In August of this year, Wells was in Glendale, Arizona, when he passed away due to natural causes. He was 63 years old.
Lauren Cole stood out in just about any crowd, but even more so when she was in the mechanics' signaling area of Lucas Oil Pro Motocross, where for a time she helped out her fast friend and privateer Nick Fratz-Orr. Her parents didn’t even know she had anything to do with motocross until someone showed them a photo of her standing in the mechanics' area with a tool kit. Before this young woman started traveling to the races, she was into a whole myriad of sports, including lacrosse, softball, soccer, swimming, cheering, and more. She was an avid hunter and fisher. She graduated from West Virginia University with a degree in Social Work and went to work at Valley Mental Health. It was said of Lauren, "She had the biggest heart and never met a stranger she couldn’t bond with. Her empathetic nature helped many people. She put the needs of others ahead of her own. She had a very kind and generous heart." Sadly, tragically, she slipped away from this world unexpectedly on the evening of July 9. She was 26 years old.
Sante Mazzarolo made shoes for hiking in the mountains near his home in Italy. A leather craftsman, he saw the need for something comfortable, stylish, and durable. He needed a name for his new brand of boots and settled on Alpinestars, the English translation for stella alpina, the wildflower that grows high in the mountains of Italy (also known as edelweiss). Soon, the boot-maker began expanding into other fields and markets, including motorcyclists and race car drivers. From that very simple beginning, Alpinestars grew into one of the most iconic and well-known brands in motorsports. Because as Sante continued to focus on the manufacturing aspects of the company, his son Gabriele because a global ambassador for the brand his father started in the mountains of Italy.
Today, Alpinestars is still there in Asollo, Italy, but their products, literally head-to-toe protection, are everywhere—Formula 1, NASCAR, MotoGP, and of course motocross and supercross. In fact, one of the first racers Sante Mazzarolo sponsored was a young up-and-coming Belgian motocrosser named Roger De Coster. Today, in SX/MX alone, the list of Alpinestars athletes includes Eli Tomac, Jeffrey Herlings, Cooper Webb, Justin Barcia, Marvin Musquin, Jason Anderson, Dylan Ferrandis, Chase Sexton, Romain Febvre, Hunter and Jett Lawrence, Tom Vialle…. There are literally too many to name.
Sante Mazzarolo made his mark on motorsports and much, much more. He was 91 years old when he passed peacefully at his home in Italy in May.
Jimmy Gibson was one of the fastest riders to ever come out of Virginia. He grew up in a motorcycling family—his father, Cecil, was the lead mechanic for Cycle Sport Yamaha and rode for them as an amateur, battling the likes of AMA Amateur National Champions David Bailey, Ferrell McCollough, and Jeff Callihan. This was in the pre-Loretta Lynn's era, and while Gibson was often in the lead mix, he never quite reached the top, nor did he enjoy a professional career. Instead, he went to work as a surveyor with Tri-Tek Engineering. When he passed away in February at the age of 58, there was an outpouring of tributes from many of the riders and friends he touched.
"Anybody that was involved in mid-Atlantic motocross in the 70’s and early 80’s knew who the Gibsons were and knew that they were something special, both on and off the track," wrote friend and fellow competitor Barry Moore.
“As a young man racing motocross, I looked up to Jimmy as we raced on the same team - Cycle Sport Yamaha," offered Vincent Cook. "He was soft spoken and the ultimate sportsman even when he didn't win a race. I watched every one of his motos and cheered him on from the sidelines. Although I had posters of professionals on my bedroom walls it was Jimmy who was my true hero. He always let his riding do the talking. I am the man I am the man today because of Jimmy's good sportsmanship."
“Jimmy was quiet, polite, kind, and dedicated," added David Nees, co-owner of Cycle Sport. "It was a joy to go to the races and watch Jimmy, most often out front, with his Cycle Sport jersey on. He and his dad drew many young racers into their orbit, making them better for the experience."
If you attended national championship amateur or professional races in the eighties and nineties, chances are you saw Doc Medsker. A pioneer in health and nutrition and chiropractic therapy, Dr. Dennis Medsker worked with many of that era’s top riders, including Rick Johnson, Jeff Stanton, David Bailey, and more. But before he found his way into motocross, Medsker was a pilot serving in the U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard in Vietnam. He was also a gymnast who was talented enough on a trampoline that he was once invited to the Olympics for an exhibition. Medsker soon found himself at Palmer Chiropractic College, where he earned his doctorate in Chiropractics. It was after he met Gary Bailey and Billy Liles that Doc and took an interest in motocross racing, which quickly turned into a passion. He bought a trailer and started a traveling clinic, following the professional motocross circuit and helping riders with adjustments, nutrition, and any other health needs that might arise—and not just racers but their families and team members too.
"He was very passionate about motocross & fixing people and it was what truly made him tick," posted his son after Doc passed away in April after a major stroke. "Know that he passed peacefully in his sleep and in his last days he was in good spirits. He loved you all and would want you to know that he is fine and going on his next journey."
Brian Joseph Weigandt was the father of our own Jason Weigandt. He passed over the Christmas holiday at his home in New Jersey. Jason posted the following on Instagram:
If type A personalities are risk takers and go-getters, my dad was type Z. My dad built his life to avoid risk, in mortal fear of being poor. He curved all ambition. Ambition makes you try things but also creates a chance for failure. The great Philosopher Homer Simpson once said “You tried and you failed. The lesson is: never to try.” You know how most parents think their kids are more talented than they are? How they believe they’re destined for greatness? My dad was the opposite. Setting up for achievement also set up for disappointment. He was the most neutral person ever. He never told us we were good or bad, he never taught us stuff, he never pushed us, he never had dreams for us. That was too risky. We were on our own to figure everything out. This used to make me mad, but knowing my dad’s limitations, the things he did do were pretty amazing. His true destiny was probably living alone in a trailer stuffing cash under the mattress. But he started a family and we did stuff. He loved going to Disney World to a strange degree. He says it made him forget the risks and stresses of the normal world. He also let me ride quads. I wasn’t allowed to race or have a motorcycle, those were high risk, but for him, knowing his limitations, that was an amazing stretch. He did it because he loved me. He went as far as he could.
As my dad got older, he started retreating further into that hermit existence he really wanted. It drove my mom nuts and they separated. He later met another woman who loved him and understood that he wanted to be anti-social. They literally lived in a secluded house in the woods. Unfortunately she died after a horrendous battle with cancer. It was much more stress than someone like my dad, who had built his life to avoid drama, could take. He had tried to love and sacrifice, and I know he feels like he took a chance and it let him down. He was heartbroken. The last three years of his life he was not the same. It upsets me because he never got to know my own son like he should have. I’m thankful that he was an excellent grandfather to my daughter in her younger years. I had hoped my kids could bring some joy back to his life but he was just too sad.
As the longtime editor and associate publisher of Cycle News, the "weekly bible of motorcycle racing," Jack Mangus had a huge influence on the American motorcycling industry. Cycle News had East and West offices for a long time, and when it was time to put them together into one national publication, Mangus moved from his base in Tucker, Georgia, to Long Beach, California, in order to make the union happen. Every week he helped decide just how much coverage one form of racing or another deserved, parceling out the pages according to the level of importance he felt the event or series deserved: flat track (his first love), road racing, motocross, supercross, flat track, trials, hillclimb—everything. Mangus also worked with a very long list of aspiring motorcycle racing journalists at some point in their careers, including the Charlie Morey, Jim Gianatsis, Jody Weisel, the late Henny Ray Abrams, Mark Karyia, Kit Palmer, Ken Faught, Donn Maeda, Nate Rauba, and many more. Said Tom Mueller, “When I started at Cycle News East in 1979, I was 100% motocross. Jack taught me to appreciate, made me cover all motorcycle sport. 'It's good, brave riders on their flying machines.'”
Said another one of his students, Mark Thome, "He was my all time favorite motorcycle journalist. Jack was an SOB to work for, sorta, but every editor who learned under him turned out to be top shelf writers and shooters in their own right. As knowledgeable and passionate as he was about the sport, he was an incredibly well-rounded man. On top of that, his love and devotion for Edwina knew no bounds." Jack's wife, Edwina, also worked for the publication for a time and passed away several years ago.
"I won't pretend it was always easy having him as a boss, but I benefited from it immensely," said another colleague, Chris Jonnum. "He sat in the cubicle next to mine, and his cigarette smoke would waft over all day long. I'd agonize over stories before submitting them, then sit on pins and needles as he edited them. I dreaded being called into his cube to have him point out mistakes I'd made and ways that my copy could be improved, but I still draw upon those lessons daily."
Chris Ow, 54, was a lifelong rider who hailed from Santa Cruz County in California. He was practically born into it, as his father, David Ow, was one of the founding members of the Ridge Runners Motorcycle Club, which helped usher in modern motocross in California. In 1968, the club organized the Golden Gate International Moto-Cross, part of Edison Dye's Inter-Am tour, at De Lavega Park in Santa Cruz. (It's now a golf course.) By that point, Chris was already on minicycles, but when BMX started to really catch on in the mid-seventies, he began competing at the highest levels, winning a world title in 1977 when he was 12 years old. Later on, Chris graduated from Chico State and joined the family businesses, managing King's Village Shopping Center and also working as a third-generation property manager with Ow Family Properties. But his love for motorcycling stayed with him, his motto in lifer to simply "ride happy." He often partnered with his father to ride in the Colorado 500 charity event, where Chris earned both Rider of the Year and the Ironman Award from his fellow participants.
In November, Chris was practicing at Glen Helen Raceway a few days before the annual Vet World Championship event when he crashed off a jump and went down hard. Fellow riders and track personnel did their best to help him, but Ow's injuries were fatal. Upon news of Chris Ow's passing at the age of 54 there was an outpouring of support and sympathy from all over the motorcycling world. His family responded with a note that "racing and the racing community were an influential part of his life. The positive energy he brought to the race track led to many meaningful friendships."
Kerry Williams was one of those rank-and-file regular riders who just loved the sport. He was a regular at races big and small all around his region: Maryland, Eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey. One of his fellow riders said of him, "Kerry was one of the happiest and nicest guys at the track. Always willing to lend a hand and help anyone even if it was a complete stranger. He defined Moto. The northeast moto scene is going to miss that man." Last year Kerry Williams was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer and told he had three months left on this earth. He passed on the last day of March 2020.
French magazine journalist Eric Breton was part of a very influential group of editors at Moto Verte and Moto Revue, as well as Rock & Folk magazine, working alongside Xavier Auduoard, the late Pat Boulland, Marc Blanchard, and more. Breton was also one of the co-creators of the Bercy Supercross in Paris, which first ran in March of 1983. They called themselves the CCA, which stood for Cross Critik Association, and they often traveled to major international races together, including California, where they would attend AMA Supercross races in San Diego or the Los Angeles or outdoor nationals at Hangtown and Saddleback. Those visits are what inspired them to create the Bercy SX, which in turn became their annual showcase.
It was the Bercy race, as well as the editorial focus of the CCA, that turned France on to the concept of supercross and how it could transform French talent. The overwhelming success of the early races led to the creation of a domestic supercross series, which eventually groomed a large swath of Frenchmen, creating opportunities in the U.S. for them. At the tip of the spear was Jean-Michel Bayle, who embarked on a quest to conquer the AMA Supercross Series in 1989. By the end of 1991, Bayle was the AMA Supercross Champion, as well as the 250 Pro Motocross and 500 Pro Motocross Champion. He would be followed to the States by such talents as Mickael Pichon, Stephane Roncada, David Vuillemin, Sebastien Tortelli, Christophe Pourcel, Dylan Ferrandis, and more.
Shortly before Breton passed, during the spring lockdown, Moto-Verte.com published a few articles that were written in the early 1980s about how supercross was going to to radically change the international motocross scene. The re-publishing of the articles and subsequent passing of Breton triggered JMB to send a text to Auduoard about how the CCA inspired him and changed his whole life.
"Before Bercy there were no international titles for French riders, not even one world championship, let alone a win at the Motocross des Nations," explained Auduoard of the race's influence. "But after that, there have been many, many world titles for Frenchmen, as well as five of the last six des Nations. So, as much as SX helped U.S. riders to dominate the world for decades, SX helped the French riders to become their main competitors, both on home soil and internationally.”
When asked about his friend and cohort, Auduoard said, "I guess there is only one person in the world who interviewed the likes of Mick Jagger and Lou Reed, as well as the likes of Kenny Roberts and Valentino Rossi, and the likes of Ricky Johnson and Stefan Everts and Jeremy McGrath, and that man was Eric Breton, journalist extraordinaire. He was instrumental in the success story of French MX/SX, which shaped international racing as we know it."
Breton died in early May in Thailand, following a bout of heat exhaustion. As he would have said, "It was a hell of a ride."
Del Sepkovic loved his wife of 62 years, Carol, his seven children, his numerous grandchildren, and even a great-grandchild. He also loved riding his Harley-Davison, something he did right up to the point where he physically couldn't do it—but not for lack of trying. Sepkovic served in the U.S. Navy and was a veteran of the Korean War. Afterward, he settled in Connellsville, Pennsylvania, where he and Carol met, married, and started their big family. Along the way his boys discovered motocross, and the whole family would load up every weekend to go to races at local tracks like Motordrome, Rocky Ridge, Country Springs, The Challenger, Brownsville, Pyramid Valley, Steel City, and High Point. And that wasn't always easy—not only because of the size of the family, but the fact that he was a man of God, ministering in many churches, prisons, hospitals, and of course at the racetrack. There are many riders and families who were introduced to the Bible by Del Sepkovic and comforted by him in their times of need and sorrow. He passed in July at his home in Connellsville aged 83, surrounded by his loving family.
Terry Huddle was known as "Shotgun Huddle" around Texas motocross circles, having worked the starting gate at Freestone County Raceway for many years. In fact, the whole Huddle family was involved, as Terry's wife, Vickie, worked sign-in registration and scoring, and son Chris worked the finish-line flags when he and his brother Rusty weren't racing. They served our community for over two decades. Said Taryn King, one of the many, many riders Huddle worked with over the years, "Terry was always there cheering me on my good days and bad days. He always made sure to keep me motivated not only on the track but off the track especially with college."
Said Shand Garcia, "Terry was on a mission to run the classes as efficient as possible, sometimes too efficient... He loaded those gates quick and shot the riders down the start straight like no others!"
Terry Huddle was 64 years old when he passed last week at his home in Scurry, Texas.
Dave Miller was one of the most celebrated, interesting, and unique minds motocross has probably ever known. Part artist, part engineer, Miller was at the forefront of motocross exotica. A pro racer himself in Southern California, he transitioned into building parts for others, first with his Miller Mano company, which he started in 1975 with the slogan "Everything is sano at Miller Mano," and then later Dave Miller Concepts. The motorcycles and minicycles he built were practically works of art. For instance, the aluminum-framed 1984 Yamaha YZ80 he built for Eddie Hicks sits in the Troy Lee Designs showroom to this day. Miller himself had a shop on LaPalma Avenue in Anaheim and made everything from custom Hodakas to custom Whizzers. Sadly, he was working in that shop when he passed away in May at the age of 64, having recently completed a series of chemotherapy treatments for cancer.
Wrote his friend Jody Weisel of Motocross Action, "Dave was a genius, and we mean the MIT, rocket scientist, change the world kind of genius—and we are grateful that he applied his unique view of the world and his sometimes crackpot ingenuity to motocross. If you needed something fabricated, something unique built, something off the wall or an unobtainable part made, Dave was your man... Other people will be able to make things, but they won’t be Dave Miller. His genius was with a torch, a CNC-machine and his mind. There will never be another like him."
And PatRick Johnson, Miller's fellow bike-building craftsman, said, “Dave was a sculptor, a painter, an architect, an engineer, a chemist and a physicist. He could explain the inner workings of a motorcycle and tell you where to best set up for the next corner. He was a true Renaissance man. Dave was our Michelangelo, our Da Vinci. He molded motorcycles with his hands out of raw metal and saw potential in a design none of us could ever imagine. He was cut from a rare cloth that they don’t make anymore and there are but a few of him left.”
Brandon Prahm was born in California, but his parents moved to Texas when he was three to open a Home Discount Center. He would grow up going back and forth between the Lone Star State and the Golden State. He also developed a fondness for cooking and for motocross, and as he got older, he tied those two passions together, often cooking for friends at various races. He was a very good rider, though after a big crash in 2007 that almost left him in a wheelchair, he found his interest better served in working as a trainer and coach. It wasn't long before he was back on the bike, and within two years he opened his own motocross clinic, 765 MX School. From there he hand a hand in many young riders' careers, helping them to find the speed and skill and proper habits they needed to advance. When Prahm died in late June due to a medical condition, he was in California, not Texas, where he often passed the afternoons on his family's ranch fishing, smoking meats, and enjoying the beauty of the place. With that in mind, his fiancée, Heather Battle, put together a GoFundMe to help the family get Brandon back to Texas so he could be laid to rest with his family. The fundraiser succeeded, and on July 25, Brandon Prahm finally made it back home.
“Brandon was one of the most crazy, outgoing, down to earth men you would have ever met,” Battle posted. “His time here was cut short but was not uneventful by far. He made friends everywhere he went. Had stories for days. No matter what was going on he would put a smile on your face, whether at the track making you do push-ups for not having a water or being our constant meme dealer. He touched so many people and will be remembered forever.”
You may not know the name Jerry Deleo, but if you're reading this website, you see the fruit of some of his labors every Saturday night during the Monster Energy AMA Supercross Series. Deleo was introduced as “The Factory Landlord” in a Racer X magazine profile by Eric Johnson. Brett Smith of WeWentFast.com described Deleo's existence at his family business, the Corona Clay Company, established in 1948, as “The Old Man and the Clay.”
"In the supercross world, anybody that is somebody knows him, yet the octogenarian hasn’t been to a race since Jeff Ward retired in 1992," explained Smith in his feature. "If supercross ever had an unheralded benefactor, it’s this old man. Jerry Deleo holds the curious distinction of owning the land where the factory supercross test tracks have been since the mid-80s and early 90s. There are nine supercross tracks on the approximately 400 acres of land he owns in Corona. Eight of them are within sight of each other."
Smith explained in his feature how exactly Deleo got into the business of renting land and equipment to various supercross teams, beginning with Kawasaki—the only visible from Interstate 15—as a way to compete with Team Honda's HondaLand concept in the early 1980s. He also tells of how Deleo's daughter met one of the riders at the Kawasaki track in the late eighties and ending up marrying him just a few years later in 1991. When the rider retired in 1992, that's when Jerry quit going to supercross races.
“It’s with a heavy, heavy heart️ my father in-law Papa Jerry passed away yesterday,” wrote two-time AMA Supercross Champion Jeff Ward when Deleo passed earlier this year at the age of 86. “I've known Papa for 40 years, back when Kawasaki built the first SX track on Corona Clay Land. Now we have nine tracks. Papa would be up at 4 a.m. and go all day and when he sat in his chair at night you had about 10 minutes to talk before he was out sleeping. His kindness and laugh was infectious and if you were lucky you got the shoulder rub. He is going to be missed so much... I was so blessed to have papa in my life. RIP Papa, I love you.”
Patrick Koether was a longtime moto enthusiast and avid backcountry skier, which made Boise, Idaho, where he went to college, the perfect place for him and his wife, Susie, to settle. Koether, 51, worked at Rekluse Motor Sports, where he was National Sales Manager. He was a longtime member of Boise Ridge Riders, DIRT Inc., the Harley-Davidson Owners Group, and the American Motorcycle Association. He was also a member of the Silver Sage Region Porsche Club of America. Anytime friends and colleagues visited Idaho, PK was proud to take them on scenic tours of the beautiful countryside aboard motorcycles. When he passed in June due to melanoma, his friends and coworkers at Rekluse wrote, "This is a great loss for us all. Patrick was a bright light in the world. Among other things, he was loving, generous, kind and courageous. He has been and will remain a big piece of Rekluse and the powersports industry. Through all of us, his memory and example will live on."
Bruce Flanders' voice was heard all over the motorsports world. He started out calling speedway racing, then ventured into motocross, stock car racing, open-wheel racing, and more. He was often heard at West Coast rounds of Lucas Oil Pro Motocross, his morning radio voice a steady a pleasant change from others’ more bombastic race calls. He was 74 years old when he passed away in August after a long battle with heart disease. Upon his passing, Motocross Action said of Flanders, "Bruce came for a motorcycle family. His father Earl not only owned the Flanders company, which was the importer for BMW in the USA, but Earl also raced Speedway, organized the Bonneville Salt Flat speed trials. Bruce followed in his father’s footsteps and became a good speedway racer on the SoCal circuit, until he got bit by the announcing bug and quit racing in 1974 to become the announcer at Lions Drag Strip. Bruce would announcer at any event where bikes and cars went fast and often worked four days a week at the races. He had a unique sound and anyone who ever heard Bruce’s voice over a public address system will remember it for as long they live."
Mike Daro was a popular 33-year-old amateur motocrosser from Lake Elsinore, California. He was also the father of six young children with his partner and fiancée, Aimee Jessica. On March 8, Daro was riding at Cahuilla Creek off State Highway 371 in Riverside County when he went down hard.
"We are deeply saddened by the sudden loss of our team member Mike Daro," Chaparral Motosports wrote on their social media (Daro was a longtime service tech). "Our hearts and thoughts go out to Mike’s family and friends in this difficult time. Mike had been a part of the Chaparral team for the past nine years serving as a technician in our service department. Mike was an extremely knowledgeable, dedicated, and well-respected employee with a bright smile and passion for dirt bikes. His love for dirt bikes was only surpassed by his love for his family. Mike was a doting husband and father to six wonderful children. Our deepest sympathies and condolences to the entire Daro family and their extended network of friends who lost a great man."
A GoFundMe page was set up for Mike Daro with a goal to raise $25,000 for his family, which has since been surpassed.
Giorgio Saporiti was a highly respected motocross promoter from Italy. His biggest mark on the sport was his FastCross race, an international match race of sorts that brought top American riders to Italy to compete against Europe's best on a track that was usually a mix of supercross and outdoor motocross. Between 1984 and 2000 it was one of the most prestigious events on the calendar, with top American riders like Jeremy McGrath, Ricky Johnson, Jeff Emig, Damon Bradshaw, Jimmy Button, Trampas Parker, and three-time FastCross winner Larry Ward among the famous annual visitors to Arsago Seprio, a small town in Northern Italy near Varese. There they would take on the best international riders of the era, ranging from Stefan Everts and Alex Puzar to Greg Albertyn and Grant Langston.
In Italy, however, the FastCross was not what made Giorgio Saporiti famous. Instead, it was his work in his studio. Saporiti was a world-renowned architect, furniture designer, textile maker, and more. His modern design concepts of spaces and furniture were remarkable, from elegant open-space lofts to Art Deco sofas and chairs.
"With a sad heart I have to say goodbye to Giorgio Saporiti Sr., AKA 'Capo,'" posted Ricky Johnson, a frequent participant in the FastCross races. "I talked to Paolo and Giorgio Jr. this morning. He went in his sleep this morning. The Saporiti’s are my Italian family. I had so many great days in Besnate and at @fastcross_official . RIP Capo. You treated us all like champions."
Here is the Motoworld coverage of the 1995 version of Saporiti's FastCross
Aaron Arnbrister hailed from Kerman, California, where he owned Payton Trucking & Repair. He was a longtime rider, though he was visiting Gorman MX for the first time on October 9 when he crashed off the track into a fence. Despite the best efforts of the track personnel, he did not survive the accident. His brother Kevin Arnbrister explained in a Vital MX Forum post that he rode frequently and was very experienced: "This was a freak accident. He had called his mom before the last lap saying he was going to go around one more time and then pack up but he never made it around... Aaron went out doing what he loved."
A tribute to the 47-year-old Arnbrister read, "If you knew Aaron, you loved Aaron. He always had a smile on his face, and he brought laughter wherever he was. His circle was large. It included his customers, his motocross friends and his family. His motocross friends will always fondly remember ‘A-Aron,’ #206, as a valiant competitor, a trusted friend and a gentleman. His family was the true love of his life and motocross was his passion. Even though we all mourn the tragic loss of this wonderful man, we know he left this world doing what he loved the most. He will be missed by many, but he will never be forgotten."
Aaron Arnbrister is survived by his wife, Kortney, and his 12-year-old daughter, Payton.
This column appeared in Racer X magazine upon the passing of Kenny "The Missile" Blissett this past summer.
And then there was Kenny “The Missile” Blissett. He kept popping up in the very early years of minicycle racing, when the AMA held a Youth National series in 1973 and ’74. He was from Richland, Indiana, and he raced a Steen minicycle in both flat track and motocross. Among his biggest successes was beating a fast little kid from California who happened to be a Honda factory rider: Jeff Ward. He was obviously very good, especially in flat track, but he more or less disappeared from the scene in 1976, a playground legend like Ferrell McCollough who was done before he was even old enough to vote. So I did what all amateur detectives do these days: got on Facebook and started looking around for Ken or Kenny or Kenneth Blissett. And there he was, still in Indiana. So I reached out to him and ended up exchanging a few emails as he told me his story.
“I started riding when I was nine years old, trail riding with my mom and dad,” said Blissett. “Both of them rode motorcycles. My first motorcycle was an Ace 90 Hodaka, and then shortly afterwards, because I couldn’t touch the ground, Yamaha came out with the mini Enduros. After I got that bike I was no longer being waited on but was instead waiting on my parents and their friends!” Blissett’s first race was at Tell City, Indiana, when he was ten years old, finishing second place on a completely stock bike. “After that, my dad started doing things to it to soup it up, and then the first-place trophies started rolling,” said a still-proud Blissett. The next year he got an Alsport Steen with a 100cc Hodaka motor. “My dad souped it up pretty well right from the getgo, and it turned out that I probably had the fastest Hodaka in the country. He lengthened the swingarm, cut the leading link front end off of it, put forks from a Yamaha street bike on it. It handled halfway decent. “That was the year we went to Saddleback Park for the NMA Grand Nationals, and I won first place in both of my classes,” he recalled. “It was supposed to be a motocross race, but thank God we brought our flat track tires! I couldn’t believe all the fourstrokes out there. . . . And we finally found out what all those shiny gas cans were for—they were running nitro and methyl alcohol in them. I was wondering why they kept them covered up with wet towels!”
In 1973, Blissett received a factory sponsorship from Alsport Steen. “I only ran a few races that year, skipping Texas and out west,” he said. “I did run the AMA National at Mid-Ohio, which was televised on The Go Show, and a couple more events, securing the national championship. The awards ceremony was at the Jai Alai Motel in Daytona during the next year’s Speed Week. I was given my gold medal and national number plate for the next year right along with the big boys like Kenny Roberts. It was neat!” Blissett closed by telling me that 1976 was the last year he ran competitively in the AMA. “It was hard to fi nd sponsors in this part of the country back then,” he said. Just like that, he was done racing motorcycles. He went to work as a union pipe-fi tter, a job he held for nearly 40 years.
On August 15, Blissett passed away while battling brain cancer. He was 60 years old. Godspeed, Kenny “The Missile” Blissett.
Paulo Gonçalves had a saying: "A man is not finished when he is defeated. He is finished when he quits." Gonçalves began his motorcycle racing career on the national motocross circuit of his native Portugal. Along the way he would win multiple titles in both MX and supercross, and soon ventured into off-road racing, winning national enduro titles even while still competing in MX/SX. Finally, in 2006, at the age of 26, Gonçalves tried his hand at rally racing. He entered what was then still known as the Paris-to-Dakar, because it started in France and ended in Dakar, the Senegalese capital in Africa. He became a regular participant in the notorious event, which has since moved to other parts of the world, as North Africa was deemed too dangerous and volatile.
In January 2020, Paulo entered his 13th Dakar, riding for Hero, a motorcycle brand from India. The event was taking place entirely within the borders of Saudi Arabia. On the seventh day of the rally, Gonçalves was about 150 miles into the stage when he crashed at high speed, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. His fellow riders who came upon him immediately stopped and tried to aid him as they awaited medical helicopters; Stefan Svitko and Toby Price, the 2019 Dakar winner, performed CPR, as the fallen Goncalves was in cardiac arrest.
"We all worked as long as we could but there was nothing we could do," wrote Price later. "I helped assist carrying him to the helicopter as it was the right thing to do. I was first at his side and wanted to be the last to leave..."
Paulo Gonçalves was 40 years old. He was the first Dakar participant to die during the event in five years. Wrote Price, the two-time champion for Australia, "We are human and this is nothing but just a race, I would give up all my wins to have any of my fellow racing mates back with us."
Jane Akin anchored signup and scoring at RedBud since 1973 or maybe ’74—the RedBud folks themselves don't remember a time when Jane wasn't on the job. But it was in that weekend job that she met every fast young rider (and every old one too) who came through the Michigan ranks. Jane and her husband, Drex, actually raised one of the fastest in their own home, as Lisa Akin-Wagner is without a doubt one of the fastest women motocrossers of all time. The Akinses practically raised Lisa at the track, as they are a motocross family through and through, with sons-in-law like Bobby Wagner (Lisa's husband), grandkids like Brett and Austin Wagner, and cousins like the Hinkle brothers—and all of them were fast! Besides her own family, Jane was also part of the broader RedBud and Dutch Sport Park family, where she worked alongside the Ritchies and others and helped guide several generations and countless motocross families around the races. On Memorial Day weekend she was working the front gate at RedBud, talking to a rider as they checked in, when she suffered a heart attack. And it probably goes without saying that it was just the way Jane Akin, 74, would have wanted to go.
DG Performance was a Southern California race shop that became a powerhouse on the 1970s motocross scene. The company was founded in 1974 by Gary Harlow and Dan Hangsleben in Anaheim and produced a number of bolt-on performance products. DG Performance was an early adaptor of the “in-house" race team, which they used to promote their name and products. In 1975 the company put a box van on the CMC and AMA 125 National tour and sponsored a couple of unknown up-and-comers named Bob Hannah and Broc Glover. They both used the platform that DG provided to move up to the Yamaha factory team and immediately win AMA 125 National Championships. They were followed at DG Performance by the likes of future AMA Supercross Champion Mike Bell and fellow SoCal hotshoes like Gary Denton, Dave Taylor, and Steve Bauer.
Harlow and Hangsleben also surrounded themselves in the shop with promising young industry go-getters like Ken Boyko. Upon hearing of the passing of Gary Harlow at his home in Prescott, California, Boyko post this in tribute to his old boss:
"There are few times in your life that changes you and your direction. My life changed in the fall of 1976, that’s when I went to work for Gary Harlow at DG Performance in Anaheim, California. Gary gave me opportunities that few would. Today, the majority of my friendships, whether personal or in business all came from my time at DG. What an exciting place to work in the early days of motocross... The iconic blue DG logo is etched in motocross history, weather on an expansion chamber, swing arm or on a helmet, it let you think that you were part of the DG Team. And if you raced in the late 1970’s it was the team that you wanted to be part of. Just ask riders, like Bob Hannah, Broc Glover, Mike Bell, Dave Taylor, Gary Denton, John Savitski, Steve Bauer and the list goes on and on. That has nothing to do with the thousands of riders though out the United States and the world who had to have DG parts on their bikes, decals on the helmets, trucks, tool boxes and some for some folks even on their boots."
Hangsleben left the business shortly after it started to become the FMF distributor in the Midwest. Gary Harlow sold his part of the business in 1982 and left the motorcycle industry. DG Performance is still in business, owned by the Dooley family, but focuses on primarily on ATV-related products, as well as vintage dirt bike pipes.
Back in 2011, Nick McCabe caught up with Gary Harlow to talk about the founding of DG Performance and the race team's success, which you can read about right here.
Tommy "Tiny" Lister was one of the more famous fans of supercross, as well as one of the biggest—literally, at 6'5" tall. A college athlete, Lister went into acting and professional wrestling in Los Angeles, once battling Hulk Hogan as "Z-Gangsta." But he made a career for himself in Hollywood playing an outsized, sometimes gentle giant. His real stardom followed with much meaner characters that made Lister a cult-movie favorite, especially given his sheer size and the angry staresthat he gave, as he was blind in his right eye. In 1995 he got his big break playing Deebo, the neighborhood bully in the Ice Cube classic Friday, where he rode a stolen bicycle around Compton (Lister's hometown) threatening and shaking down the other characters. From there he did parts as wide-ranging as the galaxy president in the Bruce Willis sci-fi film The Fifth Element to Austin Powers' Goldmember to being a prisoner in the Christian Bale film Batman: The Dark Knight and a bail agent in the Question Tarantino movie Jackie Brown. And of course there was Next Friday, the sequel, where he got back on the bicycle to taunt Ice Cube and friends.
Later on, it was the Deebo character that brought Lister work off the screen, as Monster Energy began hiring him to appear at special events like Monster Energy Supercross races at Anaheim and Las Vegas, where he would ride around on a custom bicycle similar to what he rode in the Friday movies, taking photos with fans, occasionally arm-wrestling them, and being something of a brand ambassador. Anyone who met him under the Big A in the Angel Stadium parking lot would tell you he was a very nice, warm, and generous guy who just happened to be big and look scary.
Lister was back to working on a film in early December when he had to cancel some shoots, as he had come down with symptoms of COVID-19. A few days later he was found in his apartment in Marina Del Ray, unresponsive. Tommy Lister was 62 years old.
John “Stumpy” Wirick was a hare scrambles legend from Ohio. He worked as a tool-and-die maker as well as an elementary school basketball coach. Halfway through his life, Wirick found his way into motocross and off-road motorcycling, and for 38 years he traveled the country racing, his #81 becoming familiar to friends and competitors. According to the Northwestern Ohio Motorcycle Association, "He had a special passion specifically for dirt bikes. No matter if it was riding, working on or talking about them, it was what his legacy here on earth was all about." Wirick also had his wife and best friend, Virginia, as well as three sons and a daughter, plus seven grandchildren whom he was very proud of. He passed in February at the age of 72.
Jack Rhodes was called the "Father of Texas Motocross Announcing" by many in the Lone Star State. He was calling races back in the 1970s when Texas hosted plenty of outdoor nationals and Trans-AMA races. Said his friend and fellow race caller Shand Garcia, "If you raced anywhere in Texas over the past 50 years, chances are Jack called your name. He was magic on a microphone--a great voice and total insight to the racing on the track, as well as the dealership and moto businesses in and around Texas. He was simply the best at the craft."
Explained another colleague, Terry Cordray, "Jack called the opening weekends of Lake Whitney and Mosier Valley one week apart in 1971. His passion was flat track racing and his years announcing the Ross Downs flat track races were legendary. I can still hear him saying, 'If you can win a main event at Ross Downs--you can win anywhere in the world!" Rhodes, who was 81 years old, was given a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2012 Freestone National. He retired five years ago from calling races, enjoying retirement at his home in Oklahoma City, but the riders and the race fans will always remember the way Jack signed off every time: "Good night, everybody."
Connor Riley was not only a motocross rider but an excellent inline skater, and like practically all teenagers today, he was very active and connected on social media. Connor lived right down the road from 3 Palms Action Sports Park and was a regular there on the motocross track, along with his twin brother, Quincy. Both were out there in April when Conner crashed off a jump and his helmet flew off on impact. Another rider was airborne behind him and could not avoid hitting him. It was a tragic accident. Despite the best efforts of the medical team on site and in the local ER, Riley passed away later that night. Yet he lives on in many others, as the 16-year-old Riley's organs were donated. Explained his father, Denis, Connor's heart beats today in a 38-year-old woman, his liver is with a 42-year-old man, and a 37-year-old man and 39-year-old woman received left and right kidneys. Each of his eyes gave sight to people who had never seen the light of day. He feels every heartbeat and saw his own first light again when his eyes focused and gave sight to the two recipients."
Denis Riley also urged the rider who collided with Connor not to blame himself, and the 3 Palms track to continue holding races and practices for MX kids, which he himself has been for some 43 years. "Each of us a little eccentric, a little edgy, and typically did not fit in stick and ball world,” wrote Connor's dad. "Without motocross we all may have chosen very different paths. Motocross connects them with family, gives them focus and organizational skills. It provides a sense of community and inspiration to be healthy, be strong and fight for what they want."
Danny Erdeljac was another member of Texas motocross royalty, though he was actually born in Morgantown, West Virginia. Danny was a longtime racer as well as an engineer, mathematician, musician, and, toward the end of his life, a track promoter. It was Erdeljac who in 2008 stepped in to save the once-prominent Rio Bravo track (established 1972) from going away forever after he was able to use his own engineering skills to convince county engineers of the site's importance to their flood management schemes.
Two years later he called upon those same engineering instincts in a much bigger crisis that made him something of a national engineering hero: Erdeljac was the man who figured out a way to cap the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill coming from a broken pipe in the Gulf of Mexico. Considered one of the worst environmental disasters in history, the April 20, 2010 explosion and subsequent spill saw some 5 million barrels of oil gush into the sea. After months of failed attempts to cap the spill, Erdeljac came up with a solution—a capping device concept that he said was inspired by the taper-fit countershaft sprockets on older Husqvarna motorcycles like the ones he used to race. It worked, and the leak was finally plugged in late September of that same year using Erdeljac's solution.
Erdeljac was also a longtime friend of Roger De Coster's, the two having first met when De Coster was racing the Trans-AMA Series in the early 1970s and Rio Bravo held rounds each year. Whenever supercross came to Houston, it was Erdeljac who helped organize the local flagging crew. But it was his work in salvaging and reviving Rio Bravo that he was maybe the most proud of, at least besides his loving family—he his wife of 42 years, Kimmy, had three daughters and a son.
"After Danny bought Rio Bravo and fixed it back up, I got to go out to a couple of the ride days he had there to see how much it looked like the same track from many years ago," De Coster said. "He did a really good job. He was just a super nice guy, really smart guy. And his wife and kids were really good people too. It is a shame that he's gone."
Here is a video of Danny Erdeljac describing his passion for Rio Bravo MX.
"Danny was one of the nicest guys one could ever meet, and did an amazing job at bringing Rio Bravo MX back to life," said Shand Garcia after Erdeljac passed in July after a two-year fight against leukemia. "He will be missed by the entire Texas Motocross Community!"
"Danny left a HUGE positive impact on the Houston MX community," added longtime Texas motocross man Larry Hughes. "It's up to us to carry on his passion and love for the sport that we all enjoy."
Dave McCoy founded Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort in 1953. A competitive skier, he had been working as a hydrographer (someone who maps and measures water) for the City of Los Angeles when he used that expertise to figure out the best spot in the Sierra Nevadas for skiing. He found it at a remote place called Mammoth Mountain, which at the time only had a population of six people. The only way to ski down the mountain was to first hike up it, so he built his first tow rope on Mammoth Mountain in 1942, knowing it would bring many more skiers. In the early 1950s he borrowed $135,000 to build the first ski lift. That helped Mammoth Mountain quickly become one of the most popular ski destinations in California.
But there were times during the summer when there was no snow on the mountain, so in 1968, McCoy added another reason for people to visit Mammoth Mountain: a motocross track. At the time, motocross was just starting to catch on in America, and the Mammoth Mountain race would become an annual tradition for three generations of motocrossers and their families, which it remains to this very day. It's always among the longest-running events in the motocross world.
As he neared his 90th birthday in 2005, McCoy finally decided to retire from running his beloved ski area and motocross track, selling the mountain resort for a whopping $365 million. When he passed away, Dave McCoy was 104 years old.
Two years ago, Kyle Pulley was in a serious street motorcycling accident when a car swerved into his lane and pushed him into a parked car alongside the road. As a result of the crash, he would end up losing a leg. This past September, Pulley was in another street-riding accident, this one much worse, as it proved to be fatal for the 35-year-old rider.
North Carolina's Pulley was a longtime racer who also worked in numerous motorcycle dealerships, including Matthews Fun Machines, Charlotte Motorsports, and, most recently, Freedom Cycles in Charlotte. Pulley even moved to California for a time in order to work at Motoworld of El Cajon. One of his coworkers there was Rick Wilson, who wrote upon his passing, "His personality and humor was refreshing to hear. His love of family and motorcycles was above exceptional. He always would show off his wife and daughter photos he loved both so much. His smile would light up a room. He was my friend. I will miss him."
Pulley's friends and fellow riders had a Poker Run fundraiser in his honor and raised more than $5,500. Kyle is survived by his daughter, Luca.
Ryan Capes was driven to fly a motorcycle farther than anyone ever had before. A modern daredevil on modern equipment, his jumps dwarfed those of pioneers like Evel Knievel, England's Eddie Kidd, Bob Gill, Bubba Blackwell, Johnny Airtime, and the aforementioned Gary Wells. Capes set his first world record in 2005, jumping 310 feet—farther than a football field. In 2008 he went even farther, jumping 391 feet on a Kawasaki KX 450F, hitting 102 mph when he launched off his takeoff ramp.
After that, his plan was to go past 400 feet, maybe even 500, especially after his record was shattered by Alex Harvill's launch of 425 feet in 2012. Capes even said he had a network TV deal lined up for his next world-record jump, but it never quite worked out, and Capes never got close to the record again. In fact, he seemed to instead steer himself away from the limelight, going mostly quiet on social media. His Instagram pages stopped being updated in January. On May 2 of this year, he posted a nod to his mother, Sherri, on Facebook. It was the last thing he ever posted. Less than a week later, friends started posting condolences and memories and prayers for Ryan Capes, once the world record holder for the longest jump ever on a motorcycle.
Greg Petersen fought his cancer for as long as he could. A lifelong moto enthusiast who stayed with it well into his vet/vintage racing years, Petersen was open and honest about what he was up against, sharing his condition and decisions—as well as his sense of humor—on social media.
In June he posted, "Went to hospital Monday for a radiation seizure. Got out today. They told me my cancer came back after 6 months, 17 Chemotherapy treatments and 35 radiation treatments. Now they want to start over again. I said NO. I hurt constantly at a level 7 and it goes to 9 quickly. No more radiation." A few weeks later he posted, "I had hoped to live to be 70. I lived a fun but dangerous life. Now cancer has virtually destroyed my life. I had to cancel a pedicure appt today. Not enough energy to go. I doubt I’ll live another year. I had a great life."
He was only half-kidding. He made the most of the time he had left, with numerous family get-togethers Greg Petersen passed away in Arizona.
Kenny Sellards and his wife, Barbara Ann, raised two very fast young riders in sons Marcus and Brock, as well as a daughter named Tammy. Together, the Sellards family became a staple of the Ohio motocross community. Both boys were very fast amateur prospects. Kenny's youngest son, Brock, would go on to a fine professional career, winning multiple 125 Nationals and 125 AMA Supercross main events for a wide variety of teams, including Red Bull KTM, FMF Honda, Yamaha of Troy, Pro Circuit Kawasaki, and more. And while Marcus didn't quite make it at the professional level, he did help manage his younger brother's career. The Sellards home in New Philadelphia, Ohio, also became a regular stopping point for many on the AMA circuit, popular among the transport drivers for its central location and the fact that the ever-friendly Mr. Sellards, a lifelong motorsports enthusiast, was also a master mechanic who had opened a small private trucking company and had lots of garage and parking space for drivers to spend time in between races and maintain their rigs.
Sellards was also a talented dozer operator. He volunteered countless hours building and maintaining tracks belonging to riders like Davi Millsaps, Ezra Lusk, and Ricky Carmichael, as well as Lake Whitney in Texas, and before that at Broken Spokes in Ohio when Bob Hannah and all of Team Suzuki came to ride with Fred Andrews.
It wasn't just his own sons Kenny Sellards helped along the way. Mike Kochman wrote of Kenny, “He was truly one of a kind, a good hearted, strong man. My deepest condolences to you and your entire family. I will never forget him digging a rut out for me on the starting line at Ohio International Raceway in the early '90s. After he did it, he just looked at me and said, 'Now you better be leading out of that first corner or...' and he just showed me his fist! One of the biggest holeshots of my life happened that day. I know it wasn’t the rut that Kenny dug that got me there, it was the confidence and drive that he brought out of me."
Kenny Sellards was 77 years old when he became ill earlier this winter. He was admitted to the Cleveland Clinic Union Hospital, where he passed on December 16.
On the last day of the 2020 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship in Salt Lake City, three members of the Rockstar Husqvarna team—Zach Osborne, Jason Anderson, and Dean Wilson—gave their team its single best day in SX history, going 1-2-3 respectively to close out the coronavirus-delayed series on a very high note. But there was an underlying note of sadness among the entire team, as on the previous day they had received news that Scott Burtness, long a part of the KTM/Husqvarna family, had been killed while riding his new 2020 KTM adventure bike in a collision with a pickup truck pulling a trailer. It happened just outside of Hemet, near Burtness' home in Menifee, California. Burtness, who sometimes served as a mechanic for the ageless veteran Mike Brown, was just 32 years old.
"Scott was an extremely kind soul, every time I would see him he would go out of his way to talk with me and ask about my family, and genuinely care, which isn’t that common," posted Hi-Torque Publications' Robb Mesecher on Facebook on the day of the accident. "He would turn a blind eye when I would hit the secret hat stash in the press Sprinter, such a gentle man. I can’t imagine the pain in the headquarters tomorrow and onward."
There was indeed pain for everyone affiliated with the team, but it manifested itself in a surprising, wonderful way, as his old friends and teammates Osborne, Anderson, and Wilson ended the series with that 1-2-3 sweep.
Said KTM North America/Husqvarna boss John Hinz afterward, “Scott was doing what he loved, living his life to the fullest, riding motorcycles and sharing his passion for motorcycling with others, Scott was always the first to say hello, flash his contagious smile, the first to lend a helping hand and always put others before himself. He was an incredible man and left a lasting impression with so many people at our company, in the industry and in his personal life.”
Joe Bolger was an American motocross pioneer, though he was actually born on Prince Edward Island in Canada in 1930. He even served in the U.S. Army (1951-'53), despite being a Canadian citizen. Bolger began racing motorcycles in 1956, back when motocross on this continent was mostly referred to as "scrambles." He became the 250 National Champion of Canada in 1959, then the New England Sports Committee's 250 and 500 champion in 1964. He would add more titles in those pre-pro motocross/supercross days, when it was difficult to make a living racing dirt bikes. Fortunately, Bolger was a self-taught mechanical engineer, and he held patents on many motorcycle-related inventions and tools. He was an advocate of long-travel suspension and was instrumental in its development. He settled in Barre, Massachusetts, and set up a workshop at his home from which he made specialized parts for racers from all over the country.
“He was always happiest when he was in his shop,” said his son, Brent Bolger. “He could handle all sorts of problems with engines, and people came here to get their engines fixed. He loved helping people.”
While he had a particular fondness for Spanish-made brands like Bultaco and Ossa, Bolger also worked closely with American Honda when they came onto the scene. In 1974 he created a linked, rising-rate, long-travel suspension system that was put into production and became known as the Ossa BLT (Bolger Long Travel). And when he wasn't in his shop tinkering, Joe Bolger found time to be a contributing editor for Cycle World magazine, as well as New England-based Cycle Sport. In the spring of 2020, Bolger was dealing with complications from a fall inside his home, his health failing him several months. When he passed in April, he was 90 years old.
Frank Lettieri was a big part of the New Jersey motocross family. By trade he was a heavy equipment mechanic for Clayton Block and Sand Inc., but his passion was for cars and motorcycles, and motocross in particular. His son Frankie raced, and that meant traveling all over the country for big events, which Lettieri loved doing, as he made friends everywhere he went. "Frank had a big heart; he was generous and kind and would help anyone in need," wrote one of those friends upon Frank's passing in September at the age of 62 following a six-year struggle with cancer. "He had a contagious laugh that always made people around him smile."
Added Scott Lukaitis on NJMotocross.com, "Big Frank was a well-liked fixture on the motocross scene for so many years as he supported his son Frankie’s racing efforts."
Lettieri is survived by Janet and Frankie, as well as his daughter, Larena, and his granddaughter, Bianca.
An excerpt from Marty Smith's last interview, with David Dewhurst for his upcoming book Motocross: The Golden Era.