A 30-year-old superstar dirtbike racer is dead after a crash on Friday during competition at the Baja 1000 in Mexico, where widespread early reports indicated Kurt Caselli had been killed by a manmade booby trap.
ESPN is now saying that "reports that the crash was related to an on-course booby trap have been discredited."
Later on Saturday came a statement from Caselli's team, KTM, stating that there were "traces" on his motorcycle "that indicate he had collided with some small animal, which apparently caused the crash."
Here's what you need to know about this exceptional sportsman and his untimely demise:
1. Caselli & His Team Were Winning the Race
According to the official statement on the incident from desert-race-sanctioning body SCORE International:
... Caselli, 30, of Palmdale, Calif., died of serious trauma incurred when he apparently lost control of his KTM motorcycle in a sandy, high-speed section at approximate race-mile 792 while his team was leading in the late stages of the 883.1-mile international desert race. The accident occurred at 4:30 p.m. PT Friday.
Caselli reportedly suffered devastating head injuries and died while or after being airlifted to a hospital.
According to this report on the final results, JCR Honda won the competition followed by THR Motorsports/Monster Energy Kawasaki (Taylor Robert's team):
FMF/KTM’s Kurt Caselli was maintaining his team’s lead as Udall gave chase, but near the 800-mile mark Caselli went down in an accident that would eventually claim his life. Udall had a big off as well, hitting a cattle guard at speed and damaging his front wheel. Once his bike had been repaired he expected to still be behind Caselli and didn’t find out about the KTM rider’s accident until reaching the pits. ... The THR Motorsports/Monster Energy Kawasaki team of Robby Bell, Steve Hengeveld, David Pearson and Taylor Robert took second overall in the motorcycle division....
2. He Was One of the Best Riders in the World
MotoCross Transworld reports Caselli was "highly regarded as the most accomplished and talented American off-road racer, and has won championships in virtually every form of off-road motorcycle racing discipline."
Today we lost arguably the best all around motorcycle racer in America. RIP Kurt Caselli http://t.co/dOwj50Fduh
— Greg Flanagan (@Flanaman85) November 16, 2013
Here's the harrowing view from Caselli's helmet cam at the 2012 National Hare and Hound Championship, which gives the average person an idea of the skill involved in elite off-road racing:
CycleNews offers more details on Caselli's past success and surging career:
A multi-time AMA National Hare & Hound Champion, WORCS Champion and many-time ISDE gold medalist. ... In June of this year, Caselli won the Desafio Ruta 40 Rally in Argentina. ... Caselli won two stages of the Dakar Rally ... in his debut in the race generally regarded as the most difficult off-road race in the world.
The video below tracks Caselli at Dakar.
According to the American Motorcyclist Association, Caselli's move to international rally racing ...
... was expected to fuel additional American interest in the sport of rally racing and was chronicled in a cover story in the off-road version of the December issue of American Motorcyclist, the journal of the AMA.
3. Booby Traps Are Common on the Course
While reports that a booby trap led to Caselli's death have been debunked, booby traps such as holes or ramps are often constructed by local fans who want to spice up the Baja course. Via Wikipedia's page on the Baja 1000:
Each year there are reports of spectators sabotaging or booby-trapping the course by digging holes, blocking river flow, or burying and hiding obstacles. ... Many of the booby traps are not created to intentionally injure the contestants but are created by the local spectators as jumps or obstacles for spectator entertainment and intriguing moments to be caught on videotape. ... given the danger the traps pose, it is customary for competitors to quickly communicate course hazards to other competitors through on-board radio communications and radio relay.
4. He Was Recently Engaged
5. His Team & the AMA Put Out Statements Honoring Caselli
In this video Caselli talks about his goals for KTM's Baja team:
Kurt Caselli was one of American desert racing's finest champions, and his early and untimely death is a major blow to the hearts and minds of all of us who knew him or knew of him. Caselli was a gracious competitor, a team leader and a fan favorite. His love for motorcycling showed through in everything he did, whether he was leading his fellow racers as the U.S. team captain for the International Six Days Enduro or signing autographs for a young fan. On behalf of the AMA Board of Directors, our staff and AMA members everywhere, we offer our condolences to the family of Kurt Caselli and thank them for sharing with us one of the sport's finest racers and greatest men.
Rip Kurt Caselli pic.twitter.com/uYxb4Nvirw
— Tommy searle (@tommysearle100) November 16, 2013
— Head Held High (@Head_Held_High) November 16, 2013
Click below for photos of Caselli's life and career: