Daryl Ecklund (left) and Kurt Caselli go front end high in tandem fashion.
By John Basher
When it comes to working at MXA there are good days, and then there are great days. Yesterday fell into the latter category. Why? It’s about impossible to be bummed out when you’re going out to a secret desert track and shooting your buddies slaying berms and slapping hands on brand-spankin’-new KTM two-strokes. Add in the fact that these riders have more style than all of Milan and you know it’s going to be an epic day.
With the help of MXA test rider (and good buddy) Dennis Stapleton, we are in charge of finding photo riders. What exactly constitutes a photo rider, and how does it differ from a test rider? Simply put, a photo rider is used for the sole purpose of blasting berms and launching off jumps for our cameras. They aren’t required to spin a day’s worth of laps (although they often do) and we really don’t pay much heed to their feedback.
Kurt Caselli attempts to move a tectonic plate or two on MXA's 2013 KTM 150SX.
A good photo rider is hard to come by – the most famous ones, like Pete Maly, Lance Moorewood and Larry Brooks only come along occasionally. They make our photo job easier. I’m constantly approached and questioned by hopeful riders looking to step into the role of photo rider. What makes a top-caliber photo rider? Excellent bike handling skills, a willingness to try anything, commitment to hit the same turn a hundred times, and of course amazing style. In my tenure at MXA I’ve worked with Sean Collier, Kyle Lewis, Doug Dubach, Cole Seely, Larry Brooks, Sean Kranyak, Austin Politelli, Kyle Mace, Taylor Kelstrom, Ryan Hughes, Willy Musgrave, Dennis Stapleton, Tye Hames, and so many other riders whose names escape me. The commonality between all of them is that they have pro speed. Still, being fast isn’t do-or-die in order to be an MXA photo rider. Really you need to look good. Elbows up. Foot out. Head looking forward. It also helps if you wear a size medium helmet, 32 pant, large jersey, size 10 boots and large gloves. And if you don’t? Your time as a photo rider will be a painful experience (try shoving a size 12 foot into a small boot and see how you like it).
Before I talk about yesterday, it’s important to talk about a friendship. Formed as young dirt bike enthusiasts, Daryl Ecklund and Kurt Caselli became best friends. Through the years their relationship hasn’t wavered. Daryl followed the path of motocross, while Kurt stuck with offroad racing. Injuries caused Daryl to reevaluate his career path as a professional Supercross and motocross rider, so he went to school to learn nutrition and personal training. Kurt, meanwhile, became a budding offroad star. He’s managed to succeed in nearly every form of offroad racing. You’d think that the varied goals and aspirations would drive Daryl and Kurt apart. Nope. Daryl became Kurt’s trainer, and the two live together (rumor has it that Daryl still doesn’t know how to properly load a dishwasher).
Daryl could do a whip off a pebble in the Mojave desert.
Lately Daryl has been helping me as he’s filled the roll of photo rider (he helped out several years ago, but then college called). With Dennis Stapleton gone to Holland, Kuwait, Dubai, Philippines, Hong Kong and who knows where several times a year, Daryl has been filling in for him. In the past few weeks he has piloted the 2013 Kawasaki KX450F, Suzuki RM-Z450 and Yamaha YZ250F. He is on the cover of the current issue on a KTM 250SX. Flashy and unafraid of hitting the dirt, Daryl is a supreme photo rider. I called him up on Monday to check his availability for riding a brand-new 2013 KTM 125SX on Thursday, but I needed a second rider for the 2013 KTM 150SX. An idea popped in his head. What if Kurt Caselli was an MXA photo rider for the day? I liked the idea, but figured that with all of the contract obligations and red tape that it was merely wishful thinking. Ten minutes later I received a call from an unfamiliar number. On the other end was Caselli.
I have the fortune (and sometimes misfortune) of working with professional motocross riders. For the most part they are a breeze to get an interview out of and deal with. What I’ve found is that the mightier a rider gets (wins, championships, money) the more likely it becomes that he will dodge my calls and requests. It’s essentially a game of cat and mouse, and sometimes I feel like a blind and drunk cat. Having said that, I was blown away that Caselli personally called me. I didn’t have to go through his agent (does he even have one?), his team manager, the public relations department, or stalk him down in order to get the one and only Kurt Caselli on the phone. What a relief!
Power wheelie out of a sandy corner? All in a day's work for Caselli.
Kurt merely requested that he wear his own Thor gear (no problem), Sidi boots (no worries), and Scott goggles (that’ll do). I’d outfit him with an MXA orange Bell helmet (medium, of course) and we’d call it good. That’s all it took to get Kurt Caselli to be an MXA photo rider for the day.
I’ve tried to arrange side-by-side action shots with riders before. It’s a pain. More often than not the riders are worried that they’re going to take each other out. Without fail, the first time they enter the same corner together it’d be like North Korea and South Korea doing the hokey-pokey together. They aren’t even in the same time zone.
There’s a mind game that’s played with many photo riders. When I see doubt in their eyes I feel obligated to play the roll of cheerleader, so I bust out the proverbial pompoms. I yell words of encouragement and try to keep the situation light. After all, it’s just a guy on a dirt bike railing a corner or hitting a jump. No more, no less.
If you look closely you can see that Kurt (43) is running over Daryl's left leg. That boot will never be the same.
Yesterday I had to put on my inspiration pants, so to speak. The first time that Daryl and Kurt tried to hit a corner together it looked ugly. For being best friends they acted like the other person had a contagious disease. Of course they were just worried about killing one another. I channeled Vince Lombardi and gave them a pep talk. Every time afterward they inched closer and closer until, well you can imagine what happens. Sooner or later something bad is going to happen. Daryl hung his inside leg out one time and Kurt ran it over. Oops! Thankfully Daryl was okay, although his brand new Fox boot had rubber marks on it. No big deal.
They asked if I needed more shots of the corner. I smiled and said, “Yes, please!” The next time around Daryl kept his distance from Kurt, because the trust was gone. Fortunately it quickly rekindled, but the turn was blowing out. Kurt, who was on the inside, told Daryl to hit his line and Kurt would cut right underneath him. Kurt then assured Daryl that he wouldn’t hit him. Famous last words.
The moment before impact.
Kurt cut inside Daryl, as planned, but as Daryl turned down Kurt was still turning right. The two touched and Daryl barely saved it. If the turn had been any steeper Daryl would have been sitting on the back of Kurt’s 150SX. It was a close call, but it made for a great picture. Afterward everyone laughed like hyenas.
Finding the tandem shots fun and challenging, the duo wanted to try more side by side opportunities. They found a jump and timed everything really well. They were getting the hang of it. Unfortunately the photo looked a bit boring. I thought it would be cool if they went off the jump and did a high-five. I got the idea from Johnny O’Mara, Ricky Johnson and David Bailey holding hands in the air before the Motocross des Nations in 1986.
Kurt and Daryl obliged. The first attempt they weren’t close enough. On the second try they missed the high five. The third time was the charm. And, upon completion, they giggled probably how they did when they were little kids growing up together. It was neat to get a glimpse of two best friends have fun on dirt bikes.
Good old-fashioned fun between two best friends.
Once we finished up I asked Kurt what it was like to ride with Daryl. His response put an exclamation point on the day. “What’s strange is that over the last 20 years or riding dirt bikes together, we never did a photo shoot together. To finally make that happen was cool. It’s nice to say that this sport is giving back a little bit. It’s a rough sport and it’s not very forgiving. Sometimes there are those days where you get to go ride with your buddy. I enjoyed screwing around riding the 150SX. It was fun rubbing elbows with Daryl. It was an awesome day.” Indeed, it was.