ONE PHOTO & ONE STORY: KURT CASELLI ON A TWO-STROKE
I don’t claim to know everything about Kurt Caselli. I didn’t actually know him all that well. Our encounters were brief, although always memorable. “Captain” Caselli was as genuine as he was straight to the point. You couldn’t cut corners around Kurt, he had a way of elevating everyone around him. From riding to shooting photos to dealing with life, he provided clarity and support. Caselli was one of a kind.
Kurt Caselli gave me a gift, although I wouldn’t realize it until after his tragic passing in November 2013. Kurt had a best friend named Daryl Ecklund. I’m pretty sure I met Daryl because of Kurt, all the way back in 2007. Through the next few years I used Daryl as a photo rider for MXA, because he had effortless style. His on-again, off-again racing career also allowed him the time to ride.
Daryl pursued a college degree around 2010. What was good for him wasn’t convenient for me, as I needed to find a new photo rider. A few years later Ecklund resurfaced and seemed eager to pick up where he left off. By the summer of 2012, Daryl was donning the MXA lid once again. He was smarter, older and more mature. Time can do that to a person. Only later I discovered that Kurt Caselli was instrumental in helping Daryl find focus. He took Daryl under his wing. It was the Caselli way.
MXA tests every new motocross bike made, and those models are periodically released throughout the summer. Often times new releases overlap, and we have to shuffle our schedules around to accommodate all comers. That’s exactly what happened with the 2013 KTM 125SX and 150SX two-stroke unveiling. Fortunately, I had Ecklund at my disposal. Unfortunately, chief tester Dennis Stapleton was in some faraway country and couldn’t ride the other bike. Out of options, I asked Daryl for advice. He quickly suggested that his buddy, Kurt Caselli, could ride the KTM 150SX for the photos. I thought Kurt was a great choice, but I didn’t honestly think he would do it. After all, he needed to wear an orange helmet and not upset his laundry list of sponsors. Ten minutes later I received a call from an unfamiliar number. Caselli was on the other end.
“KURT [CASELLI] CUT INSIDE DARYL [ECKLUND], AS PLANNED, ONLY KURT CONTINUED TO AIM AT DARYL LIKE A SCUD MISSLE. THE TWO SLAMMED TOGETHER AND DARYL FLAILED LIKE A FISH OUT OF WATER IN A DESPERATE ATTEMPT TO STAY OFF THE GROUND.”
What really struck me at that moment was how Kurt personally called. I didn’t have to jump through hoops by calling his team manager, his sponsors, KTM’s public relations department or stalk him down. He picked up the phone and called about the details. His only requests were to wear Thor gear, Sidi boots, Scott goggles and a Bell helmet–his longtime sponsors. Those were good for me and he was in. I was elated.
We met at some beat-up track in the desert outside of Palmdale, California, where the mafia probably hides bodies. Scrub brush lined the white sand track. The location worked for shooting photos, but it wasn’t exactly the quintessential motocross track. I soon realized the background didn’t matter. Kurt and Daryl thrashed berms with ease. It was poetry in motion. After shooting action photos individually, I asked Daryl and Kurt to ride side-by-side through a sweeping bowl turn. The goal was to get a photo for the cover. That’s when the day became memorable. Below are my notes from the shoot:
“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. You could imagine what was going to happen next. Daryl hung his inside leg out and Kurt ran it over. 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, because the trust was gone. Fortunately, that trust was regained after a few passes, but the turn was blowing out. Kurt, riding on the inside, told Daryl to hit his line and he would cut right underneath. Kurt then assured Daryl that he wouldn’t hit him. Famous last words.
“Kurt cut inside Daryl, as planned, only Kurt continued to aim at Daryl like a Scud missile. The two slammed together and Daryl flailed like a fish out of water in a desperate attempt to stay off the ground. 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. Everyone laughed like hyenas afterward.”
That’s the one outstanding memory I have of Kurt in what was a sizable list of great experiences with the offroad legend. Lo and behold, Kurt was the central motivator in Daryl taking a full-time position at MXA. Daryl wavered at the opportunity to become the assistant editor, because he thought that training motocross riders was more lucrative. Kurt, in so many words, told Daryl that he was dumb if he didn’t take the position. Had it not been for Caselli’s urging, Daryl and I probably wouldn’t be the great friends that we are today. I’ll never be able to thank Kurt enough for the gift he gave me.
For more information on the Kurt Caselli Foundation, please visit www.kurtcaselli.com.