Kurt Caselli Foundation’s Quinn Cody

The Kurt Caselli Foundation: Protecting and supporting the lives of off-road riders
Kurt Caselli © Mark Kariya
By Jerry Bernardo

Many great things have happened since American off-road racing legend Kurt Caselli’s death during the 2013 Baja 1000. To no one’s surprise, the tsunami-sized wave of love for the fallen racer has continued to grow, and with that the Kurt Caselli Foundation was created. The indelible mark Caselli left in the motorcycle world is undeniable, and the Kurt Caselli Foundation’s purpose of increasing rider safety at the races is a fitting tribute to his legacy.

We visited with four-time Baja 1000 champion and Dakar Rally veteran Quinn Cody recently to find out more about the foundation and what its goals are. If Cody’s desk at the foundation had a nameplate on it, the job title alone would be half a meter long. His official title is Rider Safety Advisor and Technical Director.

We’d like to shorten that a bit and just think of him as the guy who knows what he’s talking about when it comes to the safety concerns of an off-road racer. (Cody catapulted to stardom on the world stage when he finished ninth overall at the 2011 Dakar, his performance in his debut effort earning him Rookie of the Year honours.)

With endless off-road racing and just plain riding kilometers, under his belt, Cody knows all too well the dangers inherent in the sport. This knowledge helps him recognise potential problem areas and suggest ways to navigate safely around them.

Quinn Cody © Kurt Caselli Foundation

RB: How did the idea for the Kurt Caselli Foundation come about?

QC: After the first Kurt Caselli Memorial Ride Day [at Glen Helen Raceway in Southern California in December 2013], there was a huge outpouring of support. Endless amounts of people stepped up and donated money in an attempt to support Kurt’s family. Soon, there was all this money on hand and they really didn’t know what to do with it. The family sat down with [KTM North America] president Jon-Erik Burleson, and they came up with the idea of starting a foundation in Kurt’s name. Everyone wanted Kurt’s memory to live on, both in the States and in Baja, and they thought that starting a foundation to help improve the safety and lives of off-road riders in general was a great idea.

RB: What sorts of things is the foundation working on, on Kurt’s behalf?

QC: We’re working with some new technology to improve on the existing tracking systems they use now in racing. We’re also coordinating with the technical crews at the races; these are the guys that are handling all of the tracking devices.

That has always been a constant downside at Baja events: No one ever really knows what’s happening during the race. If you get hurt in Baja, there’s no way to send out a help message. Hopefully, these improvements we’re working on will also trickle down to some improved systems at hare & hounds and other forms of off-road racing.

The KCF Board members © Kurt Caselli Foundation

RB: Anyone interested in helping can donate to the foundation through the Web site. Where do the funds actually go?

QC: We have a few different programs that we‘re working on. For Baja, we started using opening vehicles like they do in Dakar. At the Dakar Rally they send a car through [on the course] just ahead of the race. An opening vehicle sent through the densely populated areas of the race course helps let the spectators know the bikes and trucks will soon be coming their way.

This year at the Baja 1000 we had a helicopter flying above the course with a doctor on board. Our foundation’s helicopter was also coordinating with the helicopters of the lead teams. If one of the team choppers had to leave their rider to get fuel or something we were able to cover the rider for them. It’s paramount to make sure that the lead rider has air support with them at all times.

That’s one of the most dangerous parts of racing down in Mexico: If you’re the first guy [on course], there are sometimes cars going backwards on the course, wandering animals and possibly even some booby traps. Having a helicopter above you is a huge deal when you’re the guy leading the race. (Caselli was killed after hitting an animal--probably a cow or horse--while leading in the latter stages of that fateful race.)

RB: As a long-time friend of Kurt’s, can you tell us what was it about him that everyone loved so much?

QC: Working with Kurt’s family and everyone else involved is awesome. Kurt was such a down-to-earth guy. He grew up racing motorcycles and that’s what he loved to do. He never changed from the time he was a 12-year-old kid out in the desert to being the champion racer that he was later in life--he was always that same guy. Kurt was very approachable and just a great guy to be around. He made you feel good when you were hanging out with him, even if you were racing against him.

Kurt and his fiance' Sarah © Kurt Caselli Foundation

RB: As well as improving rider safety and tracking technology, what other sorts of things are in the cards for the foundation?

QC: This year we will award the first Kurt Caselli Foundation Scholarship. The scholarship is targeted to racers who have had a racing career and have been injured or just couldn’t make it to the top. When that happens, some racers would like to go back to school and start a whole new career for themselves.

This is a program we want to keep going with for a long time. Quite a few amateur motocross kids have never even finished high school while they were busy pursuing their racing dreams. At the end of the day, we just want to help riders out. Next year KCF will be sponsoring the AMA National Youth [Hare & Hound] Series--we will be working with them in so far as education and safety.

One of Kurt’s trademarks was his seemingly ever-present grin, and nothing made him smile more than helping others find theirs. In fact, helping others is personified perfectly in the Kurt Caselli Foundation. While the man is missed, his legacy lives on.

Kurt Caselli © Kurt Caselli Foundation
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