America now stands on top of the world in off-road racing. In 2016 an American rider stood on top of the podium at a round of the GP World Enduro championship for the first time ever. And then the U.S. team won the World Trophy at the ISDE. As if that weren’t enough, an American was the top individual at the Six Days for the second year in a row. “Top American” will never again be a relevant title.
All of that goes into the mix in our annual ranking of America’s Top Off-Road Racers. This is where we compare winners from various races across America, as well as those representing the U.S. overseas. We look at all the top off-road venues, including GNCC, National Enduro, Full Gas Sprint Enduro, Hare and Hound, Hare Scrambles, WORCS, BITD and more; then we mix in events outside the U.S., like the ISDE, Dakar, SCORE and the World Enduro championship, to develop a master list. To earn the number-one spot, a rider has to do more than simply win races. He has to show the spirit, commitment and versatility that were so perfectly exemplified by Kurt Caselli. It’s been three years since Kurt left us, but he will continue to inspire riders in the future—just as he did when he rode among us. We can think of no greater way to honor America’s top off-road racer each year than by adding his name to Kurt’s on the perpetual Caselli Cup.
1 TAYLOR ROBERT
ISDE overall winner & Trophy Team leader, Hare & Hound winner, WEC winner
Taylor Robert was the unanimous winner this year because of his amazing versatility. He spent most of the year racing in Europe where he was a major force in SuperEnduro, and he became the first American to win the GP class of the World Enduro championship. He then came back to the U.S. to win his first and only National Hare and Hound and act as a spoiler in the EnduroCross series. It was, of course, the ISDE that cemented Taylor as this year’s winner of the Caselli Cup. It was one thing to win the overall as an individual, but Taylor’s contribution to America’s first Trophy Team win was immeasurable. Kurt would be proud.
GNCC XC1 champion, Trophy Team member, 10 GNCC wins
The GNCC series is America’s single-most competitive off-road competition, and Kailub Russell owns it. He won the XC-1 championship for the fourth year in a row, this time doing it more convincingly than ever, with 10 overall wins. Kailub isn’t a one-note player, either. Once his primary mission in the GNCC world was accomplished, he joined America’s ISDE effort and was a big part of America’s historic victory, placing seventh in the final individual standings.
Full Gas Sprint Enduro #1, Trophy Team member, GNCC #3
The most amazing thing about Thad Duvall is that he’s still getting better. He won the XC2 championship eight years ago, and since then he’s improved in every way, now standing on the brink of his lifelong goal of an XC1 title. In 2016 he won the highly competitive Kenda Full Gas Sprint Enduro championship and finished the GNCC season with a string of runner-up placings behind Kailub Russell. He was a member of the U.S. Trophy Team in Spain and earned the respect of the world as a vital part of the U.S. victory.
GNCC XC1 #2, Full Gas Sprint Enduro #2
Josh Strang is one of the few riders who can say he beat Kailub Russell in 2016. In fact, the quiet Australian won three overalls in the GNCC series. Only he stood in the way of a Kailub sweep. Josh also won two rounds of the Full Gas Sprint Enduro series. His season ended on a sour note when he was injured on day one of the ISDE, preventing Australia from having a shot at a repeat victory there. We confess, aside from the U.S., there’s no team that we would rather see win and no rider who deserves to be a part of that more than Josh.
EnduroCross champion, SuperEnduro champion
Years ago trials legend Geoff Aaron told us that when Colton Haaker gets his mental game up to the same level as his riding skill, he will be unbeatable in the EnduroCross title chase. In 2016, that’s what happened. Haaker combined a cool head with amazing speed and skill to dominate the U.S. EnduroCross series. Prior to that, he did the same thing on the world stage, winning the SuperEnduro world championship. When it comes to the somewhat offbeat concept of off-road riding in an indoor setting, Colton is the best.
EnduroCross #2, TKO winner, KOM winner, Last Dog Standing winner
EnduroCross courses are so insanely difficult that many pro racers can’t complete a single lap. Yet, they aren’t difficult enough for Cody Webb. He’s the most skilled off-road rider in the U.S., maybe the world. The problem is that there aren’t enough races that are tough enough to showcase that fact. At the Tennessee Knockout and the Last Dog Standing, Cody destroyed international fields of truly great riders. At EnduroCross, he and Colton Haaker have been known to lap the field. The only thing that holds Cody Webb back is that there simply aren’t enough races hard enough to challenge him.
GNCC XC2 champion, ISDE gold
At the age of 21, Trevor Bollinger is already a previous world champion, and now he can add a national championship to his resume. In 2014 he was a part of the winning U.S. Junior Trophy Team in the Argentina ISDE. He was also a member in 2015 and 2016. Even with that under his belt, his real career highlight is winning the GNCC XC2 title in 2016 for JCR Honda. Trevor is a big man for a 250, and in the future it will be especially exciting to see what he can do on a 450.
If any rider has paid his dues in the GNCC ranks, it’s Jordan Ashburn. After years of racing for the AmPro Yamaha team in the shadow of riders like Paul Whibley and Josh Strang, he switched to the Westfield Powersports team in 2016 and had excellent results on a KTM 350. At round five in South Carolina, he tied his career best overall finish with a second place to Kailub Russell. His fourth-place standing in the points secured him a Beta factory ride for the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
National Enduro champion, GNCC #20
Russell Bobbitt has already been granted status as a legend in off-road racing. With four previous National Enduro championships, he had nothing to prove in 2016. Riders like Russ, however, always have to prove things to themselves. Thus, five years after his last championship, Russell Bobbitt once again carries the number-one plate in the Kenda National Enduro championship. He did it the old-fashioned way—through training, dedication and by being just a little smarter. Plus, Russell is still a very fast man on a motorcycle.
National H&H champion, Dakar #9
We didn’t know what to expect from Ricky Brabec in 2016. With his job racing for the HRC rally team, he spends much of his time flying around the globe, riding and testing in the most remote places on earth. Somehow, he found the time to win the 2016 National Hare and Hound championship. Regardless of all the stamps on his passport, his roots are in the Mojave desert, and he proved once again he’s the master there. His main focus will be the Dakar Rally in 2017, which he will be immersed in by the time this is published.
There have been more successful years for Robby Bell, but by all rights, 2016 should be the one that he’s most proud of. It’s been a season of injury, adversity and setbacks, but still he came through it all with another WORCS pro championship. When he’s healthy, he’s extremely tough to beat out west, and he will probably be re-energized by big changes in his racing program for 2017.
GNCC #10, Trophy Team member, Sprint #5
When someone calls and asks you to pack your bags and fly to Spain as a last-minute replacement on the U.S. Trophy Team, you don’t ask questions. If you’re Layne Michael, you step up your game and help America win its first-ever World Trophy. Layne also won a round of the Sprint Enduro series and got into the top 10 in the GNCCs, making 2016 his best year ever.
GNCC #6, Sprint #14
He comes from the forests of the Northwest, but Ricky Russell has proven he can ride anywhere. In fact, he does, traveling east for each round of the GNCC series on the Obermeryer MCS Suzuki team. In 2016 he rode a new bike in a new class for a new team and it paid off, with no less than five finishes in the top five overall.
SCORE champion, Big 6 #4, WORCS #9
It takes a tough man to make a career out of racing in Mexico. It’s not just about going fast over long distances. Baja success is more about putting together complex logistics before you ever cross the border. Colton Udall is the king of all that. He swept the three major races in Mexico this year and still managed some excellent results stateside.
GNCC #7, National Enduro #3, ISDE gold
Grant is the younger of the Baylor brothers, who have left an indelible mark on American off-road racing. In 2016 he put his AmPro Yamaha as high as second place overall in a GNCC round and won three races in the National Enduro series. He also rode on the U.S. Junior Trophy Team in Spain, leading that team to second place. That backs up his part in the U.S. Junior World victory back in 2014.
GNCC #8 National Enduro #2, ISDE gold
The Baylor brothers had mirror-image results in 2016. They both won National Enduros. They both broke into the top 10 at most GNCCs. They both contributed to the U.S. Junior Trophy Team’s success in the ISDE. Steward might have a little more to prove to his kid brother in 2017.
Big Six Pro champion
In the past, Mexican riders have had limited success in the U.S. Ivan Ramirez broke through that barrier first, and now his good friend Eric Yorba has followed suit. Eric started the year with terrible luck, but turned it around in both the AMA District 37 Big 6 GP series and in WORCS. Eric also had a great ride in the ISDE, finishing as Mexico’s top rider.
Even though he isn’t riding as much as he once did, Mike Brown is an icon in the U.S. off-road circles and a legend in motocross. We look forward to seeing him ride select events in 2017.
WORCS #2, Big 6 #6
Dalton has come a long way in a short time under the wing of off-road legend Ty Davis. After winning the WORCS Pro 2 class, he stepped up to the big show and was rewarded with three overall wins in 2016. He was, in fact, the winningest rider on the WORCS tour in 2016, and he will only get better.
Big 6 #2, WORCS #6
At the beginning of 2016, Blayne Thompson was the hottest rider on the West Coast. He had just gotten a new Fasthouse YZ450F, and it seemed to suit him perfectly. As the year continued, he suffered some key DNFs that took him out of contention for both the WORCS and the Big 6 championships. For 2017 he will be on a new Honda CRF450RX, and time will tell if that’s the key to a number-one plate.
Chris Bach came out of the gate hard and fast in 2016, which was exactly how he finished the previous year. Unfortunately, injury took him out of half the GNCC season. In the races he attended, though, he showed he still has the speed to be a title contender, and he will be back in 2017 riding for a new team.
GNCC XC2 #2, GNCC overall #9
It seems that the GNCC series breeds fast family dynasties. Craig DeLong, younger brother to former National Enduro champion Andrew DeLong, burst onto the XC2 class in 2015 after winning the 250 A class in 2014. He earned respect from the crowd by riding a two-stroke for the Coastal Racing Husky team, eventually finishing second in the XC2 class and working his way up as high as fifth overall.
How quickly fortunes can change in off-road racing. One year ago Ryan Sipes was universally heralded for winning the ISDE overall—the first American in history to do so. Unfortunately, the 2016 season was difficult for Ryan, and the ultimate insult came when he had to back out of America’s 2016 ISDE Trophy Team due to injury. Ryan will come back. Count on it.
GNCC #16, Sprint #4
Yet another incredibly fast Aussie, Daniel Milner was leading the Full Gas Enduro series mid season when he broke his leg. From that point on he struggled to get his program back on track, suffering a series of setbacks. When he’s fit, Milner can ride with the best, although it doesn’t look like he will be riding in the U.S. in 2017.
GNCC #17, Sprint Enduro #3, National Enduro #6
Cory had some great races in 2016, but not all in the same series. He won a Sprint Enduro, he won a National Enduro and he finished top 10 in several GNCC races. It was his first year on an SRT KTM after leaving the Beta team, and there’s every indication that Cory will put together a more consistent program in 2017.