AMERICA’S 25 BEST OFF-ROAD RIDERS: THE CASELLI CUP

Off-road racing is huge and undefinable. We tend to lump all dirt racing that isn’t motocross into one big category, but in truth, what we call off-road racing is a collection of at least a half-dozen types of competition. That’s why ranking America’s best off-road racers is so difficult. We’re comparing riders who might never even have met. In recent years, the situation has become even more complex, because off-road racing is more regional than ever. It’s a grass-roots sport with no millionaires to be made. The one thing these racers have in common is the passion it takes to participate in a very difficult, all-consuming sport. It takes a special kind of person to excel as an off-road racer in America, with mental and physical toughness that go off the chart.
KailubCup_710webKurt Caselli embodied that spirit. He was tough, passionate and dedicated. That’s why the top rider in Dirt Bike’s annual ranking of off-road racers is the recipient of an award named for Kurt. Each year we present the Caselli Cup to the best of the best. We use results from races all over the country to determine the list, and we also factor in each rider’s prospects for success in the year ahead. Those events include GNCC, WORCS, National Enduro, Hare & Hound, OMA, Best in the Desert, SCORE and EnduroCross. As always, we give added weight to riders who participate in more than one type of racing. This year we gave extra emphasis to the International Six-Day Enduro, where riders represented the U.S. in Argentina and came back with our best overall performance ever.

1 KAILUB RUSSELL—XC1 Champion, ISDE Gold
Some people might call it a genetic gift, but we know better. Kailub Russell’s success is the result of hard work and dedication. The fact that his father is a former National Enduro champion simply means that motorcycles were part of his upbringing. Kailub utterly dominated the 2014 GNCC XC1 championship, and that alone made him a shoo-in for the title of America’s Best Off-Road Racer. But then he went to Argentina and led the American Trophy Team to second place in the ISDE, finishing as top American and third overall. The desert terrain couldn’t have been any more alien to him considering his eastern U.S. stomping grounds, proving he’s a great rider no matter where he is.

Codyleapface2 CODY WEBB—EnduroCross champion, Extreme Enduro winner
Cody Webb might be the most talented off-road rider in the world. This year he put all that skill to good use, winning all three of America’s most difficult off-road races: King of the Motos, Last Dog Standing and the Tennessee Knockout. In EnduroCross, he had a spectacular year and emerged as the new champion. That eclipses his earlier career in trials, where he earned the 2010 national championship. For 2015, he will change camps and ride for the RPM KTM team and will doubtlessly continue to amaze us.

3taylorweb3 TAYLOR ROBERT—EnduroCross winner, WORCS winner, ISDE gold
Taylor might not have earned any championships in 2014, but he won a little of everything he did. He rode two WORCS races and won them both. He rode one OMA race and won it. He took his first EnduroCross win. And, then he went to the ISDE and was at the top of his game, winning 10 special tests. That put him in contention to become the first American to ever win overall, but mechanical trouble dropped him to fourth in the 500 class. He still earned a gold medal, contributing to America’s best-ever overall performance in the Six Days.

4sutherlinweb4 GARY SUTHERLIN—WORCS champion, ISDE gold
If there was a #1 plate awarded for sheer grit and gristle, Gary Sutherlin would win it every year. He’s proven himself to be America’s toughest racer. As it is, he’ll have to settle for the WORCS#1 plate and the honor of winning the C2 class at the ISDE. He accomplished both feats, finishing with broken bones and gritting his teeth. He started his career working as a mechanic for Ricky Dietrich and keeps climbing higher in the off-road pecking order.

5mullinsweb5 CHARLIE MULLINS—National Enduro winner, XC1 #4, ISDE silver
It was a painful year for Charles. He started 2014 in his best form ever. He held the National Enduro #1 plate and was riding well, but injury struck at the worst time, killing any chance at a repeat championship. He regrouped to have a great year anyway, though. He won three GNCC overalls to finish fourth in the standings. He won four National Enduros and then capped the season with a strong performance at the ISDE, despite a hard crash early in the event. Charles is now a veteran in American off-road racing, and he’s still got plenty of winning in front of him.

6delongweb6 ANDREW DELONG—National Enduro champion, ISDE gold
Andrew Delong is one of America’s brightest young talents. In 2014, he expanded his racing horizons, moving up to the XC1 class in GNCC racing and adapting to big bikes well enough to climb onto the podium. Then he took on the National Enduro championship, winning against extremely deep competition. At the end of the year, he did his part to contribute to America’s best ISDE performance, finishing second individual in the C2 club standings.

7strangweb7 JOSH STRANG—GNCC XC1 #2
The Aussie former champ switched to the AmPro Yamaha team in 2014 and was the only man who could keep pace with the KTM dynamic duo of Russell and Mullins. After what seemed like an endless string of third-place finishes in the GNCC XC1 class, Strang finally broke through to win the second-to-last round at Powerline Park in Ohio. His gold-medal performance at the ISDE was bittersweet for Americans because he rode for Australia, which gave the U.S. team fits.

8brownweb8 MIKE BROWN—ISDE gold
Mike Brown seems to be immune to the aches and pains that usually haunt 42-year-olds, especially ones who have spent most of those years racing motorcycles. He had such a great year in 2013 that we assumed he would keep winning forever. And he might, but he struggled for the first half of 2014. His year got better and better, though, and at the very end, he regained his classic Mike Brown form at the ISDE, where he finished with the fourth-best score in the world.

9Baylorweb9 GRANT BAYLOR—GNCC XC2 champion, ISDE champion
We’re still trying to get our heads around the unfair fact that one family can have so many talented members. In 2013, Grant emerged from brother Steward’s shadow and won the GNCC XC2 championship. In 2014, Grant kept right on going to win his second XC2 title, twice climbing to second overall among the big boys on the first line. He also won a National Enduro and finished third in that championship. The highlight of his year was his contribution to America’s Junior Trophy championship in the ISDE.

10bellweb10 ROBBY BELL—WORCS #2, Baja 1000 winner, Vegas to Reno winner, 24 Hours of Glen Helen winner
Robby Bell’s hopes of repeating as WORCS champ were derailed before the very first round when he injured his leg. He rode his way back into top form and won two rounds before the season ended, but his real accomplishments came in long team races. He dominated Glen Helen’s Endurance Series and the Best in the Desert races, then ended the year with a hard-fought SCORE Baja 1000 win with teammates Steve Hengeveld, Max Eddy Jr. and Ricky Brabec.
Brabecsun+web11 RICKY BRABEC—Hare & Hound champion, Baja 1000 winner, Vegas to Reno winner
If you had bet everything on Ricky Brabec winning the Hare & Hound title before the year began, Vegas odds-makers would have given you fantastic terms. The series was loaded with heavily supported riders from KTM and Husqvarna, whereas Ricky was winging it on his own. He beat them all, then teamed up with Robby Bell as rider of record in Vegas to Reno and the Baja 1000, winning both. He had a magic year, exceeding all expectations.

312 JUSTIN JONES—WORCS #3, ISDE champion
We’re especially proud to see JJ climbing the list of America’s best riders. He’s been a Dirt Bike test rider since his days on a minibike. In his second year as a pro rider, he duplicated his 2013 WORCS result in third place. But, he waited until the end of the year to turn in the performance of a lifetime. He led America’s Junior Trophy team to victory in the ISDE, turning in scores that made the whole world stop and stare. We’re proud, but not at all surprised.

taddy.blazusiak_superenduro_2015-rnd2_MG_259813 TADDY BLAZUSIAK—EnduroCross winner
Taddy’s EnduroCross run is nothing short of amazing. It’s one of those rare times in history when the right man and the right sport came along at the right time to make magic happen. Taddy and EnduroCross needed each other to succeed. Even though he no longer dominates the race series that he came to define, Taddy Blazusiak is still a phenomenal talent and Poland’s greatest export to the U.S. In 2015 he will continue to commute back and forth from Europe, where he will ride the Superenduro series.

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14 COLTON HAAKER—EnduroCross winner
EnduroCross seems to be random and chaotic, but when the same guy turns in the fastest lap time after time, it means there’s a method to the madness. Colton Haaker is the king of the Hot Lap at most EnduroCross events, meaning he has the ability go faster than anyone else in a sprint. At several events this year, he turned that ability into victory at the end of the night. In the very specialized world of EnduroCross, he has become the ultimate specialist.

15Ashburnweb15 JORDAN ASHBURN—GNCC XC1 #3
Even though he’s only 23 years old, Jordan Ashburn is a wily veteran on the GNCC scene. His first class championship goes back to 2007, and now he finds himself finishing third in the premier class and leading the AmPro team—a career very reminiscent of one Charlie Mullins. Toward the end of the season, Jordan traveled to Japan and won the Japanese National Cross-Country season finale at the Jigatake Ski Resort in Omachi City, Nagano.

16baylorweb16 STEWARD BAYLOR—ISDE champion
Steward burst into the limelight in 2011 and started knocking out championships like it was easy. First came the XC2 title, then the National Enduro championship. Then the injuries came, one after another. It took most of the year, but Steward is finally back, riding at a level that makes it seem like 2011 all over again. He’s a fixture in the top five of the XC1 class, and he was on that incredible American Junior Trophy team that beat the world in the ISDE.

17duvallweb17 THAD DUVALL—ISDE gold
After a fantastic run in the XC2 class, Thad Duvall just finished his second year in the GNCC premier class, riding a Honda backed by Morgantown Powersports, right in the heart of GNCC land. He’s won races on a 450, but he’s also been known to ride a CRF250R against the big bikes. In 2014, he was second overall on two occasions, but he also had a long string of bad luck. In Argentina, he joined his KTM-mounted rivals to help America’s Trophy Team to second place, finishing with the third-best score on the team.

18CBachweb18 CHRIS BACH—GNCC XC1 #7
North Carolinian Chris Bach wants to win the XC1 class in a big way. He came close in 2013, finishing third in the standings and earning a ride on the newly formed JCR-East team. The following year was rough, with good results and disappointments. That pattern continued in the ISDE when he was winning the club-team competition with Gary Sutherlin and Andrew Delong until his bike choked with dirt. It seems the only thing Bach really needs is a little luck.

19russellweb19 RICKY RUSSELL—GNCC XC2 #3
We love it when a rider shows this kind of versatility. Russell lives in Washington state, but traveled across the country to ride the GNCC series against the best in the east, where he won two rounds of the XC2 class. Then, when the WORCS circuit came to Straddleline, Washington, he showed what he could do against the best in the West, finishing second overall. Clearly, Russell doesn’t care where he rides as long as he has a throttle to twist.

20bollingerweb20 TREVOR BOLLINGER—GNCC XC2 #2, ISDE champion
After earning the GNCC top amateur position in 2013, Trevor moved up to the XC2 class and was standing on the top of the podium by the third round. Even better, that was in his hometown of Morganton, North Carolina. Trevor is a big man on a little motorcycle, though, and goes to each start with a power-to-weight disadvantage, forcing him to come from behind. He was the fourth member of America’s winning Junior Trophy team at the ISDE.

21groemweb21 JESSE GROEMM—National Enduro #2
New Jersey native Jesse Groemm is on a steep learning curve and, at 21 years old, has already put together quite a career. In 2014, he rode for Shane Watts’ Dirtwise team and won a National Enduro in Cross Fork, Pennsylvania. He was in the mix in virtually every round, making him a serious contender for the title at the end of the year. His performance in GNCC, OMA and enduros caught the attention of the people at Beta, and for 2015, he will enjoy a fully supported ride. Congrats!

22bakkenweb22 BRAD BAKKEN—VCHSS champion
Riding for the AmPro Yamaha team, Brad Bakken has proven himself in the National Enduro series year after year. In 2014, he broke through to win a round and make it clear that he is a contender for the title. On top of that, he won the championship and will carry the #1 plate in the Virginia Championship Hare Scrambles Series, where he has been riding since he was in the mini ranks. We expect more of the same continuous improvement from Bakken in 2015.

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23 NICK FAHRINGER—National Enduro #5
Lanky Nick Fahringer has been a fixture on the National Enduro scene since 2003 when he won his first #1 plate in the 200 B class. He’s steadily climbed to the top and clearly rides with his head as much as with the throttle. In fact, he’s a mechanical engineer with a degree from the University of Dayton. In 2014, Nick rode for the Airgroup Husqvarna satellite team and finished fifth after a string of second–place finishes.

24bursonweb24 NICK BURSON—Hare & Hound #2
Purvines Beta rider Nick Burson is on the brink of breaking out of regional desert racing and onto the national scene. The problem is that he’s so busy with AMA District 37, Big Six GPs and Best in the Desert races. In 2014, he won two National Hare & Hound races against heavyweight talent, putting him in the unofficial desert racing hall of fame.

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25 IVAN RAMIREZ—Hare & Hound #3
In 2014, Mexican superstar Ivan Ramirez became the reluctant KTM flag bearer in the National Hare & Hound series. That position had belonged to his close friend and roommate Kurt Caselli prior to the tragic events of the 2013 Baja 1000. Ivan stepped up to the task and won three rounds. We would like to see more of Ivan in various off-road races in 2015. o
THE YEAR THAT WAS
Riders who won in 2014

GNCC OVERALL
1. KAILUB RUSSELL
2. JOSH STRANG
3. JORDAN ASHBURN
4. CHARLIE MULLINS
5. GRANT BAYLOR (XC2 champ)
6. ANDREW DELONG
7. PAUL WHIBLEY
8. STEWARD BAYLOR JR.
9. CHRIS BACH
10. RICKY RUSSELL

ENDURO
1. ANDREW DELONG
2. JESSE GROEMM
3. GRANT BAYLOR
4. BRAD BAKKEN
5. NICK FAHRINGER
6. MIKE LAFFERTY
7. STEWARD BAYLOR
8. CHARLIE MULLINS
9. RYDER LAFFERTY
10. CORY BUTTRICK

HARE & HOUND
1. RICKY BRABEC (4 wins)
2. NICK BURSON (2 wins)
3. IVAN RAMIREZ (3 wins)
4. AXLE PEARSON
5. JUSTIN MORROW

HARE SCRAMBLES WEST
1. JACOB ARGUBRIGHT
2. JUSTIN BONITA
3. ERIC YORBA

HARE SCRAMBLES EAST
1. JEDEDIAH HAINES
2. ZACH DOTSON
3. NATHAN THORNHILL

ENDUROCROSS
1. CODY WEBB
2. TADDY BLAZUSIAK
3. COLTON HAAKER
4. TAYLOR ROBERT
5. MAX GERSTON
6. MIKE BROWN
7. CORY GRAFFUNDER
8. BOBBY PROCHNAU
9. GEOFF AARON
10.  TY TREMAINE

WORCS
1. GARY SUTHERLIN
2. ROBBY BELL
3. JUSTIN JONES
4. ERIC YORBA
5. JUSTIN SEEDS

TRAVIS COY—WORCS Pro 2 champion

OMA
1. PAUL WHIBLEY
2. JASON THOMAS
3. ADAM BONNIER
4. JIMMY JARRETT
5. NICK FAHRINGER

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