No one saw this coming. The year 2020 will live in infamy for so many reasons. Oddly enough, through pandemic, politics and pestilence, off-road racing in America not only survived but had some great moments. Most of the racing venues in the U.S. somehow completed their competition schedules, even though none of them went as originally planned.
The Dirt Bike staff sifted through the mix of racing that resulted from 2020’s wild ride and then looked forward to the year to come. These are the riders who shined the brightest in the worst of years, as well as those who we expect to excel in the near future. Our annual list of America’s top off-road riders is more of a snapshot of American racing right now than a look back. The Caselli Cup is our annual tribute to the best of the best in America’s diverse group of off-road racing. Each year another name is added to the cup named for Kurt Caselli, the man who we believe best embodied the spirit of off-road racing in America.
1 KAILUB RUSSELL
GNCC XC1 Champion, Full Gas Sprint Enduro Champion
Kailub Russell has accomplished everything there is to accomplish in off-road racing. In his career, he has become the winningest rider in GNCC, helped propel Team USA to the top of the world and raced at the highest level in virtually every venue. Going into 2020, he announced that it would be his last full year in the GNCC championship. And, he went out in style, clinching the championship with two rounds to go. He also won his second consecutive Full Gas Sprint Enduro championship. For 2021, Kailub will be riding select events, and perhaps even a National Motocross or two.
2 STEWARD BAYLOR
GNCC XC1 #4, AMA National Enduro #2, Full Gas Sprint Enduro #6
Steward missed most of the 2020 season because of team switches and injury, but that doesn’t diminish his status as one of the very best off-road riders in America. Even with his start-and-stop year in 2020, he won almost half the races he entered. With a new AmPro Yamaha ride and Kailub Russell in semi-retirement, Steward will be the man to beat in 2021.
3 RICKY BRABEC
Dakar Winner, Vegas to Reno winner
Frankly, we thought it would never happen. Ricky Brabec won the 2020 Dakar Rally, virtually dominating the race the whole way. No American has done that before, and going into 2021, no one is betting against a repeat performance. As if that weren’t enough, Ricky soloed to a 2020 Vegas-to-Reno win, proving that he can win anywhere in the world.
4 GRANT BAYLOR
AMA National Enduro Champion, GNCC XC1 #6
No one is surprised that Grant Baylor won the 2020 National Enduro Championship. He has finished in the top three every year since 2014. In 2020, however, he did it on the newly formed FactoryONE Sherco team, developing a bike from scratch along the way. He was also a consistent fixture on the GNCC XC-1 podium. In 2021, he will be stronger than ever now that the team has matured and his bike is proven.
5 JOSH STRANG
GNCC XC1 #2
Josh Strang hasn’t lost any speed at all since winning the GNCC XC1 class 10 years ago. In fact, he’s more focused than ever and sees 2021 as a year for him to shine once more. He won two GNCC overalls in 2020 and has found a new level of comfort on the Babbitt Kawasaki team under Fred Andrews.
6 BEN KELLEY
GNCC XC1 #5, AMA National Enduro #4
Ben missed four rounds of the 2020 GNCC series with a shoulder injury, then put together a string of podiums. He also won the season opener of the Full Gas Sprint Enduro championship. He will have big shoes to fill in 2021, as KTM will look to him to assume the vacancy left by Kailub Russell. That’s pressure.
7 DANTE OLIVEIRA
AMA National Grand Prix Champion, WORCS #2
Dante Oliveira is the brightest rising star on the western horizon. He has battled the likes of Taylor Robert and Zach Bell to a standstill and seems to be getting faster all the time. He will continue for the RPM KTM satellite team but will be getting increasing support from the Factory Red Bull KTM in 2021.
8 TAYLOR ROBERT
COVID-19 changed everyone’s plans for the year. Taylor Robert was no different. The cancellation of the 2020 ISDE robbed him of the chance to return to the international stage as a World Champion. He was forced to make do with his second consecutive WORCS Pro Championship. That would be a career highlight for any other rider, but it’s just another bullet point on Taylor’s resume.
9 DALTON SHIREY
AMA National Hare & Hound Champion, NGPC #5
It was a season that will go down as one of the greatest comebacks in National Hare & Hound history. Sidelined early in the year with two DNFs, Dalton put together a run of wins that saw him in a last-race showdown with veteran David Kamo. Dalton won to earn his first National Championship and make 2020 a year to remember—in a good way.
10 JOSH TOTH
AMA National Enduro #3
Josh broke his leg last year, then broke it again early this season, bending the rod in his tibia. He missed the first National Enduro, but with the delay of round two, he was ready to go by June. Then he won two more National Enduro overalls to eventually climb to third in the series.
11 THAD DUVALL
AMA National Enduro #9, GNCC XC1 #11
Thad Duvall looked like he had a shot at taking down Kailub Russell for 2020, but things couldn’t have gone much worse. A knee injury at the start of the season forced him to undergo reconstructive surgery and sidelined him until the very end of the year. He is already regaining his speed, so he earns his spot on the list based on his potential going forward.
12 ZACH BELL
Kawasaki’s corporate executives clearly had Zach Bell in mind when they came up with the new KX450X off-road bike. Bell has amazing speed when a course suits his style. He won three NGPC rounds but was then sidelined with injury and mechanical trouble. Despite a poor finishing record in 2020, many still consider him the fastest in the west.
13 AUSTIN WALTON
NGPC #4, WORCS #3
Moving to off-road racing from a motocross career, Austin Walton dominated the 2019 WORCS Pro 2 class. For 2020, he made his mark against the big boys in the National GP series on a Rockstar Husky FX450, winning round three and leading the points late into the year. Clearly, Austin’s best races are still to come.
14 TREVOR STEWART
NGPC #2, WORCS #5
Despite being a two-time AMA D37 Grand Prix champion and having a National Grand Prix title, Trevor Stewart almost quit racing at the start of 2020 when Team JCR scaled back its racing program. Then Team SLR stepped up, and coaching from former Supercross champion Jason Anderson brought Trevor back into the game with excellent results late in the season.
15 JORDAN ASHBURN
GNCC XC1 #3
No one plays the GNCC game with more savvy than Jordan Ashburn. His race craft has earned him top finishing positions and excellent season’s-end standings year after year. In 2020, he once again ended the year on the podium. He also broke out of his routine by riding the Tennessee Knockout on his dad’s KDX200.
16 CRAIG DELONG
GNCC XC2 Champion
It was a dogfight to the very end, but when the 2020 racing season was over, Craig DeLong emerged as the GNCC XC2 champion and the top points earner in the National Enduro Pro 2 class. He has finished as high as third overall from the second row in GNCC racing and will be returning for the Rockstar Husqvarna team in 2021.
17 JOHN GIRROR
GNCC XC2 #3, Full Gas Sprint Enduro XC2 #1
John is yet another fast Trail Jester. He earned his wings in the JDay Off-Road series where he earned five championships against the best in the Northwest. In 2020, he was leading the GNCC XC2 until he suffered a concussion at the Ironman. He’ll be back riding with the Trail Jesters in 2021. And, he’ll be fast.
18 MICHAEL WITKOWSKI
GNCC XC2 #2
After coming aboard the AmPro Yamaha team for 2020, Michael delivered the goods with three XC2 wins and 12 podiums. In many seasons, that would have been championship results, but in the ultra-competitive XC2 class of 2020, Witkowski had to settle for second. AmPro Yamaha has announced that he will be back for 2021.
19 COLTON HAAKER
AMA EnduroCross Champion
Colton Haaker is the best in the world at what he does. Unfortunately, he struggled to find places to go racing in 2020. First, Husqvarna decided not to send Colton to Europe to defend his SuperEnduro championship. Then COVID-19 hit, forcing the newly reorganized AMA National EnduroCross championship to run its entire season in a two-week period at one venue. Colton once again proved he’s the best, winning three of six races.
20 CODY WEBB
Rev-Limiter winner, AMA EnduroCross #2
Cody Webb’s life changed dramatically when he was injured in 2019. He missed most of that racing season, became a father, had his knee reconstructed, switched teams and had to develop a new bike. When he came back, he won the Rev-Limiter Extreme Enduro and finished second in the EnduroCross series. Not bad for a year that almost didn’t happen.
21 TRYSTAN HART
TKO winner, AMA EnduroCross #3
When someone believes in you, it makes all the difference. Halfway through the year, KTM Off-Road Racing Director Antti Kallonen threw his support behind Trystan, who instantly stepped up to a whole new level. He won the Tennessee Knockout and then proved he could ride at the same level as EnduroCross greats Colton Haaker and Cody Webb.
22 MATEO OLIVEIRA
WORCS Pro2 #1, NGPC Pro 2 #2
The Pro 2 WORCs races and Pro 2 NGPC races go by different rules—NGPC limits the class to 250 while WORCS does not. Either way, Mateo Oliveira rides right up front. Both classes have been an absolute dog fight all year, with Mateo in the thick of it.
23 JOE WASSON
AMA National Hare & Hound #3
Joe’s 2020 season started off badly when he suffered mechanical trouble in round one of the AMA National Hare & Hound series. Then he came back to win two overalls and finish third in the series. He also made his mark in the Best in the Desert series and finished fifth overall in Vegas to Reno.
24 JACOB ARGUBRIGHT
AMA National Hare & Hound #5
Jacob started the defense of his 2019 AMA National Hare & Hound championship in style by winning the first round. Unfortunately, he broke his arm in round two and had to sit out the Mint 400. After the Covid-19-imposed break, he recovered enough to score back-to-back podium finishes and climb back up to fifth in the points.
25 DAVID KAMO
AMA National Hare & Hound #2, West Hare Scrambles winner
At age 34, David Kamo seems to be just getting into his prime. His main thrust has been the National Hare & Hound series since 2004, but 2020 was his best year yet. He led all the way to the last round of the series only to lose by a single point. David is also a key player in the Caselli Foundation, which works to improve rider safety.