Change is inevitable. When we started presenting our list of America’s top off-road riders 11 years ago, the world was a different place. Juha Salminen was the top rider in America, even though he was from Finland. The U.S. was a B-team in the ISDE, and Kurt Caselli was a young talent in search of his first big win. Back then, we presented our first list as a means of ranking the importance of riders in the different venues of off-road racing across America. The top rider on the list was just that—the top off-road racer at that particular point in time.
Today, the top rider on our annual list is much more than that. He’s more than the fastest man or even the Rider of the Year. He’s the one rider in America we think best represents a certain spirit. That ideal is hard to define to outsiders, but those within the brotherhood of off-road racing know exactly what it is; it’s a combination of determination, talent and humanity. Off-road racers aren’t paid a great deal of money. They endure tremendous hardships to do what they do and will often give up personal glory in order to help a competitor in distress. Kurt Caselli embodied that spirit perfectly. He was our top rider three times before he was taken from us, and that’s why the Caselli Cup bears his name today.

The cup itself has also changed. In the past, the top rider was presented with a physical trophy. Now, the cup is a perpetual trophy with a new rider’s name added each year. The cup is a work of art, crafted by the guys at FMF and is almost ready for its public debut.

1 KailubRussell
GNCC XC1 #1, Enduro #1, Sprint #1
Sometimes there’s debate about who should be the top rider on the list. Sometimes there are arguments and passionate pleas for the underdog. Not this time. There’s no question that Kailub Russell is America’s top off-road rider right now. He dominated the GNCC series so thoroughly that he didn’t even have to ride the final events. He became the first rider in history to win that and the National Enduro championship in the same season. He won the highly competitive new Sprint Enduro series too. And he was leading the ISDE overall when he was injured. Kailub Russell is the best rider in America right now—maybe the best in the world.

2 Codywebb
EnduroCross #1, Last Dog Standing #1, Tennessee Knockout #1
Freakish natural talent will only get you so far. Cody Webb has that in spades, but he also has determination, fitness and unbelievable focus. Those qualities combined give him his second EnduroCross title in 2015. What impresses us even more is his ability to dominate America’s extreme enduros, like the Last Dog Standing and the Tennessee Knockout. Those events test his off-road credentials in a way that no arena race can duplicate.

Photo by Mark Kariya
Photo by Mark Kariya

ISDE #1, GNCC XC1 #5
Ryan Sipes is near the top of the list based mainly on one performance—but what a performance it was! In 2015 he became the first American to win the ISDE—ever. He’s also made his mark in the GNCC series, National Enduros and Sprint Enduros. Sipes is a converted motocrosser who has already earned the respect of everyone in the off-road world and written his name in the history books. And he’s still getting better.

4 Josh Strang2
1GNCC XC1 #2, Enduro #8
Josh is the fastest man who didn’t win a championship in 2015. He won three GNCC XC1 Pro races before the year was over and finished second on four other occasions. He won a National Enduro and would have won more if not for one very specific problem that he experienced over and over—Kailub Russell.

Photo by Kenny King
Photo by Kenny King

Enduro #2, GNCC XC1 #3
When Grant was 13, he became the youngest rider to win a GNCC Youth event overall. He’s had an uninterrupted string of achievements since then, including two XC2 championships and an ISDE Junior Trophy World Championship. In 2015 he had another good year for the AmPro Yamaha team, coming oh so close to winning his first XC-1 race on several occasions. He also finished the year with a National Enduro win and another great run at the ISDE.

6 RobbyBell
WORCS #1, Big 6 #4
It was a mixed year for Robby Bell, who managed to collect his second WORCS Pro championship despite being injured. In fact, Bell didn’t miss a race, riding in one round with fresh stitches in his face just to maintain his points lead. Bell also won in the Glen Helen Endurance series and the AMA District 37 Big 6 championship but didn’t ride the entire series. Bell continues to do well in everything he tries.

7 GarySutherlin1
WORCS #2, H&H #3
Despite an injury that ruined his chances in two different championships, Gary Sutherlin had a great year. He’s one of the toughest off-road racers in the west and won races in WORCS, Big 6 and National Hare & Hound. He finished the year with a gold medal at the ISDE.

8 Coltonhaaker
EnduroCross #2
Colton Haaker is an EnduroCross champion. It just hasn’t happened yet. He ended the season with a record that equaled Cody Webb’s for main-event wins and never finished worse than fourth. In the outdoor world of extreme enduros, he gets a little better each year and is forcing Webb to look over his shoulder.

Photo by Kenny King
Photo by Kenny King

OMA #1, GNCC XC1 #11
Steward is unbelievably tough. In fact, he seems to ride better when he has at least one compound fracture. After a year of injuries, he had a great performance in the ISDE, earning a gold medal in an otherwise dismal U.S. Junior Trophy effort—and of course he rode injured the whole time.

10 Ivan Ramirez
H&H #1
This has been a long time coming. Despite winning only one National Hare & Hound, Ivan Ramirez finally won the championship in 2015. From his early days as an apprentice under Kurt Caselli, Ivan has been working towards this for years and can now be considered a hero in two different countries.

11 MikeBrown
EnduroCross #3, ISDE Gold, X Games Gold
It’s rare that a 43-year-old professional motorcycle racer is still relevant as he nears the end of this career. Mike Brown is more than relevant; he’s still at the top of his game. He won the Austin X Games EnduroCross, as well as the Salt Lake City Main event. Then he capped the year with another gold medal at the ISDE.

12 Taylor Robert
EnduroCross # 5
Taylor isn’t on this list because of what he did in 2015 but rather what he can do in 2016. It seems that all his efforts were thwarted by misfortune throughout the year. His season started off with a broken wrist and ended with a disqualification in the ISDE because of a missed course marking. Still, he won the EnduroCross finale and will go to Europe in 2016 to ride the World Enduro championship.

Photo by Mark Kariya
Photo by Mark Kariya

It was a good year for Rocky Mountain ATV/MC rider Thad Duvall, both in racing and dear hunting. He came into the GNCC XC1 class five years ago and was a serious player right from the start. He won his third career XC1 overall at Mountain Ridge, Pennsylvania, and eventually finished fourth in the series. He was caught up the in firestorm of bad luck at the ISDE, but looks great going into 2016.

14 ChrisBach
At one point in the year, it looked like no one was ever going to stop Kailub Russell again. Chris Bach finally said enough was enough and gave the JCR team its first GNCC victory at the Tomahawk in Odessa, New York. Bach also made a few appearances on the West Coast in Big 6 GPs and at the 24 Hours of Glen Helen, where he showed that he’s a very quick learner.

15 Russell Bobbitt
Enduro #3, Sprint #2
It’s been 10 years since Russell won his first Enduro National championship, and now he’s slipping into a role as the senior statesman of the series at the age of 29. Early in the year, he even found himself in contention for his fifth title after winning the third round. He also made a statement in the Sprint Enduro series, where he finished second overall at the end of the year.

16 Andrew DeLong
Enduro #5, GNCC XC1 #12
Husqvarna’s Andrew DeLong had a spectacular year by most measures, but for him it wasn’t as spectacular as normal. After winning the 2014 National Enduro championship, he finished fifth in 2015, winning the second round. He also finished as well as fifth in the GNCC XC1 class, but missed several rounds because of injuries. He’ll be back with the Rockstar Husky team for 2016.

Photo by Ken Hill
Photo by Ken Hill

U.K.-born Jason Thomas has made a permanent place for himself in the U.S., riding for Shane Watts and winning the XC2 class. He’s been such a fixture near the top of that class since 2008 that it seems only natural that he won his second championship in 2015. But this time he didn’t just win; he dominated, winning seven times. When he’s not racing, Jason is teaching for DirtWise Academy.

18 ColtonUdall
SCORE #1, Big 6 #1
OX Motorsports is another name for Colton Udall. He created the team when Honda pulled out of Baja, and he accomplished miracles to continue the legacy through sheer willpower. Colton won the SCORE championship in 2015, although the unknowing think it was some sort of corporate Honda accomplishment. Colton also won the Big 6 Pro championship and the 24 Hours of Glen Helen.

19 JustinJones
Baja 1000 #1, 24 Hours of Glen Helen #1, WORCS #6
While he was leading the Baja 500, Justin met a truck going the wrong way on the course. That put a major hiccup in an otherwise solid year. He still won the Baja 1000, the San Felipe 250 and the 24 Hours of Glen Helen with Colton Udall and finished sixth in the WORCS Pro class despite missing three rounds.

20 JordanAshburn
Ashburn has been the foundation of the AmPro Yamaha team. Other riders come and go, but he’s always the one with solid results at the end of the year. After earning the number-three plate in 2014, he had a string of bad luck that put him in seventh at year’s end, but along the way there were four podium finishes.

21 ShireyWallis
WORCS Pro2 #1, H&H #6
Remember this name. Actually, you won’t have to; you’ll be seeing a lot of it in the years to come. Dalton caught the eye of Ty Davis, who went out of his way to provide a little support, and it paid off with a WORCS Pro 2 championship. Dalton is usually the one making all the two-stroke smoke near the front of the Big 6 races too.

22 CoryButtrick
Enduro #6, GNCC XC1 #15
After an endless string of injuries and an extended absence, Cory returned to racing on a Beta in 2015. He put in a full season in the National Enduro series, finishing as high as third overall, and then rode the last four rounds of the GNCC series where he was always within the top 10. Next year Cory will continue to work on rebuilding his knee and his career.

23 RickyBrabec
H&H #4
How quickly things change. Last year Ricky Brabec was on top of the world with three separate off-road championships. He couldn’t translate those results into the kind of sponsorship it takes to run at that level, though, and that problem was compounded by an injury mid-season. He still won two National Hare & Hounds, and now he finds himself riding for HRC Honda in international rallies for 2016.

Photo by Kinney Jones
Photo by Kinney Jones

WORCS winner, GNCC XC2 #2
Russell is one of the few riders to win on both coasts in 2015. He won the fourth round of the GNCC XC2 class and the seventh round of the WORCS Pro class in his home state of Washington. Ricky went on to ride the entire GNCC series and finish second in the year-end XC2 points tally.

25 Burson2
H&H #5, D37 #1
In 2015 Nick Burson probably won more races than any other rider on the list, but then again he probably raced more than any other rider too. He rides the AMA District 37 series, which runs almost every weekend in the harsh Mojave Desert. Nick is the very definition of an off-road racer, and his workman-like dedication earned him another number-one plate at year’s end.

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