Back in 1970 there was no official AMA Motocross Championship, yet that did not discourage Enduro icon Dick Burleson to take the first title as top American in the Trans Am (AMA) motocross series. You see, back in the early, early days, the European racers pretty much whipped our asses all day including Sunday. There was an off-season series (for the European racers) that took place in America each year and an impromptu title was given to the top finishing American in the series. The official AMA National Motocross Championship did not officially kickoff until 1972. Burleson, nor any other Americans, could not beat the European riders in the Trans AMA series, yet a title of Top Yank was given out. In fact, in 1972 Mark Blackwell took top American honors while Gary Jones held top stars and stripes kudos in the 250 division.
Burleson made the transition to off road while working at local shops and at Husqvarna in the 1970s. Dick is famous for his Six Day ISDE gold medal accomplishments, not to mention he is the only rider to ever win 8 consecutive AMA National Enduro titles in a row. To this day DB still works in the industry and his son Jon-Erik runs KTM America. Wet met up with the former champ for a few words.
Motocross.com: You were the unofficial/official National Champion back in what was it, 1970?
DB: Trans AMA Series. Oh dude, that’s back in the day.
Did they actually award you a championship?
Yeah, I got a plaque from the AMA. I even got one of those varsity coats with tan leather sleeves and a #1 on it. I got that stuff.
You were going to college when you won the first AMA Championship?.
Yeah, I was going to the University of Michigan. We were on trimesters so I was going to school for one semester and racing the other one so it took a little while to finish college.
How did the very first National Champion himself come in to being a National Enduro Champion. How many times did you win the National Enduro Championship?
I got lucky. I won 8 National Championships. It really has to do with kind of one of those chain of events. I was living in Ann Arbor and then there was a motorcycle dealer in Toledo and he was really a dealer so his kids could have bikes. My roommate got a job managing that shop and I went down there and started working. Well, that guy was an old enduro riding buddy of John Penton. As a result of that connection, John eventually got me to go to Six Days because I was a motocross guy and you had to have those skills for that. Then I rode one or two enduros but didn’t do any good but then we did the Six Days in ’73. After that, the Swedes had brought over this trick 350 Husky prototype that they raced and it was in our office in Ohio so I like scammed it after the Six Days and took it to an Enduro in St. Louis, Missouri, and won the damn thing overall on that bike. So I had been riding kind of the wrong bike and stepped onto the right bike and won that and was just like, dude, that was fun. The next year I just raced them all and won the series and just kept on doing it.
What was motocross like back then? The sport was just barely established in America at that time?
Well, there were really a lot of people doing it which meant that you’d go there and you’d be there all day but only get to ride for 20 minutes and that’s what I really hated about it. There was a lot of people and there was no money in it, of course. We weren’t making any money at all. When I did that series it cost me money to do that series, basically. Going to an enduro, you go there and you get to ride for 6 hours. I just wanted to ride longer. I didn’t want to sit around the pits and not ride, so that was kind of one reason, and, I really liked riding in the woods. I just liked it a lot.
42 years later and you still ride motorcycles.
Yeah, I’ve got me an awesome 150 XC KTM little two-stroke thing. I swear to God that thing’s got more horsepower than the 360 Husky had back in the day. It’s so fun to ride. So I still ride a lot because I do testing and development work for Moose. I ride whenever I can, even if it means riding in 8-10 inches of snow in the winter in Michigan. I ride probably an average of once or twice a week.
Have you collected any of your prize motorcycles over the years?
I have a ’78 250 Husky I rode in Sweden at the Six Days. That one is just exactly as it was when I finished the event. It was not a plan of mine, I’m not a collector of old bikes. It just ended up in my garage and I still have it. The stuff that I rode back in the day in motocross, I don’t know where any of that went.
So you kept your feet in the motorcycle industry ever since you got them wet.
Never got out. I’ve never been in any other industry. I worked for Husky up until ’89 and then I’ve been self-employed doing contract work and did a bunch of other stuff but always in the motorcycle business.
And you even raised a son to be a kind of a big wig over at KTM.
You know, to say I’m proud of him is an understatement, but it’s obvious he’s a lot smarter than me because he used his college degree to some benefit. I got an engineering degree, but I kind of turned into a racer. He made a much better choice than I did although that’s my personal opinion. He does an awesome job. Those guys they, and when I say “they,” I mean that company, they love the motorcycle business. They love the sport and it shows in their dedication to the sport in their investment in the product.
Do you see yourself running this game all the way until you can no longer work and you want to retire?
Dude I’m only a year away from Medicare so yeah, I’m like going. (Laughs).
Your Enduro record of 8 is a tie but you see it a little different?
Mike Lafferty got 8. I call them 8 and stuttering because he didn’t do them all in a row. There’s a remote possibility he could win another one, but I don’t see it because the young kids coming up, Charlie Mullins and Russell Bobbitt, they are on fire and they’re young and Mike’s in his mid-30s. So I don’t see it happening.
Even though it’s tied, you did yours all in a row and he did his staggered, so you kind of take the second moto win advantage?
Yeah, that’s the way I look at it. Eight in a row trumps 8 nonconsecutively, plus I got 8 gold medals at the same time so you’ve got to add that in too. But every record is made to be broken, who cares. All I want to do is see the sport continue and grow and that’s why I got involved with Alan Randt with the National Enduro Promotions Group to help that sport. We changed the rules, got the AMA to change that around so that that sport could come back and be a preeminent off-road sport and it has.
And now enduro it’s huge again and thriving?
Oh yeah, it’s huge. It’s back to where it was back in the day. Back in the day it was THE off-road sport and it’s now huge. They’ll open the entries and, like the one in South Carolina, it filled up 4 hours after they opened up the entries. 500 guys, full.
Interview: Scott Hoffman, Photos Hoffman and Dirt Rider Magazine archives