At age five, Kurt Henricksen of Woodland Hills, Calif., was
already a national champ on the peewee minibike racing circuit,
which in 1973 SI branded "a form of Little League for rugged
individualists." Henricksen would prove to be the most rugged of
the bite-sized bikers: He went on to win several more age-group
titles and by 18 was ranked at the top of the professional
motocross circuit, having worn down some 200 motorcycles in hot
pursuit of his dreams. "Motocross was more than a regular job,"
says Henricksen, now 31. "It takes a lot of time to do it right.
I pretty much lived and breathed motorcycle racing."
This is an article from the July 27, 1998 issue
In 1986, however, his career screeched to a halt. Riding a
Kawasaki 125 during a practice lap at the Seattle Kingdome
Supercross, Henricksen hit a rut, which kicked up the back end
of his bike. He flipped over his handlebars--or "endo'd," in
track parlance--in a high-speed spill that left him paralyzed
from the neck down for six weeks. Doctors rebuilt Henricksen's
fractured neck by using part of his right hip bone, and he
recovered fully. Though he has occasionally raced cycles since
then, he remains reluctant to talk about the fall.
These days Henricksen lives in Perris, Calif., and works part
time in the pit crew for one of his friends from the motocross
circuit, Indy Racing League driver Jeff Ward. When the
37-year-old Ward finished 13th at the Indy 500 in May,
Henricksen handled the pit board, informing Ward of what lap he
was on, what position he was in and who was behind him. "I've
always looked up to Jeff as a friend and a teacher," says
Henricksen. "He's helping me now with auto racing, and hopefully
I can follow in his footsteps." Indeed, under Ward's tutelage,
Henricksen is prepping to take the wheel of a F2000 series car;
last year he took a five-day course at the Skip Barber Racing
School and is eligible to compete in a Formula Dodge race.
Despite his accident Henricksen has also kept his ties to
motocross, teaching classes at the Starwest Motocross Park in
Perris. He instructs peewee riders, hoping they'll get as much
out of racing as he did. "It's important for a family to get a
child into a sport," he says. "Look at Tiger Woods. He started
when he was four."