Josh Lichtle, 23, died early Monday morning after complications from heat stroke sustained during the 450 class Moto 1 race on Saturday at the 2011 Rockstar Energy RedBud National in Michigan, the sixth stop of the AMA Lucas Oil Motocross Championship.
Lichtle tangled with Ryan Villopoto and Tommy Hahn in the first turn of Lap 1, but recovered and was making his way up in the pack before collapsing on his bike on turn 18 of the 10th and final lap. Lichtle got up and tried to restart his bike, but fell again and began going into heat-related seizures. He was treated by the track doctor and on-site EMTs before being taken to nearby Saint Joseph's Medical Center.
"He was doing really good, running some laptimes right there with the best of them, right there with Ryan Villopoto and Davi Millsaps, and he was really going for it," said Bill Lichtle, Josh's older brother. "He got overheated, basically, and by the last laps he was practically passing out on the bike. He just wouldn't quit. That was Josh: He just had so much heart and he wanted to be back competing at this level so bad that he wouldn't have quit for anything."
Temperatures in the area were in the low 90's during the race, not uncommonly high for summer motorsports events, but physical overheating is an inherent danger of the sport. Doctors induced a coma to attempt to stabilize Lichtle's core body temperature, according to his brother, and he appeared to have been stabilized by Sunday night. Despite apparent progress, Lichtle died around 2 a.m. Monday morning, surrounded by family and loved ones. "My parents really supported him through every stage of his racing career, and they're just devastated now," said Bill.
Lichtle, a former amateur champion, saw his pro career stopped short after a severe ankle injury in 2006 and had been trying to stage a comeback over the last several years, racing partial East Coast Supercross seasons in 2009 and 2010. He qualified for this weekend's Red Bud National in 30th place out of a 40-rider field.
"My brother and I both started racing when we were like three years old," said Bill. "This was his life, but after than ankle injury he lost all his sponsorships and had to start over from scratch. It was a real struggle for him. Josh was an amazing athlete -- he was the fastest guy on the track here in Michigan, for sure -- and he was a champion in all aspects. He'd won a bunch of amateur championships and just never let go of the dream of making it as a pro racer. That's what got him, unfortunately: He just wouldn't quit."
"MX Sports and the entire motocross community sends its condolences to the family," said Roy Janson, a spokesman for the event's promoter.