The tight-knit motocross community is mourning the death of Josh Licthle, who succumbed Monday of complications related to heat stroke sustained two days earlier at an AMA Lucas Oil Motocross Championship competition in Buchanan, Michigan.
Licthle, 23, was a former amateur champion attempting a pro comeback five years after suffering a serious ankle injury.
The incident has drawn the criticism of at least one columnist — Steve Cox, for Motocross.com — who implied that the AMA and MX Sports, which staged the event, should have reduced the number of laps to accommodate for excessive heat.
Temperatures on Saturday were in the low 90s, with high humidity. Races are held under similar conditions regularly and heat stroke, though uncommon, is among many inherent risks accepted by motocross racers of all levels.
Licthle, competing in a first-moto heat of the event, the Rockstar Energy RedBud National, was advancing through the pack before he collapsed on his bike during the 10th and final lap. He stood and attempted to lift and re-mount his 450cc bike, but fell and began experiencing seizures.
“He got overheated, basically, and by the last laps he was practically passing out on the bike. He just wouldn’t quit,” Bill Licthle, Josh’s brother, told ESPN. “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.”
Licthle, a veteran East Coast rider, had been in a medically-induced coma at Saint Joseph’s Medical Center and died at about 2 a.m. Monday.
Cox devoted an entire column to the heat issue and suggested that the riders’ never-say-die attitude is why the AMA and MX Sports need to develop more stringent guidelines for racing in sweltering conditions.
“And as I have pointed out before, motocross is especially difficult in the heat because motocross gear prevents your body from cooling itself naturally,” he wrote. “In motocross, racers won’t ever stop before they see the checkered flag, which is problem number one. And the second, more important, problem is that they’re covered from head to toe in riding gear, preventing their body from cooling itself through natural means.”
MX Sports spokesman Roy Janson was unavailable for comment.
— Image of Josh Licthle is courtesy of Bill Licthle