Motocross: Rich Eierstedt R.I.P.

Rich Eierstedt Dies

Engaged in my usual mid-day procrastinations of scrolling through various motocross websites to avoid getting anything useful done, I came across a sad piece of news.

Rich Eierstedt passed away recently. His passing was especially heartfelt because he was one of my first motocross heroes. Eierstedt was one of the new era of factory motocross stars that emerged in the early 1970s after MX had come into vogue.

The enormous success of Bruce Brown’s “On Any Sunday” seemed to usher in a new respectability for our sport and, along with it, a new focus for manufacturers and promoters that brought increased monies and prestige to the sport.

From that there evolved a newfound celebrity for motocross’ top stars, transforming them into two-wheel rock stars. Eierstedt fit the part perfectly; a good-looking, soft-spoken, long-haired southern California blonde, he had torn up the local So-Cal scene in a meteoric rise to fame.

His exploits, riding a Maico to sheer dominance at local venues, earned him a spot on Honda’s omnipotent motocross team in 1973, which featured the manufacturer’s brand new, ground-breaking Elsinore.

The thing that earned my respect was the fact that Eierstedt (who won two AMA 250cc motocross support class titles – 1973 and 1976) was always in the mix, always a threat.

In later years he rode for Bultaco, the failed Harley-Davidson MX calamity, and Can-Am. Despite questionable machinery Eierstedt always had pace. He made a lot of motorcycles look much better than they really were. Eierstedt had a fluid style that betrayed his true speed.

Then, in 1979, while riding for Can-Am, Rich Eierstedt unexpectedly withdrew from racing, in the middle of the season. Few people in the pits knew why.

Over the following years, with Eierstedt having vanished, rumors circulated about the possible demons that had plagued the seemingly always upbeat Californian.

The rumors were substantiated years later in 1995 when Rich went public with an article he wrote, which was published in Motocross Action magazine (the Bible of MX). The piece was entitled, “The 17 Years That Got Away.”

In a shocking revelation, Eierstedt revealed that he was an alcoholic. The power of drink had stolen his desire to race, had taken his motivation and with it, his career, his home, and his wife. He even ended up in jail for a stint.

In the article, he referred to alcohol as being like climbing into a boxing ring with a smarter, stronger, younger opponent. “You keep answering the bell,” he wrote, “but you’re losing.”

In later years, Eierstedt got sober (somewhat, there were occasional lapses) and returned to racing in the Vet class. He racked up some impressive rides and wins, exhibiting the same fluid style that had won him fame early on.

Eierstedt was staying with his brother and evidently passed away during the night. His heart had given out. No doubt the years of abusing alcohol had taken a serious physical toll on his body. A toll which Rich couldn’t reclaim. Eierstedt was just 56 years old. Godspeed, Rich.