The most surprising thing that I learned during the course of writing this book was that while I was living in Burnsville in the 70s, I had no idea
just how much of a Motocross community it was. Burnsville Sports Center, and Kermit Severson were always in the middle of every story.
Burnsville Sports Center was there from the start of District 23 Motocross. It carried the European brands early on, then became one of the biggest
Yamaha and Honda dealerships in the region, particularly Motocross bikes. The entire Severson family was involved in the business. His son Tommy was
an early star of D23 Motocross and a big influence on a young Tom Benolkin.
was working as a service manager for Burnsville Sports Center in 1971
. Late in the year, BSC owner, Kermit Severson, pulled some strings,
and was able to get a limited edition Yamaha 250 Motocross bike. This motorcycle was a huge step up from what most riders could get their hands on in 1971.
The YZ line was still a few years away. This motorcycle started as a DT1 250 dual-sport, then had the engineering genius of the Jones Gang applied to it.
Kermit picked the bike up from California and sent Rande out to Wisconsin to race it. Luitjens arrived in Elkhorn for a round of the Trans-AMA series.
The International Class was filled with Gran Prix legends riding exotic works bikes, but Rande rode the 250 National class, what would be considered an
amateur class today. In practice, Rande was reportedly, again hard to verify all of this, running lap times close to the factory Yamaha riders.
The Swedish-made Monark
was the bike to have in the 125 class in 1972
and Burnsville Sports Center was where many of the riders got them from.
Tommy Severson rode a Monark for most of the year. Towards the end of the season, he was riding one of the first Honda Elsinore 125s in the state
Looking to take another big step, Tommy Severson started the 1973
season in the 250 class riding a Honda CR250, a very popular bike that year. He was still
a pretty small kid and most of the riders in 250A were older.
His maiden 250 season took a dramatic turn in the third round. Severson got a great jump off the line in the first moto, but as he reached the top of the
uphill start, he looped out at high speed. He bounced back up with no serious injuries, oh to be young, but he was out for the day.
Before the next race, it was decided that he wasn’t quite ready for that much power and that he would switch back to the 125 class. He immediately started
winning and winning big. Despite missing the first three rounds, Severson won the 1973 125A championship going away.
When Rick Heiseke
got back to Minnesota in early 1974
, he discovered that his 1973 sponsor, DDI, had gone out of business. He was able to find sponsorship
with the now-defunct Minneapolis dealership, Honda West
. Kermit Severson had an ownership stake, but their main business was street bikes and customizations
such as paint jobs, seats, and custom handlebars.
This brings us to our first unusual memory, that Rick rode a Honda with a fur seat cover. It turns out that was close to correct. “Yes there was fur on the
seat of my CR250 in 74 but it was actually velvet with three diamonds on it from a reupholster job after I tore my cover at a race. It was not my choosing
but my sponsor’s decision.” The tank was painted blue, which must have been pretty unusual also, but no one remembered that. Just the seat cover.
became the first Minnesota rider to race an AMA Motocross National
. It was at Manning Cycle Park in Toole, Utah on June 30, 1974. This
race was won by who else, Marty Smith.
, Severson was focused on what would be the very first AMA Amateur Motocross Nationals. Mark Barnett, then a 15 year-old high schooler from Illinois, was
blazing fast on his B&E Racing CR125. He headed up to the qualifier at Millville looking to win. Severson, who had raced Millville a time or two, would be there
waiting for him.
There is a gully that is now used for drainage, but then was part of the track. The sides were quite steep, so most riders would ride into it and jump out.
Barnett, Severson, and only a few others, would hit it wide-open and just case it on the other side. Riders made up a lot of time by jumping the gulch, but
it resulted in a very hard landing.
Barnett led early in the first moto, but then Severson passed him for the lead. Tommy was looking in control out front, but after a few too many laps of casing
the gulch, the frame of his CR125 had enough and snapped. The heroic ride would end in disaster. Not only was his race over, but his day was over as well. The
rule was that you had to race all motos with the frame number you started with. Barnett would go on to win the qualifier unchallenged.
In the summer of 1976
, Tom Benolkin started working at the newly opened Performance Distributing, Inc.
Kermit Severson started PDI, a motorcycle performance
and accessory company, similar to businesses such as FMF. Kermit’s partner in the PDI venture was Dan Hangsleven, the “D” of D.G. Performance Specialties. PDI
and Kermit were instrumental in bringing defending 125 champion, Marty Smith, out for an appearance at Burnsville High School that year.
Minnesota had many riders qualify for the Amateur National Final in 1976
. Gary Gengel and a young man he often rode with, Mike Winecke
, were there on Honda CR125s.
Winecke was one of the many talented riders from a racing family in Burnsville. Like Gengel and Paul Yackel, and many other top District 23 riders over the
years, Mike was also an excellent hockey player, all-conference in high school.
Mike’s path to the Amateur Nationals was a difficult one. He finished fourth at the Millville area qualifier, but broke his collarbone. He gutted out a 10th at
the qualifier in Wisconsin, which was enough to advance to the regional in Louisiana. Still not completely healed, he wore a shoulder harness for extra support.
Benolkin ran away with both 125 motos down in the Bayou, but would miss the Finals because of an injury. Winecke rode strong all day to earn a fourth overall
finish and an invitation to the big show.
Winecke did well in the first moto of the Final at Carslbad, and was close to the front in the second moto until his bike blew up, ending his day. A few days after returning
home from this race, Mike would lose his life in a riding accident. It was a terrible and shocking loss that was felt far beyond his family and many friends. Awards
were given in his honor in both Burnsville Hockey and District 23 Motocross.
, Benolkin would race a PDI RM125 package racer
. Other performance companies had introduced the concept of a package racer. They would start with a stock
bike, bolt on their trick parts, and market the bike as “expert ready”.
Unfortunately, PDI came to a sad and inglorious end almost as quickly as it had sprang to national prominence. While that tale is not one I care to tell, stories
of their products live on with great nostalgia as evidenced by the enthusiastic social media posts and photos of meticulously restored machines.
Benolkin may not have made it to any nationals in 1979
, but in his absence, Gary Gengel
raced several rounds in the 250 class. He was riding as a privateer with
help from Burnsville Sports Center. His best finish was a 10th in the first moto at Moto-X 338 (aka Southwick, aka The Wick). It was the best finish ever for
a Minnesota rider in the 250 class.
Burnsville, and nearby Savage, Shakopee, and Prior Lake had many great places to ride in the 70s. There were all kinds of surfaces, from river-bottom sand to hard
pack and gravel pits. Burnsville even had a large chunk of wooded land set aside as a Motorcycle Park
. These riding areas attracted many intermediate and expert
was one of those fast experts, as was his neighbor, and former PDI factory Mini rider, Blake Grossman
. Both came from families of racing brothers.
Fendler was also an entrepreneur. He started Competition Cycle Supply
, a motorcycle gear and accessory business, while still attending high school.
Look for related photos in the Pioneers of Minnesota Motocross Supplemental Photos page
Tommy and Kermit Severson