As I was exploring the early days of District 23 Motocross, several people told me about a picture of Rande Luitjens in Dirt Bike magazine in 1971.
He is riding in an extremely muddy Trans-AMA race at Unadilla. He is identified in the caption but no other information was given. Could Minnesota
have had a pro rider as early as 1971? That was my original question.
When I first started looking into this, I heard many stories about Rande’s riding prowess, the wild lifestyle of he and his brother Louie, and a few
different explanations for his sudden “disappearance” from District 23 Motocross.
Among the comments were:
“Fastest guy in Minnesota early on”
“The most natural talent I’ve ever seen.”
“He was the man at TT’s. They also had a wheelie contest after the races, of course he won that also”
The investigation widened and I was still a long ways from Unadilla. I was having trouble locating a copy of the magazine or any information about
that Unadilla race. Luckily, there was a much more interesting story waiting for me within the 1971 Trans-AMA series.
Late in the fall of 1971, a round of the Trans-AMA series was held at Elkhorn, Wisconsin. The entry list was filled with GP legends. This is believed
to be the first event with riders of this caliber held anywhere near Minnesota. District 23 riders Tommy Severson and Steve Harris were there, as well
as many others. They were there to see top GP riders Sylvian Geboers, Dave Bickers, Torleif Hansen, Ake Jonsson, Gaston Rahier, Brad Lackey and the
best American riders, and of course, those exotic works bikes.
There were two classes. The International Class was where all the top professionals would race. The 250 Support class did not require a pro license
and had race day qualifying. By the way we think of things today, this would be considered an amateur race, but one that contained riders from
around the country. Rande and 1971 District 23 Open A champion Kevin Thomson signed up for the Support class. If we go back to the original
question, we can conclude that no, neither Rande nor Kevin raced motocross professionally at this event. But that’s not the end of this story.
Rande was working as a service manager for Burnsville Sports Center in 1971. BSC owner Kermit Severson pulled some strings, and was able to get a
limited edition YZ250 for Rande to race. 1972 was the official first year of YZs, so these were quite a step up from what you could find on the
showroom floor in 1971. Kermit picked the bike up from California and sent Rande out to Wisconsin to race it.
In practice, Rande was reportedly, again hard to verify all of this, running lap times close to the factory Yamaha riders, and was told to slow
down by the Japanese factory representatives. This just made him try that much harder. This free-spirited American’s attitude was not well received
with the Japanese. No results could be found, but a few people that were at this race so long ago believed that he was in the top 10. He did also race
Unadilla, again in the Support class where no results could be found.
After being so dominant in the 1971 D23 Motocross races he chose to compete in, Rande had barely any motocross results to speak of in 72. He and his
brother were gone by 73.
I have to admit that some of the stories sound like they have been embellished or mis-remembered over the years. Let’s fact check a few things:
Where did he come from?
- Rande and his brother Louie (not sure if he also had an alternate spelling) were from California. They moved to their
father’s farm in South Dakota somewhere around 1970. He was in his 20s and had ridden and raced dirt bikes. This is likely what gave him the early
jump on the Minnesota guys who were racing in their first year of Motocross.
Where did he go?
- In 1972, Rande concentrated more on Flat Track and event types that paid better than motocross. By 1973, he had left
BSC and “disappeared”. His sudden departure produced various rumors over the years, but the less colorful truth is that he and his brother moved
back to the hills of California where they could ride from their mother’s house all year round. They just had enough of Minnesota.
Now for some of the more outlandish claims.
“Once raced at Buffalo with a cast on his leg, never putting the leg down. He still won.”
It was confirmed that someone around that time raced with a cast on their leg, but it was 1973 and Owatonna’s own Craig Caron. Rande was injured and
wearing a cast in 1972, but no one else could confirm the racing with a cast story.
“He’d ride up right beside riders he was about to pass, tap them on the shoulder, give a wave, and then go by them”
There was one race where Rande borrowed a SL125 to race the 125 class. He kept the horn on, started last on purpose, and honked at people as he passed
them. This is likely the origin of the shoulder tapping story. Details change as they are passed along in our oral tradition.
“(Someone) flipped off his brand new painted Maico and the bike kept riding along with no one on it. Randy pulled up on a Gold Wing alongside
it and slowed it down while balancing on the Gold Wing.”
I guess it’s possible that something like this may have happened, but it certainly wasn’t a Gold Wing, since they didn’t come out until 1975.
As far as any legacy, Tommy Severson, nearly ten years younger than Rande, often commented on how much he learned from him early on. This could be
considered Rande’s biggest contribution to Minnesota Motocross. The wild stories are fun also. They just can’t all be verified without a few
subpoenas, several statute of limitation judgments, and the occasional suspension of belief.