• America’s most successful endurance racer
• Eight-time AMA National Enduro Champion (1974-81)
• Eight gold medals in International Six Days Enduro
• 1970 American Motocross Champion
• Three-time AMA Amateur Athlete of the Year (1976, ’81, ’94)
• Launched successful line of riding gear
He earned the nickname “King Richard” by becoming America’s most successful Enduro racer. Burleson didn’t start riding until he was 18. By his mid-20s, he was at the top of the discipline, which involves competing against the clock on extended cross-country, primarily off-road courses with obstacles. From 1974 to ’81, Burleson won eight consecutive American Motorcycle Association (AMA) National Enduro Championships, a record that may never be broken. He also won eight consecutive gold medals in the International Six Days Trial (now International Six Days Enduro), sometimes referred to as the “Olympics of Motorcycling.” Before Enduro, Burleson had excelled in his first season of motocross competition (1970), finishing fourth overall in the Trans-AMA Motocross Series. As the top-ranked American, he was named American Motocross Champion (this was prior to the AMA National Motocross Series). Burleson was AMA Amateur Athlete of the Year in 1976, 1981 and 1994. After retiring in 1982, Burleson remained active in the sport, developing motorcycle off-road riding gear. He was inducted into the AMA Hall of Fame in 1999.
By Don Emde
To appreciate Dick Burleson’s accomplishments on two wheels, it must be understood how difficult it was, at the time, to win an AMA National Enduro Championship or a gold medal in the International Six Days Trial. He won both in the same season, eight years in a row, from 1974 to 1981.
Dick was born in 1948 and grew up in St. Joseph, Michigan. He never rode a motorcycle until he was 18 and got a Honda S90 to commute to a job. He quickly learned how to ride in the dirt on a shortcut to work that took him along an abandoned railroad track, gravel roads and the Lake Michigan sand dunes.
After high school, Dick enrolled at the University of Michigan to earn a degree in mechanical engineering. While there, he got into motocross. Success came fast. Only four years after learning to ride, when the eight-race 1970 Trans-AMA series concluded, Burleson was the first-ever AMA Motocross Champion.
Despite winning that #1 plate, Dick wanted to try something else. What he didn’t like about motocross was that he rode just a few races a day. In 1971, Dick switched to enduros, where hot or cold, rain or shine, riders follow a designated 100+ mile off-road route at a prescribed average speed. There were secret checkpoints along the way and points deducted if you arrived too early or late. The least penalized rider was the winner.
Dick’s first enduro was the grueling two-day Jack Pine. He recalled, “I didn’t do so good, I went over the bars and the bike landed on me. I finished the first day in the dark and felt awful from the crash. I didn’t start the second day and I regretted that forever. It sparked in me the desire to never quit again.” For the next eight years, he never missed a race due to injury.
Sixty national enduro wins and a record- setting eight national championships followed as Dick’s engineering education enabled him to analyze and perfect every detail of enduro competition, especially timekeeping. Dick had to calculate the average speed — usually 24 mph — in his head, using only his odometer and a wristwatch.
In 1972, Dick went to work for Husqvarna in Columbus, Ohio. Husqvarna East distributor John Penton encouraged Burleson to go to the prestigious International Six Days Trial, similar to an enduro but much longer. Competitors from around the world ride approximately 1,000 miles of trails in pursuit of individual medals and team trophies.
Burleson teamed with Malcolm Smith, Ron Bohn, and Ed Schmidt in 1973 and gave the United States its first-ever ISDT Silver Vase trophy. His eight consecutive individual ISDT gold medals began a year later in Camerino, Italy.
Dick retired from competition at the end of 1981 with an eight-year win streak in the AMA National Enduro Championship and eight straight ISDT gold medals. He left Husqvarna in 1988 to start his own DB Sports consulting. Later, Dick did product development for KTM Motorcycles and had a long-running role with Parts Unlimited to create Moose Racing apparel and products.
Dick continues to be active, riding bicycles and a modern-day Husqvarna 150. He and his wife Jill live in Traverse City, Michigan and enjoy time with their children and grandchildren.
Don Emde is a former racer and winner of the 1972 Daytona 200. Don and 1948 winner Floyd are the only father and son to win the prestigious event. Read about Don’s books, including Freddie Ludlow: His Lifetime on Two Wheels (2021), and more at EmdeBooks.com.
John Hinz (L), CEO of KTM North America Inc., with Dick Burleson