August 13, 1973
At age five, Kurt Henricksen of Woodland Hills, Calif., was already a national champ on the peewee minibike racing circuit, which in 1973 SI branded "a form of Little League for rugged individualists." Henricksen would prove to be the most rugged of the bite-sized bikers: He went on to win several more age-group titles and by 18 was ranked at the top of the professional motocross circuit, having worn down some 200 motorcycles in hot pursuit of his dreams. "Motocross was more than a regular job," says Henricksen, now 31. "It takes a lot of time to do it right. I pretty much lived and breathed motorcycle racing."
In 1986, however, his career screeched to a halt. Riding a Kawasaki 125 during a practice lap at the Seattle Kingdome Supercross, Henricksen hit a rut, which kicked up the back end of his bike. He flipped over his handlebars—or "endo'd," in track parlance—in a high-speed spill that left him paralyzed from the neck down for six weeks. Doctors rebuilt Henricksen's fractured neck by using part of his right hip bone, and he recovered fully. Though he has occasionally raced cycles since then, he remains reluctant to talk about the fall.
These days Henricksen lives in Perris, Calif., and works part time in the pit crew for one of his friends from the motocross circuit, Indy Racing League driver Jeff Ward. When the 37-year-old Ward finished 13th at the Indy 500 in May, Henricksen handled the pit board, informing Ward of what lap he was on, what position he was in and who was behind him. "I've always looked up to Jeff as a friend and a teacher," says Henricksen. "He's helping me now with auto racing, and hopefully I can follow in his footsteps." Indeed, under Ward's tutelage, Henricksen is prepping to take the wheel of a F2000 series car; last year he took a five-day course at the Skip Barber Racing School and is eligible to compete in a Formula Dodge race.
Despite his accident Henricksen has also kept his ties to motocross, teaching classes at the Starwest Motocross Park in Perris. He instructs peewee riders, hoping they'll get as much out of racing as he did. "It's important for a family to get a child into a sport," he says. "Look at Tiger Woods. He started when he was four."