(Photo: KTM Racing)

(Photo: KTM Racing)

Off-road racing legend passed away Friday from serious head injuries suffered in a crash during the Baja 1000 race in Mexico.

According to a statement issued by SCORE International – the racing sanctioning body behind the event – the crash occurred at 4:30 p.m. PT when Caselli was leading in the late stages of the 883.1-mile race.

Caselli’s KTM team, who have now recovered the bike, discovered traces on the machine that indicate he had collided with some small animal, which apparently caused the crash.

“Today we lost a hero in the worst possible circumstances,” said Pit Beirer, head of KTM Motorsports. ”We are shocked and saddened by this tragic news and our thoughts and deepest condolences go out to Kurt’s family.

“Kurt was much more than a very talented rider; he was also an exceptional team player. He represented and lived by the values and a passion for racing that lies at the very core of KTM. Our sport has lost more than a great rider; we have also lost an excellent ambassador for off-road racing.”

Caselli, 30, was one of the most decorated racers to ever compete in the off-road ranks. In addition to being a multi-time AMA National Hare & Hound Champion, WORCS Champion and many-time ISDE gold medalist, Caselli was quickly becoming one of the top rally riders.

In June of this year, he won the Desafio Ruta 40 Rally in Argentina – in what was only his second international rally since making his debut in the Dakar Rally at the end of 2012.

Caselli and his factory-backed KTM racing team won last year’s SCORE San Felipe 250 and finished second and third in the other two SCORE Baja races this season.

“Our desert racing family has lost a very special person in Kurt,” said SCORE President Roger Norman. “Kurt was a superb racer and this is a tragedy that affects us all. We extend our deepest condolences, thoughts and prayers to the Caselli family. Their loss is immeasurable and we grieve with them.”

Tributes from his fellow competitors and friends have poured in since the tragic news broke late last night.

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