From 1974 to 1981, Dick Burleson won eight consecutive AMA National Enduro Championships, a record so extraordinary that it may never be broken. Burleson’s total domination of national enduro earned him the nickname "King Richard." In addition to his incredible domestic record, Burleson also won an amazing eight consecutive gold medals in the International Six Days Trials (now called the International Six Days Enduro). Among American off-road racers, Burleson is one of the all-time greats.
Burleson was born in Johnson City, Tennessee, in 1948. His family moved to St. Joseph, Michigan, when he was 2 years old. Burleson didn’t take the normal route to motorcycle racing stardom. Instead of learning to ride at a young age like many of his contemporaries, Burleson first began riding at 18, when he bought a used Honda 90 to commute to a summer job he had before enrolling at the University of Michigan. He took the Honda with him to college and found a group of off-road riders that had taken over a gravel pit near the campus. Not knowing any better, Burleson started riding his 90cc street bike at the gravel pit. He found that he had a natural ability and became more interested in off-road riding.
By the late 1960s, Burleson entered the burgeoning sport of motocross. He won several district and national amateur MX championships before turning pro and entering the Trans-AMA Motocross Series in 1970. In his first season as a professional motocrosser, Burleson finished fourth overall in Trans-AMA and was top American in the series, earning him the title of American Motocross Champion (this was in the years preceding the AMA National Motocross Series).
Having excelled in motocross, Burleson began competing in AMA National Enduro events, which at that time were equal, if not greater, in importance to motocross racing. He found that he enjoyed that form of competition. In 1971, John Penton invited Burleson to race on the American Trophy team that was competing in the International Six Days Trial at the Isle of Man. Even though his bike failed, leaving him with a DNF, Burleson was enthused about representing his country in international competition.
The next year, Burleson was invited to the ISDT again, this time in Czechoslovakia. That year, Burleson finished impressively with a bronze medal and the American team was awarded the Watling Trophy for its improved performance.
After graduating from college, Burleson moved to Ohio to take a job as eastern service manager for Husqvarna. In 1973, Burleson was a part of the American team that earned the country’s only ISDT Silver Vase victory. After the ISDT, which was held in Massachusetts that year, Burleson began riding a prototype Husqvarna 350cc that had been left to the American Husky distributor by the Swedish team. Burleson, who had been used to riding 125 and 175cc bikes, found the more powerful 350 perfectly suited his riding style. He ended the ’73 season by wining three-straight AMA national enduros.
In 1974 Burleson earned an impressive nine national enduro victories en route to his first AMA National Enduro Championship. That fall, things got even better at the ISDT in Italy. Burleson earned his first gold medal and was the highest-scoring American.
Burleson continued his successes in 1975. He won his second national enduro title and another gold in ISDT. Burleson continued on an incredible string of victories that would carry him to another six national enduro titles for eight in total. He earned the same number of gold medals in ISDT competition. In recognition of his accomplishments, Burleson was named AMA Amateur Athlete of the Year in 1976. He would win the honor again in 1981.
Undoubtedly the most pressure-packed season for Burleson was the 1981 campaign. He had tied Bill Baird’s seemingly insurmountable record of seven AMA national enduro championships the year before and was going for a record eighth title. Burleson’s competition was coming on strong, especially young Burleson protégé and teammate Terry Cunningham. The championship came down the final checkpoint of the final round and it was Burleson emerging victorious over Cunningham by a mere two points. With his eighth national championship, Burleson had forever etched his name as one of the truly elite American motorcycle racers of his day. He went on to earn gold for the eighth time in the ISDT held on the Mediterranean Isle of Elba.
After winning eight AMA National Enduro Championships and eight ISDT gold medals, Burleson announced his retirement from national competition at the end of 1981. He left the sport at the top of his profession. In all, Burleson had won 60 AMA National Enduro events in addition to his eight ISDT gold medals.
Burleson established a highly successful consulting business in 1988. His company helped KTM design a very successful line of enduro racers. With a partner, he started a mail order off-road motorcycle parts and accessories business. He helped develop the Moose line of off-road riding apparel. And he participated in the development of the curriculum for the Motorcycle Industry Council’s off-road rider training program.
In 1994, 13 years after his official retirement, Burleson rode again in the ISDT held near Tulsa, Oklahoma. Even at the age of 46, Burleson managed to earn a silver medal in the event and became the only American to ride in both American ISDTs. The AMA recognized that accomplishment by naming him Amateur Athlete of the Year for a record third time.
When inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1998, Burleson continued to work on new projects with his company. He also found a new outlet for his competitive spirit - downhill mountain bike racing. In the late-1990s, Burleson earned both national and world titles in his age category on the mountain bikes.
Dick Burleson was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1999.