Fellow members of The Herd,
I had planned on this week’s newsletter being an exciting, upbeat read full of good news (you know, like normal). Then yesterday happened.
We’re writing from Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama this weekend, and normally this means we’re chipper and happy and all smiles — after all, it’s arguably the most beautiful race track in the US. Unfortunately yesterday in the early afternoon, we learned that the motorcycle community lost someone very dear, as Dustin “The Ghilliman” Apgar passed away in a paragliding accident.
Dustin rose to fame in the community not only because of his speed on America’s road courses, but also thanks to his viral YouTube videos in which he drags not only his elbow, but his helmet(!) around corners all while donning a real-life ghillie suit!
But Dustin was so much more than an unlikely YouTube star or even a successful racer. Dustin had an unmatched passion and intensity for everything he did. As the Crew Chief of MotoAmerica’s Bartcon Racing, he had the ability to wear multiple hats: rider coach and trainer, lead mechanic, taxi driver, even chef at times. It was in the Bartcon pit last season that we came to know Dustin.
Although our family knew him a relatively short time, we did spend a lot of time together over the last year. We had a lot of laughs, we shed some tears together, we even had some arguments. But above all, we discovered that behind that intense, fiery facade, there was a fun, kind, generous, complex man who wanted nothing more than to see other riders — especially the young ones — succeed. Mostly the Bartcon riders of course, but also anyone else who may have needed an extra hand or advice in the paddock. I think on more than one occasion Colin Barton had to go drag him out of a competitor’s pit to come work on the team bikes!
During the MotoAmerica races at Indy, Dustin was up until the wee hours of the night leading up to qualifying helping Kris Lillegard and I ready a newly-assembled FZ-07 for my Twins Cup debut. Throughout the weekend, he continued to stop by our garage to check on me and make adjustments to the suspension — all without me even asking. “Just put a little Ghilli sticker on the bike man!” This is who Dustin was.
At the end of last season, Dustin had planned to take up a new hobby to support his adrenaline addiction: paragliding. He, along with some friends including Kris Lillegard and Jason Madama, took an instructor-guided course to learn the ropes and take to the skies. He got bit hard by the paragliding bug, and over the winter alone, Dustin logged more flying hours than most pilots with years of experience. If you followed him on social media, you’ll know that he was absolutely smitten with the thrill of flying, but he was also so very excited for the upcoming season and working with the new Bartcon young guns, Kayla Yaakov and Keagan Brown.
When Tosha told me that Dustin had passed we both sat stunned for some time, both our phones ringing with calls and texts from others in the community who were learning of what happened. I quickly absorbed the news and found some solace in this thought: I always tell my family if I die on a motorcycle or in a car at speed, I’ll have gone out smiling.
Dustin was a thrillseeker. That’s why he loved flying so much. And with that in mind, I took just a little bit of comfort in knowing he left this earth doing something he absolutely loved while intoxicated with that natural drug he couldn’t seem to get enough of: adrenaline. We should all take as much solace in this as possible, while at the same time remembering that Dustin left behind a son whom he loved so much, his beloved dog Cassie and a countless number of friends and fans.
Just as we were winding down our day on Saturday and literally pouring out a beer for Dustin on the asphalt of the Barber paddock, we learned of another tragedy in the motorcycle community right in close proximity. A two-rider incident in the final Advanced session of the day here at Barber stopped all activity. From our RV we watched for hours as two ambulances attended to the riders in what appeared to be turn 13, only to find later that one rider tragically lost their life. It was an even bigger blow than normal given the gravity of the day, and a painful reminder not to take anything — or anyone — for granted.
A few weeks ago I wrote a somewhat-mushy blog about the state of the motorcycle community and why it’s amazing, but I included a bit of a warning regarding growing negativity especially on social media and why we should all care for one another in the paddock and on the racetrack. There are no guarantees in life, especially when we are all participating in high-risk activities like riding motorbikes at speed. We should view these losses as an opportunity to reflect and better ourselves.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of Dustin and the downed rider at Barber. We will update the community as much as possible with information about financial assistance to the families as well as memorial services if/when it becomes available.