Brad Lackey Husqvarna Interview

February 24, 2010
JC Hilderbrand
JC Hilderbrand
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Hilde is holding down the fort at MotoUSA's Southern Oregon HQ. With world-class dirt bike and ATV trails just minutes away, the hardest part is getting him to focus on the keyboard. Two wheels or four, it doesn't matter to our Off-Road Editor so long as it goes like hell in the dirt.

Brad Lackey

Brad Lackey
Brad Lackey
Born in California, 1953
Inducted to Motorcycle Hall Of Fame in 1999
Factory World MX racer 1974-76

Contrary to the present-day status quo, there was a time when riders from America headed to Europe because the World Motocross Championships was home to the best talent. Brad Lackey was one of the first Americans to cross the pond and find success, but it wasn’t without tribulation. He first attacked the 500cc GP circuit in 1973 with limited support from Kawasaki, but his results were strong enough to catch the attention of Husqvarna. Without a commitment from Kawi, Brad agreed to a three-year contract with Husky at a time when the Swedes were the best in the world.

“I decided I had better find a team that was more interested in Grand Prix racing,” he says. “Husky had Heikki Mikkola… and they were the top team at the time.”

One of the reasons GP riders were so dominant was their physical conditioning. Lackey was already familiar with training camps, having attended one in Czechoslovakia, but Husqvarna had its own version of the camp located above Stockholm in the northern part of Sweden. Riders from different manufacturers were allowed, but it was a grueling regimen that lasted for several weeks. The daily routine was only made worse by the cold weather.

“It was a frozen tundra,” he recalls. “You could walk outside and break your mustache off like snapping a twig!

“We’d get up in the dark, have some breakfast, go to the gym and work on cross-training by going station-to-station at a rapid pace… We’d do that until lunchtime and then we’d cross-country ski 15 kilometers because you couldn’t run in the snow… Then we would get on the bikes with spiked tires and ride on the frozen motocross track. We’d put in a couple motos there and then it was dark and we’d go back to the hotel, eat dinner and sleep.”

Much of the time it was too nasty to ride, so most of the bike testing and development was completed at pre-season international races during the first few months of the year. This was the start of some major difficulties for the American. Just because he wanted to ride GPs, didn’t mean Brad had the same riding style. Consistent with the company’s top-down management, Lackey was offered little in the way of personalizing his machine. Basically, what’s good enough for Heikki should be good enough for the whole team.

Brad Lackey races his Husqvarna 360 during the 1975 Trans-AM series. It was Husqvarna that gave Lackey his first factory support in World Motocross  launching a GP career that ultimately led to the first-ever title by an American in the 1982 500 class.
Brad Lackey races his Husqvarna 360 during the 1975 Trans-AM series. It was Husqvarna that gave Lackey his first factory support in World Motocross, launching a GP career that ultimately led to the first-ever title by an American in the 1982 500 class.

Long-time Husqvarna rider, Mikkola was coming into his prime during the 1974 season after finishing third in the 250 class the year before. During his tenure with Lackey, the Finn scored a title in ’74 and runner-up in ’75 in the 500 division, followed by a title in the 250 class in ’76. Lackey used his time to learn what he could about GP racing and the top competitors, but struggled in the champion’s shadow.

“It was really difficult… Back then it was like, ‘here’s the bike, you all run the same bike,’ and they couldn’t get past that. I was trying to convince them that it didn’t work that way.”

Just establishing himself as a top-10 GP rider, whereas Mikkola was the top dog, Brad’s comments fell on deaf ears and he was plagued with mechanical issues while riding Heikki’s replica 360. Despite the hang-ups and frustration, Lackey got progressively better, finishing his three years in 10th, sixth and fifth overall.

“They were a small factory that committed to spending a lot of money on the race team in order to build a good production bike… If you bought a stock bike it was the same thing Heikki won GPs on the previous year. That was very ahead of its time, and they put out a very good product for the average guy.

“I think my time with Husky really was beneficial,” he continues. “If I would have picked a different team at that time I think I wouldn’t have gotten to the top of the World Championship as fast as I did.”

Lackey scored his first GP victory on the Husqvarna. Eventually he became the first American to win the 500cc World Championship while riding for Suzuki in 1982. He retired the same year. Though none of his major personal accolades came on a Husky, Brad played a role in the factory effort when Husqvarna was seemingly unbeatable.