Born in California, 1953
Inducted to Motorcycle Hall Of Fame in 2000
Racer / V.P. of Marketing
Mark Blackwell (right) went to europe for the '71 GP season which he contested under the guidence of Rolf Tibblin (left) and ended with a career-ending eye injury.
Mark Blackwell would become inexorably linked to Husqvarna motorcycles
for his role in the company’s sale to Cagiva. But before all that, he raced for the company as a teen and later steered it toward profitability in the US.
In his youth, Mark was enchanted by stories of European GP riders and, like many Americans, was drawn to their style and equipment. “Right away Husqvarna became a very big aspiration, the premium image brand in my mind,” he says. When he saw Torsten Hallman during his 1967 tour in the States, it was sealed.
Blackwell started racing motocross
with CZ in 1969 and at the end of the year was approached by Edison Dye with an offer to race Husqvarnas as an up-and-coming prospect. In 1970, Dye shipped Blackwell off to Sweden to gain experience and training in an exchange for some Swedish riders. The move paid off as Mark returned to America and won the Trans-Am title by a single point. Under the guidance of Rolf Tibblin, Mark dominated the Florida winter series and then moved back to Europe to contest the entire 1972 GP season. At the final round in Luxemburg, he was struck by a rock, which left his left eye temporarily blind. His vision would return, but the accident led to a cataract which hampered his racing efforts until mostly calling it quits in 1975.
“That really was the beginning of the end of my racing career,” he says.
Mark worked with Suzuki
in developing the RM models and started managing the race team from 1977 through 1981. He went back to school to earn a degree in marketing and rejoined Husqvarna as the Product and Regional Sales Manager. Mark ascended to Vice President of Marketing over the next year-and-a-half where he was left to jointly run the distribution and management of Husky in the United States.
“It was a pretty remarkable time,” says Mark. “The company had never really made money (since taking over the distribution from Dye and John Penton) and we had it profitable and made money four out of the five years that I was there.”
The Japanese OEMs were decimating the European brands, especially in motocross, so Husqvarna tried to dramatically modernize the look of its bikes by switching from the old styling to a new white motif to appeal to a younger audience. The move, along with continued success in off-road racing, worked to a certain degree, but Electrolux still wanted to sell its motorcycle business which would open up the Odeshog factory in Sweden to produce a new riding lawnmower. Cagiva was particularly interested in the American side of Husqvarna as a means to promote its other brands in the country. Blackwell was approached by his superiors and asked to create a presentation for the Italians.
Mark Blackwell ran the Number 1 plate during the 1971 Florida Winter Series where he battled the likes of Yamaha-mounted Gary Jones (88x).
“It served several purposes,” says Mark about the deal with Cagiva. “We did the pitch to the representatives for the Castiglionis and that was it. I went back to my office literally the next day and was scratching my head and saying, ‘if this goes through, what do I want to do?’ Quite frankly it was very unsettling.”
Blackwell was hopeful that the Italians could pair their emotional panache and cutting-edge styling with the Swede’s cool-headed, solid engineering, but the Castiglionis immediately strayed from the original plan. The idea was to place Cagiva on top of the Husqvarna business and use the same distribution channels, warehouse and staff. Instead they tried to position Cagiva as a major independent player right away and flailed without proper infrastructure. Mark and Suzuki had parted ways on pleasant terms, so when a position for Advertising Manager opened with the Japanese brand, he made a swift decision to make the jump.
“It was really hard to leave Husqvarna, but I really had question marks about what would happen with the US business. And, sure enough, it didn’t go very well.”
The Cagiva reign proved devastating for Husqvarna, more so in the United States than elsewhere, but Mark never left the motorcycle industry and is now leading the resurgence of another brand in his role of Vice President of Motorcycles for Polaris Industries, Inc.