Hakan Car­lqvist

Fiery, im­petu­ous, ded­i­cated, de­ter­mined, re­laxed and fun are all­words used to de­scri­bethe late Hakan Car­lqvist.

Classic Dirtbike - - Contents - Wo rds and pics: Nick Haskell

The world of MX lost a leg­end re­cently, when Swede Hakan Car­lqvist passed away sud­denly. Here’s our trib­ute to the leg­endary world champ.

The world of mo­tocross was sad­dened to learn of the sud­den pass­ing of for­mer dou­ble world MX cham­pion Hakan Car­lqvist at the be­gin­ning of July. Ac­cord­ing to re­ports, ‘Carla’ suf­fered a stroke at his home in the South of France and died two days later. The term leg­end re­ally doesn’t go far enough to de­scribe this gi­ant of a man, a te­na­cious com­peti­tor who over­came such ad­ver­sity, as in­jury af­ter in­jury plagued him through­out his mo­tocross ca­reer. Never one to al­low such mi­nor things to de­ter him from giv­ing his ut­most, he ig­nored the pain and went on to beat the world’s best to claim two world cham­pi­onship crowns. Carla hailed from the Jär­fälla Mu­nic­i­pal­ity near Stock­holm and was al­ways a keen sports­man who didn’t ac­tu­ally start rac­ing mo­tocross un­til he was 17. His first suc­cesses came in the world of foot­ball and ice hockey and these could eas­ily have been his ca­reer rather than MX.

De­spite this com­par­a­tively late start com­pared to his con­tem­po­raries, Car­lqvist’s steely de­ter­mi­na­tion saw him claim vic­tory in his first race and qual­ify into the top ten in the Swedish na­tional cham­pi­onships within three years. Such early suc­cesses caught the eye of the Husq­varna fac­tory and in 1977 a works ride came his way. How­ever, whilst com­pet­ing at the Bel­gian GP in that same year he suf­fered a se­ri­ous knee in­jury which threat­ened to end his rel­a­tively short ca­reer. This in­jury would plague him for the rest of his ca­reer and he was told by doc­tors it would be best to stop rac­ing com­pletely or risk be­ing in a wheel­chair by the time he was 50.

That, how­ever, was never an op­tion for Hakan and he made plans for his come­back dur­ing his six months’ re­cov­ery pe­riod. With such a lengthy lay off, Husq­varna with­drew their fac­tory sup­port, so once back rac­ing Carla’s only op­tion was to ac­quire pro­duc­tion Husq­var­nas and spares to make his come­back.

Those who knew him weren’t sur­prised that his come­back was suc­cess­ful and fol­low­ing an im­pres­sive 1978 sea­son Carla was again re­cruited into the fac­tory Husq­varna ranks for 1979. He re­paid the re­newed sup­port in great style in the 250cc class where he dom­i­nated the field to clinch

the quar­ter-litre ti­tle very con­vinc­ingly.

This vic­tory caught the eye of the Ja­panese Yamaha fac­tory, look­ing to re­place their Fin­nish cham­pion Heikki Mikkola who was in­tend­ing to re­tire. Car­lqvist was ap­proached, a deal agreed, which en­abled Carla to ful­fil a long held am­bi­tion to switch to the more pres­ti­gious 500cc cham­pi­onship. With tal­ent such as English­man Gra­ham Noyce and Bel­gian An­dre Mal­herbe on fac­tory Hon­das, plus Amer­i­can Brad Lackey on works Kawasakis, Car­lqvist would not have an easy time in the Blue Rib­band class. But typ­i­cally and de­spite hav­ing to ac­cli­ma­tise to his new mount, plus a cou­ple of DNFS, Carla proved up to the task and fin­ished the sea­son in third spot be­hind the epic and of­ten bad tem­pered Mal­herbe/lackey bat­tle.

Carla re­peated this feat the fol­low­ing sea­son, claim­ing an­other third spot with four GP vic­to­ries. But the 1982 sea­son was marred by in­jury, al­though he bounced back with a dou­ble vic­tory at the fi­nal round at Et­tle­bruck in Lux­em­bourg. What would turn out to be his cham­pi­onship year didn’t ex­actly start well as in the open­ing race of the 1983 sea­son at Pay­erne in Switzer­land, Car­lqvist man­aged a fourth and a DNF.

The world took its eyes off the Swede and con­cen­trated on oth­ers, how­ever, he bounced back with vic­tory on the steep hill­side cir­cuit at the fol­low­ing round at Sit­ten­dorf in Aus­tria.

Against the might of a for­mi­da­ble Honda fac­tory team and on vastly in­fe­rior ma­chin­ery, Carla dug deep to claim fur­ther GP vic­to­ries at his home round in Swe­den as well as Italy, UK, Bel­gium and San Marino.

Go­ing into the fi­nal round at St An­tho­nis in Hol­land, Carla held a healthy 17-point ad­van­tage over Mal­herbe. Watched by thou­sands of his home fans, Carla trailed home in sixth spot in the open­ing leg, two places be­hind his ri­val, as Bri­tain’s Gra­ham Noyce took the open­ing race win.

With a 14-point cush­ion go­ing into the fi­nal race of the year, Carla only had to keep his head to take his first pre­mier­ship crown. Mal­herbe pro­duced what was nec­es­sary by tak­ing the win but King Carla nursed his ail­ing Yamaha home to fourth spot to se­cure the crown. Mobbed by thou­sands of Swedish fans as he crossed the fin­ish line, the big Swede was hoisted aloft.

All looked well for the de­fence of his ti­tle in 1984, un­for­tu­nately a badly bro­ken wrist in­curred at the in­fa­mous Hants Grand In­ter­na­tional at Hamer War­ren at the be­gin­ning of the sea­son de­nied Carla the chance of de­fend­ing his crown.

A run of in­juries over the next cou­ple of sea­sons meant works sup­port was with­drawn by Yamaha at the end of the 1986 sea­son. Carla felt he was not fin­ished with rac­ing yet and had much more to give, so, at the age of 32 he switched to a pro­duc­tion Kawasaki, a ma­chine he found much more for­giv­ing than his Yamaha. If con­fir­ma­tion of this was needed it came in the form of two race wins in the 1987 sea­son on a pro­duc­tion ma­chine.

How­ever, most MX fans will agree it is his 1988 sea­son ex­ploits which con­firm him as a leg­endary Mxer. Pic­ture the scene, Na­mur’s Ci­tadel MX track – one of the great GP

cir­cuits of the world – suc­cess here stamps a rider’s author­ity on the MX world… Hakan Car­lqvist had al­ready won the first of two mo­tos and had a 50 sec­ond lead – to put that into per­spec­tive imag­ine how far you can go on foot in 50 sec­onds; in the sec­ond moto, the crowd were sens­ing some­thing spe­cial, when the Swede pulled to the side of the track… right next to the Chalet du Mon­u­ment café at the bot­tom of the cir­cuit… a bot­tle of beer was ac­quired, Carla swigged it down, calmly kicked his bike into life and sped off to win the fi­nal moto! The crowd’s re­ac­tion – they went wild!

This stun­ning dis­play of calm mas­tery has gone down in the an­nals of MX along­side the ‘Jobe Dou­ble’ when Ge­orges Jobe cleared a dou­ble jump at Hawk­stone Park in 1984.

Nei­ther mo­tor­cy­cling nor in­jury was fin­ished with Hakan Car­lqvist af­ter his race ca­reer ended, as an­other ac­ci­dent whilst test­ing a Hus­aberg for Swedish TV in 1997 side­lined him with a bro­ken pelvis. An­other ac­ci­dent whilst work­ing on a roof saw him slip off and fall into an empty swim­ming pool. There is a limit to what a body can take though and this was all too much for even a gi­ant of a man such as Car­lqvist. When added to the mul­ti­ple in­juries he suf­fered dur­ing his MX ca­reer he needed med­i­ca­tion and strong painkillers to help.

In his lat­ter years, Carla shunned the public eye and be­came a vir­tual recluse, opt­ing to stay at his se­cluded home in the South of France.

I con­sider my­self ex­tremely for­tu­nate to have met the man and cov­ered the world mo­tocross GPS dur­ing that pe­riod when he was at the top. There are some images of him which will re­main with those that saw them for­ever, for in­stance see­ing him hang­ing up­side down by his an­kles in his awning be­tween races was eye-open­ing, as was his par­ty­ing af­ter a GP. The sto­ries of him dig­ging a hole to bury his new Yamaha at a test and step­ping off his bike at speed and send­ing it crash­ing it into his awning were all in­di­ca­tions of the man’s fiery tem­per­a­ment and his ul­ti­mate de­sire to be the best. Yet with his hel­met off he was re­laxed and fun to be around.

His work ethic was in­spi­ra­tional and sec­ond to none as Kenth Oh­lin of Oh­lins Rac­ing is quoted as say­ing of Car­lqvist: “with­out him pos­si­bly Oh­lins would not be as well known today as they are”. He fur­ther added that in Hakan they had a top racer who was keen to help de­velop new tech­nol­ogy and was ded­i­cated to test­ing the re­sults no mat­ter what the con­di­tions. Car­lqvist him­self dis­missed his in­juries and al­ways gave 100%. His at­ti­tude be­ing: “If it’s not go­ing well, try harder, never give up.” Our sym­pa­thy goes out to long term part­ner An­neli. Good­night and God bless champ and thanks for the mem­o­ries. )

There are few things more sat­is­fy­ing for a su­per com­peti­tor like Carla than to take the che­quered flag as he did here at Far­leigh Cas­tle in 1983. In­door, out­door, made lit­tle dif­fer­ence to Hakan, here he is at Am­s­ter­damsta­dium. Hakan Car­lqvist leads An­dre Mal­herbe at Na­mur in 1983.

Happy man, looks like a win then. Grab­bing the hole- shot at Lux­em­bourg in 1981... a clear field in front. The Hants Grand Na­tional was not a good race meet for the Swede.

Been there, done that, got the T- shirt... Sorry, couldn't re­sist! At the Ci­tadel, Na­mur... a sadly missed track. 1978 was a come­back year for Carla... in­jured in 1977, his per­for­mance in 1978 en­sured a team place for 1979 and he was world 250 champ. The cham­pi­onship was to come... first meet at Sit­ten­dorf.

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