That was the year when…
Written off in 1981, Californian Brad Lackey was dominating the 1982 Grand Prix Motocross world championship by the time of the British round at Farleigh Castle…
…Brad Lackey was comeback king of Farleigh Castle. We look back to 1982 when, despite being written off by the MX world, Californian Lackey showed his mettle.
As history will record, American Suzuki rider Brad Lackey would finish the season as world champion. However, at this stage in our story that was still to come and the motorcycling press here in the UK was full of how well the British riders could do at their home GP. In a full page preview of the Farleigh Castle contest, Motorcycle Weekly reckoned things looked good for a home winner. With British stars such as former 500cc world champion Graham Noyce, reigning 250cc world champion Neil Hudson and rising star Dave Thorpe all consistently being in the top five at the previous nine GPS, you can see why the press felt this way.
In interviews with the three Brits, all of them felt that at this stage in the season maybe the championship for 1982 was out of reach for them – to be fair, neither Thorpe nor Hudson had expected to be winners in their first full season of 500 MX GPS and told Motorcycle Weekly so. Both felt this would be a learning year and in Thorpe’s case would lead to three future championships. Noyce, however, continued the run of bad luck which had plagued him since being crowned 1979 world champion. Never one to give in, Noyce pushed himself harder and harder despite injuries and paid the price in the American round when he crashed and damaged his left knee even more.
Despite the interest in the home-grown talent, by this stage the title contest was seen as between Californian Lackey and Belgian Andre Malherbe as both had hit top form at the right time. Unfortunately for Malherbe he effectively put himself out of contention at the US round when disaster struck and left the Belgian with a broken leg.
Lackey would not have it all his own way though, as with Malherbe sidelined Andre Vromans had a better time of it – like the British riders the Belgian racer was consistently in the top three or four at each GP and had won the Canadian round.
But, back to Lackey... all but written off by everyone bar himself going into the season, Lackey is on record as stating his
training schedule would not show benefits until mid-season. Early on he maintained consistency with steady seconds and thirds before picking up his first win at Austria and amassing enough points to put him ahead of the pack with 161, Vromans being closest with 151 as the riders made their way to Wiltshire. Yes it was still technically possible for Neil Hudson to win the title, but he would have to win every round – both heats – with Lackey and Vromans suffering disasters in order for it to happen.
On the day the action at Farleigh Castle was thrilling and close but disappointing for the UK squad in particular.
Tipped to take his first GP win, 19-yearold Thorpe set off in fine style to take the first heat win from Vromans, with Lackey third. Buoyed by this success Thorpe headed for the front in heat two and looked to be heading for another win before the Suzuki duo of Lackey and Vromans got into their groove on lap six. Still, his second place overall wasn’t bad and it put him top of the Brits – with Noyce and Hudson fourth and fifth – at the end of the day.
Noyce’s run of bad luck seemed to continue at Farleigh and he didn’t manage to add to his win in Sweden’s round three. In part this was an indication of the high level of competition at that time in the GP scene and part to do with Noyce’s determination.
Suffering from injuries to his knee the Honda rider was pushing harder than he should and in heat one finished a brilliant fourth, but then got caught in a first bend pile-up in the second heat – doing further damage to his knee. Despite this he powered through the field to take fourth place but his knee let him down again and another fall dropped Noyce back to fifth place.
Noyce wasn’t the only one suffering from injuries as Neil Hudson had to contend with damaged ligaments at the base of his thumb. It may not sound a bad injury to a social rider, but at this level, and with factory prepared bikes to hang onto, anything less than peak fitness puts a rider at a disadvantage.
Still, Hudson’s steady pace, uncomplicated style and determination put him in fourth and sixth respectively in heats one and two and this was enough to give him fifth overall.
Though the cheers were mainly for the top three Brits in the GP, especially Thorpe who displayed a maturity beyond his years by racing calmly and unflustered once he got
the lead in race one, there were more British riders in the title fight, and while they may have been further down the race order the dicing and racing was no less frenetic.
Riders of the calibre of Geoff Mayes, Lawrence Spence and Rob Hooper were battling it out in the midfield and putting on a good show. Spence was sidelined with a front wheel puncture at around the halfway point in race one and Mayes’ chain slipped off the sprockets a mere two laps from the finish as he was in line for 12th spot. He wasn’t the only rider to suffer chain woes either as Ivan
van den Broeck had lost his drive on lap two. The Gremlins were no less prevalent for race two with Spence’s recent shoulder injury causing him grief through the arduous race and Hooper managing to drop his Maico and bend his brake lever on lap three, then his chain adjuster snapped almost at the finish of race two which ended his day disappointingly out of the points. When all was said and done the day belonged to three riders – Lackey, Thorpe and Vromans – who dominated the top end. Interviewed after the race Vromans admitted Thorpe had the same lines on the track as himself and in an attempt to pass the young British rider the Belgian made a bad choice and lost ground in race one. He added a better start was required for heat two and believed it was still possible for him to be world champion if he had some luck in the next two GPS... though he didn’t sound confident it would happen.
Thorpe two was philosophical about his chances and when Vromans and Lackey forced their way past him in heat two showed the maturity to stay in a safe third place, confident he was learning for the future. In his post race interview he is quoted as saying he was on Noyce’s rear mudguard and realised his fellow countryman was not at his best thanks to his injury and Thorpe managed to reel him in.
Not that the 19-year-old was injury free either, as a rough landing damaged his back and he raced in quite a bit of pain. As the GP riders left Farleigh Castle it was deservedly Brad Lackey who was crowned ‘King of the Castle’ with Britain’s Dave Thorpe the crown prince.
What happened next?
Neil Hudson didn’t quite get his 500cc crown to add to the 250 one but proved many critics wrong by being in the top three.
Dave Thorpe would prove predictions correct and go on to win three world 500cc titles in the Eighties. He remains in the industry and is involved in Honda’s off-road success these days.
Graham Noyce also remains a one-time champion but came oh-so-close several times and still races.
Brad Lackey, the 1982 500cc world MX champion for Suzuki, was critical of his factory mount and had fallen foul of Suzuki’s management, or so it was claimed in Motorcycle Weekly. There was much speculation over his future with most people reckoning Suzuki would not renew his contract despite him winning. The rest of the Japanese factories were pretty much happy with their squad and the Europeans wouldn’t have anything like the budget to retain Lackey.
Andre Malherbe had a resurgence and took a final 500cc title in 1984, nearly doing it again in 1985 and 1986, before retiring and trying touring car racing then rally raids...
However, a serious crash in the 1988 Paris to Dakar Rally left the Belgian with life changing injuries. )
Belgian Jaak van Velthoven had to settle for sixth in the British GP.
Flying high at Farleigh, Californian Brad Lackey leads team mate Andre Vromans.
The gates are down, the clutch is dropped and already riders are pawing the air.
Above: Lackey wasn't the only American racing at Farleigh, Honda’s Gary Semics was over too.