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…

Classic Dirtbike - - Contents - Words: Tim Britton Pics: Nick Ni­cholls Col­lec­tion, Mor­tons Ar­chive

…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.

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