An hour with…

‘Bad Brad’ burst onto the Eu­ro­pean MX scene like a breath of fresh air and the fans loved him for it. We caught up with him at Drum­lan­rig.

Classic Dirtbike - - Contents - Words: Tim Brit­ton Pics: Mor­tons Ar­chive www.mor­ton­sarchive.com

… Brad Lackey the Amer­i­can su­per­star, all-round great guy and guest of hon­our at Drum­lan­rig.

The UK can some­times ex­pe­ri­ence in­ter­est­ing weather dur­ing July and for the Scot­tish Grand Na­tional Scram­ble at Drum­lan­rig Cas­tle it proved dis­tinctly un­cal­i­for­nian-like for guest of hon­our Brad Lackey. Not that it was a prob­lem for him though: “Hey I was based in Europe for a while and ex­pe­ri­enced the Brit weather…” his face creased in a wide grin as he and I hur­ried to the mar­quee, set up for the evening en­ter­tain­ment. In­side and out of the weather, Brad flopped into a couch and said: “Okay, the guys putting this to­gether tell me you do ‘an hour with…’ so, ask me what you want.”

So, I be­gan with some­thing sim­ple… “How old are you?” “I’m 65,” he replied. “We’re off to a fly­ing start,” I joked, think­ing on my feet. Then I no­ticed the crowd of fel­low racers, for­mer racers, and en­thu­si­asts want­ing a few mo­ments of the man’s time. In some in­ter­views this can be a prob­lem but for an in­for­mal chat such as this it can ac­tu­ally work in both par­ties’ favour as recol­lec­tions start flowing and things are more re­laxed.

The con­ver­sa­tion dot­ted about from 1966, when Brad be­gan MX aged 13, to 1982 when he re­tired on top of the MX world.

“There were no deals go­ing at the end of the 1982 sea­son, or at least not deals I felt were worth it, so I re­tired, though I did race once more, at Carls­bad in 1983. I sup­pose you could say it was my home GP cir­cuit even though it’s south of Los An­ge­les and I’m from San Fran­cisco area, and I wanted to ride at least one time with the ‘No 1’ plate on, think I fin­ished fourth or some­thing,” Brad ex­plained.

Not a bad re­sult given he was re­tired. On with the ques­tions... Look­ing back at your ear­lier years how did you come to be a mo­tor­cy­clist? “My dad was a keen rider. Though he never com­peted he did do a lot of dirt rid­ing and that’s how I be­gan, just rid­ing un­til I was 13 or 14 when I be­gan MX.” Given your home area I’d have thought flat track­ing would have been more your style? “I did look at flat track, even went to As­cot park in LA and saw the likes of Dick Mann rac­ing and Kenny Roberts when he was start­ing, but y’know, the new rid­ers there were get­ting maybe one race a night and it was over in no time at all but at a mo­tocross you’d be guar­an­teed three races of a de­cent length, it was all about the rid­ing.”

In his early years, Brad did ride with a lot of flat track racers as the bikes they rode and what he was rid­ing were sim­i­lar: “I did have a 200 Bul­taco flat tracker which I also mo­tocrossed with but still all I wanted to do was ride.” Pre­sum­ably your fam­ily were sup­port­ive? “Oh, yeah, lots of en­cour­age­ment and maybe off-the­wall ad­vice, like when I started do­ing well and was away in the east rac­ing when I was a teenager, I got an of­fer to

race pro­fes­sion­ally. I didn’t know what to do, I was still of­fi­cially at school, so I rang my dad ‘hey dad, what do I do? Take the of­fer or fin­ish school?’ Dad replied ‘take the race of­fer, fin­ish school later’ – my jaw was on the floor and I’m like okay…and that’s been it ever since.”

‘It’ is a life de­voted to the MX world as a place to earn a liv­ing and Brad has come a long way since the first steps. I was go­ing to say ten­ta­tive but I get the im­pres­sion there’s never been any­thing ten­ta­tive about Brad, cer­tainly read­ing the re­ports about him in the back is­sues of Mo­tor­cy­cle here at CDB it’s life lived full on.

“Oh yeah, the fac­to­ries of­ten thought I was a pain in the ass but I just wanted the best and to do the best, so we rubbed each other up a lit­tle but they were still great times with great bikes, still have my 1982 Suzuki and a few oth­ers,” he muses.

While des­per­ate to know what other bikes he has, I try to steer the chat to­wards the early days.

“You want to know what I’ve rid­den? What haven’t I rid­den?” he thinks for a sec­ond or two. “To start with I rode for a dealer then a dis­trib­u­tor and I rode Montesa Cap­pras, 250 and 360, then some Sachs en­gined bikes, then Montesa again, Amer­i­can Ea­gle – you heard of them? You have? Wow! Even in the states peo­ple go

‘what?’ – then I was on CZ, Kawasaki, Husq­varna, Honda, back to Kawasaki then Suzuki for the world cham­pi­onship. That do?”

I’m out of breath just try­ing to keep up with him and I’m only writ­ing.

The CZ con­nec­tion was one that brought you to Europe in the first place wasn’t it?

“It was, I went to the fac­tory and their train­ing camp, I was so de­ter­mined to be world cham­pion that I knew I had to do some­thing. Oh I could have stayed in the States and raced quite hap­pily and earned a de­cent pay check but I knew I’d have to learn from the guys in Europe and it paid off.”

Brad was AMA num­ber one in 1972 and de­pend­ing on the viewpoint – he says ‘made a de­ci­sion to be­come world champ’ oth­ers say ‘threw it all in’ – gave it all up or started a learn­ing curve by mov­ing to Europe for a year.

“No it wasn’t easy, but I was de­ter­mined to be world champ. The guys I raced against in the USA were quick on quick tracks but slow­ing at the end, in Europe the guys were quicker at the end of a race than at the start and that’s what I needed.”

In his first sea­son Brad was 13th. “Kawasaki weren’t happy re­ally, they wanted me more in the USA so I got a chance to race for Husq­varna for three sea­sons and my po­si­tions went up but they were kind of tail­ing off and Honda Amer­ica made an of­fer so I went with them for 1977 and 1978, got 4th and 2nd in the world but I wanted to do things my own way again, I seem to have this rep­u­ta­tion ,” he laughs, “so Kawasaki Ja­pan came up with a deal and I went green again with the new Uni-trak which gave Gra­ham Noyce a way in to Honda and look how that turned out.”

His as­so­ci­a­tion with Kawasaki was to mir­ror his one with Honda as far as po­si­tions went… 4th in the first sea­son and then sec­ond in the sec­ond sea­son. That there were ten­sions in the team is doc­u­mented in the press of the day and not re­ally for here but it ended up with Brad chang­ing camps again and team Green went in favour of Suzuki Yel­low.

It was with the yel­low per­ils Brad would fi­nally achieve his dream of a world cham­pi­onship win. “The thing was, Suzuki hadn’t de­vel­oped much since 1975, they’d been top dogs then and rested on their lau­rels a bit, oh they still wanted to win but I don’t know, maybe they needed a kick-start. So, for 1981 it was a de­vel­op­ment sea­son when things were tried and things

im­proved, the re­sult wasn’t as im­por­tant as the progress but I felt con­fi­dent and for 1982 things looked good.”

As it turned out, things looked very good, as Brad dom­i­nated the se­ries and brought the cham­pi­onship to Suzuki and the USA to be­come the first Amer­i­can 500cc World MX Cham­pion.

Right af­ter the suc­cess though, Suzuki quit top line MX and left Brad with­out a vi­able ride. “I didn’t want to just head on and be chas­ing num­ber one again, been there and won that, so I re­tired too. I did ride one time at Carls­bad for the US GP with the num­ber one plate on though.”

Steer­ing the con­ver­sa­tion to­wards some of the more sen­si­tive ar­eas of his race ca­reer, I hedged round a few spicy ar­eas which caused an­other of those big grins, “Yeah, you mean about ‘Bad Brad’…” well yes. “Maybe I should have been more dis­crete, maybe I should have made the re­quests for ma­chine mods in pri­vate but y’know, I tried that and things didn’t hap­pen as fast as they should. Say it to a re­porter, it gets in the press and all of a sud­den things hap­pened. To say I didn’t care about the up­set isn’t ac­cu­rate, would I have pre­ferred not to have the has­sle? Of course I would but as long as the im­prove­ments meant the team could win then I felt that was a good thing.”

Does that mean you’re a tech­ni­cally-minded guy who will wield the span­ners and head for the ma­chine shop to fash­ion up a new com­po­nent?

“I’m tech­ni­cally-minded in the re­spect I can ride a bike and know what’s wrong or what needs to be done to put it right but no, I’m not tech­ni­cal in the re­spect that I could do it. In many ways I’ve not needed to do such things, as long as I was able to say what the bike was do­ing and what I wanted it to do then that was enough. Look­ing back at how in­tense it was on the GP cir­cuit I don’t think any rid­ers could have been me­chan­ics as well even if they had the skills.”

Some­thing all us club rid­ers won­der is whether fac­tory rid­ers en­joy the sport. Ask­ing Brad what it was like to be a racer then brought some in­ter­est­ing an­swers. Look­ing at him in­ter­act­ing with the peo­ple at Drum­lan­rig it is clear Brad Lackey en­joys min­gling with fans, en­thu­si­asts and racers, maybe this is be­cause his top line ca­reer is over and he can re­lax a bit.

“The rac­ing was fun, none of us would do it if it wasn’t, win­ning is even more fun. Let’s face it, there’s not a racer who doesn’t like to win at what­ever level. But there’s the lo­cal guy, does some win­ning, maybe gets a buck or two but still goes in to work on Mon­day through Fri­day, it’s a hobby. If, say, one week­end he breaks down or doesn’t win, it’s no big deal, the pay check still comes in from the day job. Once the pro­fes­sional racer has to per­form and the pressure is on to win then a lit­tle of the fun goes out of it and it be­comes a job. Yes you still love it but there’s that ex­tra bit of pressure to bring in the results, so maybe a lit­tle of the fun goes out of it.”

He adds the ca­ma­raderie of his fel­low racers at that time was good and he found it pos­si­ble to be friendly with guys he was rac­ing with, with­out it in­ter­fer­ing with rac­ing on the track.

The club com­mit­tee then made signs Brad was needed else­where so I quickly con­cluded by ask­ing if he still rode? “Oh yeah, I’ve a bunch of guys I ride with and I’ve dif­fer­ent bikes for dif­fer­ent groups. The Brit bike guys I have a Brit bike to ride, the guys who ride the older Jap bikes I’ve got some­thing suit­able there too.”

Ob­vi­ously there’s a bike or two in the Lackey garage?

“Oh yeah, I’ve a lot of bikes, the 1982 Suzuki for in­stance, then there’s the Kawasaki I did some win­ning on, I’ve an Amer­i­can Ea­gle too and Vic East­wood’s 1973 CCM… They’ve got a CZ for me to ride here in the pa­rade lap too.”

Left: Fly­ing high on a Husq­varna.

Right: Honda was the right move for Lackey.

Above: Brad didn't of­ten have to play catch-up...

1: Kawasaki mounted for the 1973 Bel­gian GP. 2: Some­times it's just black and white at the 1981 Bri­tish GP...3: Brad claims to be okay on sandy tracks. Hawkstone was okay in 1975. 4: Brad's switch to Suzuki was to be fruit­ful.

Above: 1982 was the year it all came to­gether for Mr Lackey.

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