Raiders of the Archives is brought to you by JT Racing // Photo from the DR Archives
In 1972 Brad Lackey won the AMA 500cc National Motocross Championship. In 1973, rather than defend his title, he went to Europe to attempt to claim the then more prestigious 500cc World Title. It took him ten years, but in 1982 he did it, becoming the first American World Champion. This photo was from the final round that year in Luxembourg. Brad’s an entertaining and humorous storyteller, and as Brad will tell you, it was a wild day back in 1982–
THE EVENT: “That shot is the first moto, and Graham Noyce is next to me in the photo and he got the holeshot, basically. I kind of just slowed down and let (Andre) Vromans [go], who was a Belgium I was racing against that day for the World Title, because we’re in Luxembourg, and that’s basically Belgium, so he had sixty thousand fans there and I had two fans – my wife and my daughter. And so I had a plan with Graham Noyce to go ahead and get the best start you can and get ahead of Vromans and then just kind of keep him behind you so he didn’t get out in the front and disappear. If he could kind of hold him up a tid bit, then I was going to be way back and at the end of the race I would make a charge and go by him. So Graham was holding up his end of the bargain, and the spectators didn’t like that Vromans couldn’t get around him, so they picked up a big stick and broke his hand, or broke his arm, when he went by in a slow corner, and that was that for Graham, and off to the hospital with a broken arm. Vromans got in the lead then, or into second, I’m not really sure, and I followed behind, a few places back, and let him get a really big lead, and he had a 25 second lead on me with five laps to go, and we knew I could go faster at the end of the moto, especially on a grass track, [on] which the grass gets better and better, so I caught him, I passed him on the last lap about half way around and beat him to the finish line, and he was actually crying when that happened. [re: teammates with Noyce?] No, but in ’79 we weren’t teammates either. We were at some point but in ’79 I was riding Kawi and he was riding Hondas. I broke down so much that year that I didn’t have a shot at the World Championship and he did going into the last race there in Luxembourg, and as the typical Belgium and FIM guys do, Graham was probably first or second or third in timed practice, and that determines your starting position, and they gave him 15th because he was the competition for the Belgian guys. And I was the fastest in practice and they gave me the fastest spot because I wasn’t in contention for the title, and they knew that it didn’t really matter what I did. So I pulled up to the best starting spot first, you know, around all the mud, the best spot for the first turn. And then when Graham came out 15th I took my bike off that spot and gave it to him. And they about had a heart attack. They tried to stop the whole race, they said, ‘You can’t do that!’ I said, ‘I changed my mind. I want to go over there to where that big mud hole’s at.’ So Graham owed me one from that time, and he went on to win the World Championship that time, so [in 1982] he was just paying back a favor and it worked out because then I won. [re: Brad’s reasoning, upset at cheating or buddies with Graham?] I was trying to help him, and I can’t stand it when they do that stuff. They’re just so blatantly cheating in front of everybody and nobody every calls them on it. [re: grass track] When you have a good, moist grass track and these are long and wide tracks, they’re two minutes and forty five minutes a lap, or at least that, and the track gets built in from the berms and stuff, and if you really ride it the right way- actually my practice time, you know when you’re doing the timed practice, you’re just doing a sprint, one lap, to try to get your fastest time to get a starting position, and my lap times at the end, after 45 minutes in the second moto, were five seconds faster than that. [re: how it felt that day winning the title after 10 years of trying] Well it wasn’t over until it was over, so you never go into those things thinking it’s gonna be easy. We had that plan to stay out of the way and hoping that the spectators would leave me alone seeing that Vromans was beating me, and then they don’t want to do anything to you because you could say, ‘well you wouldn’t have won if you didn’t do that,’ so they kind of leave you alone. But they didn’t expect me to be able to go that fast. And then after I did that, coming up from behind and passing him, I kind of turned the tide on the spectators, so now they went, ‘Hey, he is the best. He should win.’ So they left me alone in the second moto and I just rode my race and Vromans was behind me and he was basically wrecked from that first race and he just couldn’t put it together in the second moto to get going fast enough to do anything. So after the second one, when I knew that it was in the bag with a half a lap to go, I was thinking I could push it from here if I had to. You know, it takes a long time to sink in because coming across the finish line, spectators run out, they rip you off the bike, throw you up in the air, you go up to the podium, you’re drinking champagne, then you have team [events] right after that with Suzuki and their representatives and your sponsors and by the time that’s all done it’s nighttime and you’re kind of having some drinks and partying, and the next morning you get up at six to get on a plane to go home. And then by the time I got home to the airport and got to my house, then it’s kind of sinking in. It was a lot of work over the ten years, a lot of fun, a lot history. I would never have traded those years for doing it ten years now, or even in the 90s or anything because I was still racing with all the greats at the time, and those opportunities are long gone now. So having the opportunity to do that, and getting to ride all the great grand prix tracks that are now pretty much gone, it was a great opportunity and it really made me feel proud as an American to get that job done first. [re: what if he hadn’t won that day? How many years of racing did he had left in him?] I probably had two, but it depends on what kind of support you’re going to get, too, that late. I was 28 then, and to [be] 30 in the GPs is, well there were a couple guys, Roger and Heikki [Mikkola] were a little bit older, and Adolph [Weil], and there were a couple guys but I think [two more years] would have been about it. And I was feeling the – seeing a lot of guys get hurt, and right after I quit, I said to my wife, ‘Well, there’s no reason to do this, I won, that’s what I was trying to do, and unless we get paid a million dollars, we’re probably going to retire.’ That was kind of the plan all along, and it was a recession, kind of like right now, so all the teams were shutting down, having one rider out of the local distributor and not having big factory teams, so there was not much money. But the Italians were kind of picking up the pace and buying some factories and companies so Cagiva offered me $750,000 that year and I asked my wife, I said, ‘There’s an offer, 750 thousand,” and she looked at me and said, ‘That’s not a million.’ So that was it for me. [re: his feeling on LaPorte winning the 250 World Title that same year and Brad almost not being the first American World Champion] Yeah, it was only two weeks apart, and Danny did a great job. It’s just a different amount of competition in the 500 versus the 250 class at that time. The 500 class was the premiere class, it was like the open class here, or like the heavyweight championship bouts, the big guys were there and the factories spent more time and money there, and you couldn’t screw up one weekend. If you had one DNF or you fell off, you weren’t going to win. You had to be consistent and on the podium every week, and it was just a tougher class. And that’s my outlook on it, and not taking anything away from Danny, he did a great job coming to Europe for his first time, he was in his prime and he got over there and he did a great job. I’m just happy that our races were done before his.”
THE BIKE: “I had a two year contract with Suzuki. The first year it was really terrible because they hadn’t been in the 500 class for five years, since Roger won in ‘76 or so. So they hadn’t been building a 500, they were winning 125 and 250 championships, but they had no 500 riders, so they were like five years behind in R&D on the big bike and they just couldn’t believe things had changed so much since Roger’s time, everybody riding 370s or whatever, now we’re riding 500 two-strokes. They didn’t’ have a big motor, so the first year was really a turmoil year for me and Suzuki. I broke my foot early in the year at the international races so I went into the GPs with a broken foot and I was complaining a lot about what changes they needed to make and at the end of the year they weren’t happy with me, they wanted to can me, but my contract was pretty good so I kind of bluffed them and kept the contract. And we could see that they weren’t going to try hard, so my team – my mechanic and my trainer and me and Steve Simons from Simons forks, and a bunch of guys, we just went on our own and developed a lot of things that we knew would work for me, and we changed the motor completely, made it a four speed instead of a five speed, made it a bigger engine, made it a completely different powerband with pipes and porting, and put upside down forks on it, the first ones ever invented, and just had a completely different bike than the other factory bike, but it was a bike that suited me well, and that’s why we won. That’s what you gotta do sometimes. [re: where they did the development] Actually, the nine years prior to that I’d go to Belgium January 1 and train over there and do all the international races. This year we stayed here in California for weather purposes and so we could do more testing and we rode the Golden State series here in California in January and February, and we won that, and we didn’t go to Europe until the week before the first GP, which is in April. We just showed up there and were ready to go. [re: did the bike set up change much through that year] No, from what we had here, it was basically the same.”
TODAY: “I’m in the screen printing business. I’ve dabbled with it forever but the last eight years or so I have my own company and we build all kinds of t-shirts and t-shirt designs. We make stuff for Matrix, which is in the industry, and we do Harley rallies, which are huge, Las Vegas Bike Fest, I did the Hollister Rally for seven years as the official shirt vendor for all those big Harley events, I do local stuff, a lot of the vintage stuff… so I’m out and about, traveling quite a bit and building t-shirts and having fun and still trying to get to an event or two. We just got back from Unadilla this week, went up there for a vintage race with a nice crowd and a nice, fun atmosphere. So I’m still having fun, but working when I got to.” Bad Co. is the company and if you want to get in touch with Brad about getting some world class t-shirts made, you can email him at email@example.com.
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