Originally titled "Bad Boys of Motocross", this series of Motocross Chronicle stories merely pays homage to the pioneers of motocross who paved the way for future generations with do-or-die displays of motorcycle riding prowess.
Some felt like I was trying to imply that these racers were off the cuff or, perhaps, troublemakers. Bad Boys is simply a charming euphemism pertaining more to their on-track talents than any outside dubious activities.
That said, there is one rider who, by his own choice, wore the label of Bad Boy-literally. Brad Lackey (a.k.a. Bad Brad) was the unofficial American ambassador on the international motocross Grand Prix scene throughout the 70s.
A colorful personality and seriously determined rider, Lackey earned respect among the gauntlet of Europeans who dominated the sport. Early on, Lackey became a thorn in the side of many Europeans, serving notice that he-and America-was going to be a force to be reckoned with in motocross.
A 1971 training stint in Czechoslovakia with CZ had introduced the young Californian to the exotic world of Motocross Grand Prix and Lackey became obsessed with becoming the first American World Champion.
After winning the 1972 AMA 500cc national Motocross Championship (on a Kawasaki), Lackey left for Europe to pursue his impassioned dream of a Motocross World Title. After a baptism by fire season in Europe in 1973 (with less than adequate support from Kawasaki), Lackey moved to Husqvarna in 1974, racing for the Swedish factory for the next three seasons (1974, 1975, 1976).
In his early racing career, Lackey-a product of the "Flower Power" movement-made a strong political statement during the Vietnam War by mounting a white plastic peace dove on his cross bar.
He was an absolute original on the World Motocross GP scene with his "California hippie" looks that routinely included a beard and long hair. Nicknamed Bad Brad in later years, he often had the words emblazoned across the butt of his leathers.
Despite the hippie references Lackey was one of the first Americans to embrace the intense physical training necessary to compete at a world caliber level. His training regiment was forged in the early days with Rolf Tiblin at Husqvarna’s training center in Sweden, where the riders jogged through deep snowdrifts in the trees. Lackey’s legs were like tree trunks. The rest of his body a finely tuned weapon.
Lackey moved to powerhouse Honda in 1977 with whom the Californian won his first GP. This began a steamroller momentum that had him consistently improving his results. In 1978 he diced all season with Finnish rider Heikki Mikkola to finish second in the 500cc championship.
Lackey moved back to Team Kawasaki for 1979, which proved to be a bike development year and a disappointment for his goal of a championship. Bad Brad made the switch to Suzuki in 1981 and resumed the strong results.
In 1982, after ten years of trying, Brad Lackey clinched the 500cc World Championship, the points chase coming down to the last event. Lackey, sporting his famous hot rod flame paint job on his helmet, captured the championship by winning the final moto. (That same year another American, Danny La Porte, won the 250cc World Title).
After ten years of racing, having achieved his ultimate goal of becoming World Champion, Brad Lackey decided to retire at the end of 1982. He would only race with the number one plate once, at the 1983 USGP at Carlsbad.
It’s hard for many young racers today to fully appreciate what Lackey did for America in his day. Lackey was the sole bearer of the Stars & Stripes in European MX for most of the 70s, returning year after year to the GP wars, pursuing the 500cc championship with a dogged determination that brought new respect from the all-conquering Europeans.
Lackey wrote a number of motocross training books after he retired and races the occasional vet or vintage MX race. Lackey put his name and efforts behind a number of charity events to help his injured friend, racer Danny "Magoo" Chandler, after the fellow Californian suffered a crash that confined him to a wheelchair. Today, Lackey still sports a goatee-although it has grayed a bit over time.