Brad Lackey was one of America’s pioneering motocross racers of the 1970s and ‘80s. In 1972, Lackey won the AMA 500cc National Motocross championship. In 1982, after a decade of trying, he became the first American to win the 500cc World Motocross Championship. During his career, Lackey rode for CZ, Suzuki and Honda, but in the United States he is most closely associated with Kawasaki, the team with which he won his AMA title.
Lackey was born in Berkeley, California, on July 8, 1953. His father was a motorcyclist and got young Brad involved in the sport. By the time he was 9, Lackey was riding with his dad and other friends, cow-trailing through the coastal and interior mountains of the San Francisco Bay area.
At 13, Lackey began racing scrambles across his native Northern California and progressed quickly through the amateur ranks. In the early 1970s, Lackey became an expert-ranked rider just as motocross was beginning to take off in America. Lackey competed against the top European riders in the Inter-Am and Trans-AMA series. By 1970, he was winning support races for the Trans-AMA Series and often was the top American finisher in Trans-AMA races.
"The Europeans taught us that we needed to take our training much more seriously and I took that to heart," Lackey remembers. "From the beginning I knew I wanted to go to Europe and compete against the top riders in the world at that time."
In 1971, CZ sent Lackey to Czechoslovakia to enter a training camp. He also got his first taste of the World Championship Motocross Grand Prix circuit when he raced in a few 250cc GP races while attending the training camp.
In 1972, Lackey won the AMA 500cc National Motocross Championship in its first season as an independent series. Prior to ’72, the top American finisher in the Trans-AMA Series determined AMA motocross champions, but by 1972 the AMA national series had evolved into a series on its own. Lackey was dominant, winning five of the eight races. After winning the championship, Kawasaki wanted Lackey to stay in the United States to wear the number-one late and defend his title. But Lackey was determined to chase his dream of a world championship, so he went to Europe to race in the GPs in 1973 with only minimal support from Kawasaki. Without solid backing, Lackey suffered a tough learning season in the 500cc world championship during the ’73 season.
Lackey signed with Husqvarna in 1974 and he steadily earned better results in the GPs during his three years with the Swedish company. That first year, he was part of the U.S. Motocross des Nations team that shocked the Europeans by finishing second in the international competition. That result told the world that after less than a decade in motocross, the United States was becoming a powerhouse in the sport.
In 1977, Honda signed Lackey and he won his first GP -- the British round of the 500cc series (below). By 1978, Lackey was nearing his goal. He finished second in the world championships to Heikki Mikkola. In 1979, Lackey returned to Kawasaki to help the company develop a new motocross bike and the resulting teething problems kept Lackey from consistently winning.
By 1981, Lackey had landed at Suzuki. The company was coming back to the 500cc World Championships after dominating the series for much of the early-to-mid-1970s. Lackey again found himself helping a team develop a new motocross bike, but this time things fell into place. In 1982, his second year with Suzuki, the bike was excellent and Lackey, after a decade of trying, came through to finally win the 500cc World Championship. He and Danny LaPorte (who won the 250cc world title in 1982) became the first American motocross world champions.
Lackey left racing on top. He retired after winning the ’82 world championship, leaving a legacy as one of America’s top motorcycle racers of all time.
During the early part of his career Lackey was considered something of an outsider to the racing establishment. A child of the "Flower Power" age in the San Francisco area, Lackey called himself a bit of a hippie. He felt strong enough to make his political views known by often riding with a dove on his handlebars during the Vietnam War era.
After retiring from racing, Lackey stayed involved in the sport by turning out motocross training books and videos. When inducted in 1999, Lackey still occasionally raced for fun in vintage events and still lived in Northern California, where he owns an apparel company.
(Complements of the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame.)
500cc World MX Champion