The two British racers who knew Hakan Carlqvist best have paid tribute to him after hearing that the hard man Swede had passed away today. Graham Noyce, world 500 champ in 1979, and Dave Thorpe who was champ in 1985, 1986 and 1989, both raced against Carla in the peak of their careers and were both devastated when the news broke.
Noyce was a very close friend of the man who had largely disappeared from the motocross scene in recent years.
Speaking exclusively to MotoHead, Noyce said: “It came as a complete shock to me. It’s unbelievable – it’s such a shame. He was only 63, a few years older than me as I’m 60.
“We’d not been in contact recently – he doesn’t answer his phone! I did see him in Namur a few years ago, and again not long after that. We were great friends. He was the hardest man I’ve ever raced against but a fair man. He was very hard work but a fair rider! We had some great times together, he was fanastic.
“I first met him somewhere up in Sweden. I don’t know how we did meet but we became great friends. In 1979 I won the 500 in title in Luxembourg and he’d won his 250 title the week before so he came over to watch me race and to congratulate me.”
Of course, the pair ended up as great rivals in 500s and had lots of nail-biting races.
Noyce says: “We had many, many great races. I remember one GP at Sittendorf in Austria and I’d won the first race by a comfortable margin. But in the second race I got a terrible start and I’ll never forget the mechanic’s pitboard which said I was 40 second back. I had a good line and was closing two seconds a lap, and the pit signal said the time was coming down and down. Hakan was leading and I knew we’d have a good race at the end for sure.
“With two laps to go I passed him down this big hill. And you know he’s not going to give up. So I was waiting for him to come alongside as I knew he would, and he did. But he was always fair, though.
“You go up over a brow and down to a left hand bend before the finish line, and he tried to go right around the outside of me. It was close but I beat him by about half a wheel. There was no bad feelings. We got off, shook hands and went for a beer! He was fantastic, a great man. I have so many stories about times spent with him. There some stories you wouldn’t believe!
“We went cross-country skiing together up in Sweden together and had a good laugh. And we did go out riding together on the ice with spiked tyres. It was scary but good!
“I had a house in Belgium and the back door was never locked. The understanding was if any of his crew came down from Sweden and it was late at night, they’d let themselves in and stay. No problem.
“I woke up one morning and went downstairs to make a cup of tea and there were 18 Swedes asleep on the floor all over the place and three factory Yamaha vans parked outside.
“I saw him at the Namur Veterans event in 2004. We had great fun at Namur. He rode down the main straight and went into this car park up the main road. He rode up the white line in the centre of the road and had the back end slifing all over the place. It was hilarious. I also saw him once again after that event.”
Of course, Carla’s most iconic moment is stopping for a beer while leading the Belgian GP at Namur in 1998 – something he’d talked to Noyce about doing for years.
“When he stopped for a beer at the café, it was something we’d been talking about doing for years. We agreed that whoever was in the lead should do it, and he did it as I’d retired by that time.”
The famous beer stop also involved Dave Thorpe, who was racing with Carlqvist at the event.
Thorpe says: “He could only stop for a beer as I’d broken my hand! It was my first race back from having surgery on my collarbone and it was looking good as we were about 30 seconds in front of the rest. But I broke my hand on a post and had to stop.
“If I’d have still been there he wouldn’t have had time to stop for a lager – maybe a glass of water!”
Thorpe, also badly shaken by the news, recalls how Carla was a fierce competitor. “He was a hard man – the last of the old school really. I respected him enormously and it’s so very sad he’s gone.”
There have already been calls for a tribute to Carlqvist to be held at the Vets Nations at Farleigh Castle on September 16-17. Noyce may be tempted to ride in the event, too. “It’s in the balance, we’re in discussion and it could be possible,” he said.