By Kenneth Olausson
Hakan Carlqvist’s appetite for competition started away from motorsport. He was a keen soccer player, an avid ice hockey man as well as very good at going down hill skiing… at high speed. His interest in two wheels came at the age of sixteen when he started riding a 125cc road bike. The following year Hakan bought a KTM off-road competition machine, which helped pave the way to future motocross success. He won his first race thanks to sheer willpower. Together with his older brother Lennart, Hakan learnt a professional skill and became a glass trades man after previously working in the building and construction business.
After the 1971 season Hakan had already proven his point and became successful in his new game. He went from being a junior rider to competing in the senior class and rode a 250cc Maico ahead of the 1972 motocross season. Still being a rookie it was hard for Hakan to get many race opportunities in order to gain proper experience. Hakan didn’t take part in more than a dozen events during the 1972 season.
The following year was much better. Hakan won a qualification race for the Swedish Championship and finished 7th overall in the national series. This success results in him receiving his first sponsor – the Swedish importer of the Spanish Ossa brand. As 1974 was set to go Hakan was among the top 250cc riders in the country. He ends up second and were it not for fuel management problems he probably would have won his first title. But this success resulted in Carla looking towards the international horizon. He has already shown great promise internationally and ends up being 25th in the 1974 world series. With competitors outside Carlqvist's native country struggling to correctly pronounce his name, he’s given the nickname ‘Carla’.
In 1975 the Spaniards at the Ossa factory start to support Carla full time. He not only receives free machinery, but also a mechanic and professional transport, which gives the Swede optimum opportunities in the world series, then held throughout the European continent. However, the season starts with bad luck and Hakan breaks his wrist in early February, long before his 1975 adventures have started. The year is lost. The following season is somewhat of a breakthrough for Hakan who now ends up on the WC podium for the first time in his life. In the Swedish 250cc Grand Prix held towards the end of the series in Ulricehamn Carla takes fifth spot in the two heats, which gives him third place in the overall standings.
After 1976 Carla is forced to end his ice hockey career as motocross takes all of his efforts. He turns professional in its truest sense and from now on there is no turning back. His decision makes the Husqvarna factory offer him a 250cc contract and the future seems to be set for the hungry rider from Stockholm.
"All the time I was prepared to sacrifice my ice hockey career for motocross, but I wanted to be sure of receiving constructive professional support before I gave up my other sport”, says Carla in an interview. “But the temptation was always there since my club went as far as the second division in the national ice hockey league”.
In the two first rounds of the world championship Carlqvist is always among the five top riders. However in the Belgium Grand Prix he breaks his left leg so badly that the entire season is once again spoilt for the ambitious Swede. He spends one-and-a-half months in hospital and the comeback is both hard and painful since his wounds are far from healed. But, being a true Viking in the MX field, Carla wants to be back on a bike as quickly as possible. No hurdles are too big for the muscular Swede. In the middle of August Hakan is back on track, but his wounds aren’t healed properly since he started to ride much too early.
“Unfortunately, my knee has never returned to normal after that Belgian incident”, tells Carla, “I had to start over from scratch again for the 1978 season”. What had been gained in confidence was suddenly gone. Carlqvist's troublesome career was hit by one accident after the other. Was he up to it again, or was this the beginning of his decline?
In any case, Husqvarna did not renew his contract but were willing to give him a production machine and some spare parts. The season starts well. Hakan Carlqvist wins the first Grand Prix of his life at the second round of the season, held in Spain. But the rest of this season is not met with his desire to conquer. Hakan is a mere seventh in the championship table at the end of 1978. On the home turf Carla is once again second in the national championship after Thorleif Hansen – another successful Husky rider who later makes a name for himself all around the world.
With increased self confidence the stubborn Carla starts preparation for the 1979 season. He is now well-known throughout Scandinavia for his hot temper and notorious outbursts of anger. Hakan Carlqvist is a man who does not shred his words, and the truth is not always appreciated in this non-forgiving game. His riding style is that of a man always trying to the maximum and his attack and will are forces not to be underestimated. Some people call him "loudmouth" and Carla is often compared with boxing legend Cassius Clay. "But that was only because I am so focused”, retaliates the bulky Swede.
Privately, he is a simple and kind man. People who have seen him concentrate ahead of a race have another feeling about Carla's behavior. His hefty temper probably both had a positive as well as negative impact on his riding skills. No matter what, Hakan Carlqvist will in the future always be remembered for his outbursts – an iconic character with a hot temper.
Initially, the people from Husqvarna had serious doubts about the possibilities of Carlqvist's future career. But after second thoughts the factory gave him a new chance to perform in the 1979 250cc world championship. There was no talk of contract money, merely bonuses for achieved results...
“The money was of second importance to me after all my failures”, says, Carlqvist, “All I wanted was to show the world that I was a winner!”
Tommy Jansson became the personal mechanic for Carla. A man with a previous motocross career, Tommy was now helping Hakan to both prepare his Husqvarna as well as ensuring psychological support for a rider who at times showed signs of being unstable as a person. Their friendship went back a long way so this was an optimal solution for this small and passionate Swedish team.
The ‘79 season started in high gear with redline revs. Hakan finished second in the debut race and then managed to win the second round of the series. After that it was a secure path to the title. Carla won 14 races out of the 24 held and was now renamed ‘Superswede’ with his first word title in his bag.
The joy was enormous and it is difficult to explain with words what an emotional Carlqvist felt at the time of success. He had probably been in doubt many times after the bad luck with severe injuries, but in the end his efforts proved to pay off and Husqvarna had a new star in their factory team. The triumph of the Superswede was well-deserved, and Carla received all the media response that was becoming to him after such a victory.
“My dreams finally came through”, said an exultant Hakan Carlqvist, “but I remember that my dreams went further since I also wanted a title in the half-litre class”.
But that is another story...