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They don’t hand these out to just anyone: Malcolm’s ISDE medals.

History Of A Legend

Fueling The Two-Stroke Revolution

“A lot of it is just keeping at it,” he says. “You just keep at it, and you get smarter. Running a business is like a long-distance race. I’ve been in last place at the start, and I’ll be behind everybody, but I won’t give up. I’ll just keep pounding on, pretending I’m going to be leading. And pretty soon, the lead guy has a problem, or the next guy might have a problem, and pretty soon I might be up to winning the race again.” Still, he says, like with racing, there are no guarantees, as the tough economy in recent years has shown. “The motorcycle business is not a cakewalk as it was for many years,” he says. “Until about two years ago, it seemed like you couldn’t miss, and you were patting yourself on the back for the great job you were doing—but it wasn’t you, it was circumstances. These days, you have to be more careful, more creative.” It sure didn’t help, he notes, when the federal government decided to ban dirtbike sales to kids when motorcycles got caught up in a law aimed at lead levels in children’s toys. Working with the AMA and others in the motorcycle industry to fight the ban, Malcolm came up with his own brand of high-profile response in 2009. He staged a press conference and sold a couple dirtbikes and an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) for kids, making the point that the machines had no place being included in the ban. Yet, to hear Malcolm tell it, as he approaches the age of 70—he’s 69 now—he admits to mellowing a bit. He’s devoted more time to a fundraising project for his beloved Baja.

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His newest endeavor, under the name Malcolm Smith Adventures Inc., leads a fund-raising ride through some of the best off-road riding Baja has to offer. He’s raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to build an orphanage in Valle Trinidad. It’s home to more than 50 children—the youngest of whom, from the orphanage’s early days, are now in college. “I really wanted to give back to the people in Baja,” he says. “They’ve always been so nice.” And he still trail rides, and races buggies off-road. In April, he competed in the Mexican 1000 Rally, a race for vintage cars from Mexicali to La Paz in Baja, and finished third. He raced the Bel-Ray Bullet, a car that he and Bud Feldcamp originally fielded in the mid-’70s, making the car-and-driver combination appropriately vintage. At his house in the hills above Riverside, it’s clear that motorcycling has been good to Malcolm, that his speed on the race course and his tenacity in business have paid off. He has a garage full of motorcycles and off-road racers that are appropriately drool-worthy. He lives in a sprawling, well-manicured orange-tree-scented home with his family. But the secret for him, he says, is not dwelling on what’s happened already. There are times, such as when he’s asked about his accomplishments, when he’s happy to oblige and look back, but generally, not. “I may have been lucky, but I never really look at it backward,” he says. “I look at what’s next. What am I going to do next? What’s around the next corner?”•

In the United States, the Husqvarna brand—this year’s AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days Marque of the Year—is closely tied to Malcolm Smith, who helped establish the motorcycles as formidable off-road racebikes in the 1960s and ’70s. However, the company’s history dates back centuries. In fact, the company started in 1689 when Husqvarna produced munitions in Sweden. It wasn’t until 1903 that the company began selling motorcycles, fitting engines from makers into Husqvarna frames. Then, in 1920, Husqvarna began building its own engine—a 550cc, four-stroke, 50-degree side-valve V-twin. Another early milestone for the company was the legendary “Svartkvarna” built in 1946. It was a lightweight, reliable two-stroke that could endure hard use. The machine established a reputation that would define Husqvarna for decades. That reputation was mostly written in the 1960s. The two-stroke revolution had yet to take hold in the United States. U.S. riders were still tackling the woods and deserts on converted Harley-Davidsons, Triumphs and BSAs. AMA Hall of Famer Edison Dye became enthralled with European motocross, ultimately teaming with Malcolm Smith to raise the brand’s profile in the States. As part of his early marketing, Dye organized visits to the United States by the reigning Swedish world motocross champion, Torsten Hallman, who has since also taken a seat in the Hall of Fame. He came over for U.S. races and won every moto he entered. The following year, Dye brought Hallman over again, along with world championship motocross stars Lars Larsson, Joel Robert and Roger DeCoster, each of whom would later earn a spot in the Hall of Fame. European heroes racing on American shores not only helped sell motorcycles, they laid the foundation for the growth of motocross on tracks across America. This year, the AMA will celebrate the storied off-road history of both Husqvarna and Malcolm Smith at AMA Vintage Motorcycle Days, July 9-11, at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio. For more information on the event, see AMAVintageMotorcycleDays.com.

American Motorcyclist 07 2010 Preview Version  

The Journal of the AMA Preview Version

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The Journal of the AMA Preview Version