Gunnar Lindstrom was a Swedish-born rider who helped usher in the sport of motocross in America in the late 1960s. Lindstrom worked at the Husqvarna factory in Sweden, and moved to America to help establish the brand in this country. Lindstrom was a leading Trans-AMA and Inter-AMA rider of the early 1970s, and later was an early star in the newly formed AMA Motocross National Championship. Lindstrom won two AMA 250cc Motocross Nationals and was ranked third in that series in 1972.
Lindstrom was born in Sweden in 1943. He was raised on a farm and was interested in motors from an early age. As a teenager, he bought a basket-case motor and rebuilt it to mount on his bicycle.
"I was as surprised as anyone that it actually ran," Lindstrom remembers.
Strict Swedish motoring rules prevented riders from taking up motorcycling before the age of 16, but Lindstrom broke the rules and rode all around with older buddies. He grew up not far from the Husqvarna factory and his childhood ambition was to design motorcycles for the company.
As soon as he turned 16, Lindstrom began racing in all types of motorcycle competition in Sweden, racing on street bikes that he’d modified into off-road machines. His first race was a trials event.
"I knew nothing about trials, but was just happy to paint a number on my motorcycle and say I was a racer," Lindstrom admitted.
At first, Lindstrom studied agriculture in college with the idea of staying in the family business. But he soon decided to follow his dream and switched to engineering. During college, he continued to race enduros and motocross with good success.
After graduating from college, Lindstrom fulfilled his lifelong ambition and went to work for Husqvarna. His first job for the company was test rider. His job was to ride 200 kilometers per day year round. During the long Swedish winter months, his bike was fitted with ski outriggers. He then moved into engineering, developing chassis and suspension.
Lindstrom’s racing career continued and he became one of the top Swedish motocross riders. He also competed in select Grand Prix Motocross races across Europe. At the end of 1967, Lindstrom’s life took an unexpected turn when he was invited to race in a motocross series held during the off-season in Australia and New Zealand. While there, he met American off-road great J.N. Roberts.
Lindstrom won a number of races in the Australian and New Zealand Series and Roberts asked him to come to America to team with him in the Mint 400. The duo won the Mint and earned $4,100 dollars.
"We got paid in cash," Lindstrom remembers. "We laid out the money across the bed of the hotel we were staying in and took a photograph. For a farm boy from Sweden, I thought I was rich."
By 1969, Husqvarna sales were beginning to take off in America and the company asked Lindstrom to work out of the American headquarters of the company in New Jersey. While he was based in New Jersey, Lindstrom said he basically lived out of a motor home as Husqvarna’s American engineering head.
It was during the late 1960s that motocross really began to take off in America. Lindstrom was one of the top riders in the early Trans-AMA and Inter-AMA Series. He finished sixth in 1970, the first year of Trans-AMA. In 1971, Lindstrom was third overall in the 250cc Inter-AMA Series and was classified first American finisher in three of the six events since he was living permanently in the country.
The first independent AMA National Motocross Series was launched in 1972, and Lindstrom won the Hangtown 250cc National near Sacramento, California, in May of that year on a Husqvarna. He went on to finish third in the 250 championship behind Gary Jones and Jim Weinert. Lindstrom retired from full-time racing after 1972, but continued to race select events through the mid-1970s. In addition to motocross, Lindstrom also competed in off-road events such as International Six Days qualifiers and long-distance off-road events like the Baja 500.
Differences in design concepts with one of his superiors in Sweden led to Lindstrom leaving his beloved Husqvarna in 1974. After leaving Husky, Lindstrom became editor of Dirt Bike magazine. Under his guidance, more emphasis was placed on testing motorcycles and Lindstrom’s engineering background helped introduce a new level of professionalism to the magazine.
While he enjoyed his stint at Dirt Bike, in the back of his mind Lindstrom thought of the magazine job as a stepping-stone to a better paying position.
"I thought I might become someone who translated Swedish to English and vice versa for a major company," Lindstrom said. "I knew the magazine work would provide me with a resume that proved I could write in English."
In 1978, Honda brought in Lindstrom to manage its motocross racing program. A few years later, he moved into the automotive division. When inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2000, he was senior manager of American Honda's Alternative Fuel Vehicle Programs. He lives in Southern California with his family.
Inducted in 2000