Courtesy of Husqvarna Motorcycles /Kenneth Olausson
Ice racing on studded tyres has always been popular in Sweden. It started in the twenties and there were already many famous events to choose from. In the mid-thirties, Husqvarna played a major role in races on the slippery frozen surface. The leading man in the festivities was Ragnar Sunnqvist, he rode for his private Husqvarna team as the factory had stopped supporting their riders at the time, but races were still won on the successful brand.
Vallentuna, outside Stockholm, was the initial event for a new private team, Scuderia Husqvarna. The factory had withdrawn their official racing support, so Husqvarna’s new fate was established through private interests. It was February, it was cold and the lake had been frozen for quite a while when riders gathered to race in two classes. On February 17th in 1935, the event set off in super-windy conditions at a temperature of minus 15 degrees Celsius.
Despite the temperature some 15,000 spectators came to watch, hardened people who didn’t mind getting cold during the day. The track consisted of many curves with one long straight, this was odd for an ice race. The start time was set at one o’clock, and the first heat was ready to get away with riders at the start line, engines running.
Husqvarna entered with several machines, all on studded tyres with centimetre-long spikes moulded into the rubber. In order to race on the slippery surface, there had to be lots of spikes in each tire. In fact, there were more than six Husky bikes on the starting line which consisted of motorcycles from two separate classes; the 500cc C-class and the 350 cc B-class. Most Huskys were twin-cylinder, but there was also a single-cylinder 350cc ridden by ace Rolf Gülich. The twin-cylinders were a bit rough at the start as they were manufactured to be bump-started – turning the engine to fire up. That meant the first gear was very high, which made the Husqvarnas slow to get away when the flag was dropped.
Dancing on the ice began with riders charging hard from the start. One of the competitors, the legendary Ivar Skeppstedt, missed the second corner and rode straight into the snow-wall. He did recover, but was a bit behind, pushing hard to make up lost time. The race was over 10 laps and the length of the track was four kilometres long. The track was covered in snow, which whirled in the wind, making visibility non-existent. The studded tires bit into the ice, blasting clouds of tiny frozen drops in the air. This was not only a rider problem, as the crowd also had trouble seeing much of the action. However, with 20 riders active on the circuit the battle went on, regardless of each individual’s impression. At least, nobody was in the need of a Sherpa showing the way.
As had happened many times before, Ragnar Sunnqvist took the lead of the field, having no problems whatsoever seeing where he was heading. Husky rider Skeppstedt was soon on Sunnqvist’s heels despite his previous mistake and in third spot lay Arnold Linder, also Husqvarna-mounted. Then Sunnqvist had to make a stop to clean his wires and spark-plugs, due to them being clogged with snow. A new rider by the name of Larsson now took the lead, but he took a shortcut due to bad visibility and was consequently disqualified from the race.
Then something happened, the wind dropped and all the riders suddenly had a clear view of the track. In the big C-class Skeppstedt managed to pass his fellow Husqvarna competitor, Sunnqvist – the latter suffering with a misfiring engine. This made the ace-rider lose more and more ground to the leader which couldn’t be recovered. Instead, Ivar Skeppstedt took his Husqvarna to the overall victory, five seconds ahead of team-mate Arnold Linder. Husqvarna’s third man over the finish line was Ragnar Sunnqvist, almost a minute behind the winner. Husqvarna took all three places on the podium and received all the accolades from a cheering crowd.
In the B-class, Husqvarna also managed a triple podium. First to take the flag was Martin Strömberg, while Arthur Olsson and Carl Bagenholm followed in pursuit, around half a minute behind the first man.
It was a remarkable day, with chilly weather and hot, hot races – perfect for the ultrafast and reliable Husqvarna machines!