This video is part of our “21 in ’21” series that highlights one of the 21 AMA Superbike Champions each week as we move through the 2021 MotoAmerica season – the 45th year of the premier class championship.
Scott Russell will always be known as “Mr. Daytona” and for good reason. After all, he did win five of what used to be one of the biggest road races in the world. But if you look at what else Russell accomplished in an illustrious career, perhaps the title “Mr. Much More Than That” would also apply.
Russell’s Daytona domination often overshadows a career that includes an AMA Superbike Championship, three AMA 750 Supersport titles, a World Superbike Championship and two podium finishes during his stint in 500cc Grand Prix racing. He was very good. At every level.
Russell’s AMA career was well timed and he was a legitimate star and one of the most popular racers in a series that was close to its pinnacle when the Georgian was at the top of his game.
“My championship was 1992,” Russell said. “I started as a Pro in 1988, so it didn’t take too long to climb my way to the top. I was close a couple years leading into that. Lost it (the Superbike Championship) by just a few points, but in the end, we were able to get that done finally in ’92. As far as racing goes back then, that’s all I knew at the time, and I thought it was the best thing in the world. I thought the competition level was at a pretty good high level. There were a lot of good riders at the time. Coming off of a production series, the Suzuki Cup, primed me and got me really ready for learning the race craft at an amateur level. So, when we did go Pro, we were kind of tuned up and ready to get it done. I think it was a great time to come through Superbike racing in American back then. It was in a good place. We’ve seen it have a roller coaster ride throughout the years. AMA racing being at a high and then dropping to a low, but it was at a good place when I came through in the ‘90s, so really happy to hit it just at that right time.”
Russell also raced in an era when the top riders double-dipped, racing Superbikes and either 600cc Supersport or 750cc Supersport as well with those classes featuring the likes of Russell, Miguel Duhamel, Nicky Hayden, Jamie Hacking, etc. The top factory stars raced in two classes, which not only helped their bank account, but it also gave up-and-comers in the Supersport classes, like a young Roger Hayden, the chance to test their skills and learn from the very best.
“There was a lot of that in the 600 class, and you had 750 Supersport as well,” Russell explained. “For me, I did double duty with the 750 Supersport and then jumped on a Superbike that same day. We were used to that from the production days with riding 600, 750, and the 1100 (in Suzuki Cup racing). So, it was cool. It was double the racing on a weekend, double the money. So, for guys like me, I think it was a plus. The competition just kept you really tuned up all the time.”
In order to win his AMA Superbike title in 1992, Russell had to beat the king of the class at the time, Texan Doug Polen. And he had to do it in the final round of the series at Polen’s home track – Texas World Speedway.
“There were a couple of good stories that year,” Russell said. “I think the biggest one was my archrival, I would say, in America would have been Doug Polen at the time. He was trying to pull double duty and win the World Superbike Championship in that same year. It was close because he was super-fast and Ducati had a good bike. We had a good package, too. To fight with him and for it to come down to the last race of the year at Texas World Speedway, it was really a must-win situation for me or him to win the championship. We had an epic battle, and I was able to beat him there at home. That was considered his home track… Texas World back in the day. Obviously, it’s a different layout than what we used to run in the amateur days. But to get that done, and the finish was so close. To win the championship in that way made it more special. And to beat a guy like him, he’s the guy with the yardstick for me coming up. I had to always measure up against that guy and seemed to always be chasing him. To get that and not let him win the championship, that would not have been good. It made me really happy. The Muzzy team and all the guys there always worked so hard and prepared such a great bike for me. Really made my job pretty easy.”
The 1992 season also saw Russell get the chance to go overseas to try his hand at World Superbike racing.
“Early in ’92 we ran Daytona, and again had another epic battle with Doug (Polen) and beating him at the line. Almost started the same and then with a draft pass at the finish, and then ended the season in the same way, nearly. It was very cool. After that win at Daytona, we had a month off. Rob (Muzzy) had already, I guess, had his sights set on testing the waters in Europe, so we were able to have the time to travel to Europe with the support of Kawasaki and then run at Albacete in Spain, Donington Park, and Spa, which is a great racetrack. So, for me, it was a real treat to get to go to Europe in the first place and then ride some of the greatest tracks in the world and put it on the podium at two of those events – maybe all three. I can’t remember. I crashed at one of them. We definitely realized at that point that we had speed and we could compete at a world level. That just kind of set the tone for the whole year. We had that in our sights. We really needed to close the deal on the AMA Superbike Championship. It would have been really bad if I didn’t win that, but luckily for me we did get it done and then went on over to Europe the next year.”
Many race fans don’t remember that not only did Russell get the chance to try Grand Prix racing after winning his World Superbike Championship, but he also did it with success. But it most definitely wasn’t easy on the Suzuki, though he ended up Rookie of the Year in that first season as a replacement rider for Kevin Schwantz, who had retired.
“At the time, I didn’t know it was (a rather dated Suzuki RGV500),” Russell recalls about that first GP year. ”I knew (Kevin) Schwantz was ‘you win or you crash.’ Now I kind of know why after getting on the bike and realized it had some shortcomings. It handled well, but it lacked in acceleration a little bit. At the time, the Hondas were hitting super-strong, and they were super-fast. Any time if you got in a battle with one of those guys, it made it tough to get past them. So, you really had to put yourself out there. I understand now why Kevin (Schwantz) had so many crashes on the bike, because he was willing to take all the chances it took to win. It was a good experience. It was a weird deal, coming in in the middle of a season like that and never having any experience on a 500cc two-stroke. All Superbike experience for me so was a steep learning curve. I look at it like it was just another motorcycle and I needed to learn how to ride it. So, I was able to get my arms around it pretty quick and do some impressive times I think at the first test. That was what landed me the deal with those guys. They were convinced that I had the speed. As we went along, I found out how hard it was in that series. A year and a half on that bike, a lot of broken bones, a couple good results, Rookie of the Year, sixth in the championship – it wasn’t too bad I think for the short amount of time I had to try to make that happen.”
Russell is still active on two wheels, though those wheels are now attached to a bicycle. The Georgian is addicted and he’s good at his new craft – both mountain and road cycling – so the competitive spirit is fed more than ever.
“For the last almost 10 years now I’ve gotten hot and heavy into cycling,” Russell said. “The motorcycle thing has kind of taken a back seat to that now. Unfortunately, I don’t get to ride motorcycles quite as often as I used to. So, that part of my life has kind of been pulled away. The cycling has come to the forefront and that’s what I love to do. I’m still competitive. I’ve competed in mountain bike races over the last nine years on and off. Done most of the training on the road. We’re out here doing group rides with 100 people or more sometimes. The cycling community in Atlanta is hot and heavy. It’s a great place to do it. So, I get my kicks on the weekends with the group rides, but the competitive spirit is still there. We still get KOMs (King Of The Mountain) out here. I got a little deal going with a local guy here. He’s 20 years younger than I am but I’m still competitive. That doesn’t burn like it used to inside, but it’s still there. When I get an email that somebody’s the KOM, I get fired up and want to go back out there and try to get it back. So, that competitive spirit is there. Then when I have done some mountain bike racing, I had some good success at it. Again, I turned myself inside-out to win, whatever it takes. So, it’s still there.
“I’m just lucky to have that outlet and be able to channel that energy into that. We used to have a lot of (motorcycle) riding going on out here at my house. That all died off, so you had to find something to fill the spot, and cycling is definitely doing it. We’ve got a great cycling team. We have some good support from a local shop, Roswell Bicycles. We’ve got Giordana clothing supporting us, which makes the ride all that much nicer to have such nice clothes. And then Giant Bicycles has started helping us out. We’re a little bit of a team. We’ve got Garrett Gerloff. We’ve got some bigger names on here that some guys are still active in motorcycling. Tim Robinson put the deal together. Thanks to him for that. It’s kept me involved in something real. We have a bunch of guys. We don’t get together a lot because we’re all spread out all over the country, but we do wear the same kit and we all have the same thing in mind, just enjoying cycling and kicking butt.”
Russell was a spectator at the MotoAmerica season opener at Road Atlanta, a place where he cut his teeth racing motorcycles. And he’ll likely be at the season finale at Barber Motorsports Park as he remains a steadfast fan of road racing.
“I made it up there Sunday to Road Atlanta,” Russell said. “Just stayed up on the hill where all the animals are. It’s always fun. What was really cool is that after the COVID year, Georgia has kind of opened back up, one of the first states, and to see that many people at the race made me really happy, and also for the guys and girls racing now. To have a crowd of people to race in front of makes all the difference in the world. Sorry I didn’t get to see you guys there, but definitely need to show up at Barber and come in and say hey to you guys. I still enjoy it. I’m a huge fan. I love MotoGP, love MotoAmerica. Love what Wayne (Rainey) and his crew have done to try to rebuild the sport from where it was a couple years ago. I think you guys are doing a great job at that, so keep up the good work.”