As Mr. Daytona, what’s it like to be back for the 75th anniversary of the DAYTONA 200?
It’s always good to come back. I haven’t gotten a chance to see the new facelift on my second home. IT’s so cool to be connected to this place and the [DAYTONA] 200 the way I am. Anytime I’m here – it feels good. It being the 75th is very cool. I think the last one that I won was the 52nd or 53rd, so time is flying by. It’s great to be back. I got to meet Dick Klamfoth, who used to win on the beach all of the time, so yesterday was a big day for me.
What do you think are the biggest challenges of running such a long, brutal race like the 200?
Obviously, being mentally strong and being able to stay focused the whole race. It’s such a long race. Tires being able to last can always come into play. I don’t think it’s such a big deal now on 600cc bikes, but for us it used to be back in the day. It’s really important to have good pit stops, with the crew doing their job and the rider saving his energy for the end of the race. There’s a lot that goes on, so it’s really crucial to stay calm. I was talking to Michael Barnes a little while ago and he seemed kind of antsy, so I tried to talk him down a little bit. I told him to keep his cool and save his energy for the end when he really will need it.
How difficult is it to stay so intensely focused for a large period of time?
For me it was easy. I used to be wheeling and waving at my friends in the middle of the race. I had it handled. Sometimes the bike might not be working so well and that time you’re on the banking is really where you want your bike to feel stable, because that’s when you’d like to do all of your resting.
What have you been up to since retiring?
Right after I got hurt in 2001, there was about an eight-year span where I didn’t fool with motorcycles. I just wasn’t interested in racing. I had an opportunity to come back as a TV announcer for Speed. I did that for five years, calling the AMA events. In the middle of all that, I was able to race a car for two years for Jim France in the Grand-Am Series. My first race was the Rolex 24 in a prototype car. They threw me in the deep end, but that was exciting. It was definitely the toughest race in my life, but we finished. We didn’t do well, but we finished.
I’ve actually been racing mountain bikes the last couple of years. I train hard now. I train harder now than when I was a racer. I’m 51 now, so I have to work hard to stay in shape. I’m also working with Rickdiculous Racing. We do track days, one-on-one coaching and we have a new rider development camp where we’re trying to build young riders for American Road Racing. We teach these kids how to deal with the media, how to ride the bike, how to take care of themselves on and off the track and all of the things that they’re going to encounter. We try to give them a pathway to be ready if they make it to this level.
If you could go back in time, what piece of advice would you give a young Scott Russell as a rider?
I’d tell myself to train hard, work hard at the craft and act right off of the race track. I was just naturally talented. This sport was never hard for me. Throughout my career, I didn’t feel like I needed to train. I was coming through at a bit of a different era. It wasn’t like it is now with guys out running 100-mile bike rides before they race and getting really fit. I rode on my natural talent. I rode that wave all the way to the top. Most people don’t have that luxury and really have to work hard for it. This is not an easy sport. In a way it’s a simple sport, but it’s not easy.
What DAYTONA memories have run through your mind during your return?
There are so many. This has been the best and the worst place for me. It’s where I made my mark and put my name on the map getting my first win in 1992. I think about the 1995 race, falling down and getting back up and winning it. I think about how cool it is to be called Mr. DAYTONA. That’s a big deal to me. It’s the World Center of Racing. If you’re connected like I am, it’s just hard to explain. This is a return home. I call this my second home. It’s good to be back. I’ve missed a couple of years now, but I’m so glad to be back.