The mystical part of Daytona International Speedway for Scott Russell was never the run from the chicane to the finish line. It wasn't the International Horseshoe. It wasn't the high-speed dogleg. For Russell, the most magical part of the Speedway was more pedestrian.
"When I drove through that tunnel something just happened," Russell remembers. "I don't know what it was, but I didn't think I could lose." And for one seven-year stretch, whenever he went through the access tunnel on the east end of the Speedway, he rarely did.
Russell came home to Daytona this year. The lanky Georgian who was always the center of attention, the face on billboards, the image on the cover of the program, made a more low-key appearance as part of a modest Superstock effort put together at the last minute by fellow former AMA Superbike champion Jamie James. James builds custom motorcycles at his shop in North Carolina and recently launched the Jamie James Yamaha Champions Riding School at Barber Motorsports Park. Russell is one of the instructors.
Former AMA Superbike and 600...
Former AMA Superbike and 600 Supersport champion Jamie James (right) helped organize the Yamaha/Daytona effort for Russell as part of a promotion for the new Jamie James Yamaha Champions Riding School.
The Russell/James Yamaha effort...
The Russell/James Yamaha effort entered the AMA Superstock class because of its lack of direct factory participation. They hoped to fly in under the radar and surprise a few people, but the shortage of time to get everything dialed in proved insurmountable at Daytona.
The lack of time meant that...
The lack of time meant that Russell's near-stock Yamaha R1 was a sitting duck on the banking for the more well-developed racebikes. After running off the track a few times during practice trying to make up time on the brakes, he called it off to try and regroup for the Barber AMA round.
The team picked the Superstock class for one simple reason: no factory participation. Russell thought he could sneak in under the radar, throw down some fast laps in qualifying and maybe surprise a few people. It didn't exactly work out.
The bikes arrived at the last minute, and there was little time to make them competitive. The nearly stock motors didn't cut it against the battle-tested Suzuki support teams such as Michael Jordan's squad. The engine-control electronics-which didn't exist the last time Russell rode-were bedeviling, and the setup knowledge that may have worked back in 1992 didn't translate to 2008. He was riding next to guys he'd have lapped back in the old days, whose movements were as unpredictable as mercury on marble. His power deficit was daunting; on the banking he was a sitting duck. And he discovered all of that in the first session.
Russell is now 43, but he seems ageless. The angular features and 10,000-watt smile haven't changed. Neither has his candor, a trait that has gotten him into trouble but has made him a fan favorite. Russell came of age in an era before riders were schooled in mushmouthed clichs. What he says comes from the heart.
The first thing we wanted to know was why? Why would someone who's done so much try to relive his glory days, knowing it likely wasn't possible? "To have a good time," Russell replies, "because this is what I love to do. I missed the sport, and I love the sport. We're going to have a good time riding again."