The good times had been missing for six years. The stellar career effectively ended on the start line for the '01 Daytona 200. In his debut with the HMC Ducati team, Russell's bike stalled when the lights went green, and he was helpless as the pack came barreling up behind him. Russell was attempting to get off the track when he was struck twice, first on his right, then hard on the left by another rider.
The damage to Russell's left leg and foot was extensive. A year later he settled with Lloyd's of London on a disability insurance policy. The settlement mandated that he no longer race motorcycles professionally. "That's when it really set in. It took three years at least before I could come here and not think about how much I hated not riding," Russell remembers.
That settlement along with a number of generous contracts and bonuses left Russell set for life financially. But he was only 36 years old at the time of the accident. Not only couldn't he do what he loved best, but he had no real desire to do anything else. All his life he'd been chasing goals. What followed were years of borderline despondency.
"I was just floundering," he admits, "nothing to amount to anything. I've just been really miserable, to be honest with you. Take something away from somebody like that and that's all they know, it's kind of tough. But hey, I just dealt with it. I didn't have to go back to work; I could just do whatever I wanted to do, just play or whatever. But deep down inside I wasn't happy, not at all."
Motorcycles have always been Russell's life. When I ask him how many he owns, he smiles and answers, "Not enough." Among his many bikes, he mentions, "I've got a Limited Edition [Yamaha] R1. I've got a ZXR400 that Kawasaki [gave to me]; it was a replica of the Suzuka 8-Hour bike that we won the Suzuka 8-Hour with. That was their first win. That's kind of a prize possession of mine. And then you've got the [Kawasaki ZX-7RR] World Superbike champion bike that Rob Muzzy gave me. I've got it in a glass case at home, so I do have a trophy case. Little checkered-flag tile floor and a new case with lights on it. That's my most treasured memento for sure."
The memento isn't purely physical. It evokes an era when he felt invincible, ruling the world for a brief period in the early '90s. Russell's talent was immense and he was preternaturally fast, with a fierce determination to find his way to the winner's circle.
"Just natural ability and the drive, I think," he says when asked what made him successful. "Maybe not. I don't know what order. A good team behind me and a good working relationship with the people I was with at the time.
"I had a complete understanding what [the motorcycle] was doing in those days. I mean it was like the back of my hand; it was second nature. I didn't think, I reacted. And that's how you have to be in this sport to be on your game. And when you get to that point, it's easy. I won with ease. Of course the World Superbike stuff was an uphill struggle chasing the Ducatis all those years, but the Daytona wins were almost a given. I can't explain it."