Russell spent two years on...
Russell spent two years on the now-defunct Harley-Davidson superbike effort, toiling on an underpowered, overweight VR1000 against far superior machinery. Although he has kind words for the crew, it was a racing period he'd rather forget.
Unfortunately with the Yamaha World Superbike team there was little success, much frustration and eventually another departure. Russell returned to the U.S. to lend legitimacy to the floundering Harley-Davidson team. It was a fool's errand; he was riding a motorcycle that was little changed from when it had debuted five years earlier. The payday was good, but the motorcycle wasn't. "It was near the end of it. I was still using some of the '94 chassis. It was kind of funny. Hey, I made some good relationships there. I cherish all that stuff, but the racing part of it I could have . . . hey, man, I didn't know where I was going at that time. I appreciate them giving me an opportunity to stay out there, really."
Asked how he looks back at his experience with Harley, he says with a laugh, "I try not to. They were great people to work with and really good people. I enjoyed meeting those guys and their giving me an opportunity to really be an American hero, but it didn't pan out. It was just the way it is. They were up against it and so was I."
When the Harley years ended Russell signed with the HMC Ducati team for a season that was never to be. It was the fifth brand he'd ridden for, after Kawasaki, Suzuki, Yamaha and Harley. Though his glory days came on a Kawasaki, he's more identified with Yamaha, which invites him to its Weekend of Champions at the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix every year and is supporting his racing return, in addition to his job as an instructor at the Jamie James school.
As an observer of the racing scene, Russell thinks Rockstar Makita Suzuki's Ben Spies is "on his game. It's good to see. A young guy coming up doing his thing. You've got to appreciate the talent there and the combination of hard work. Nicky [Hayden], because they threw him in the deep end and he's still treading water over there, he's doing good. Of course [Valentino] Rossi, you know, Rossi . . . Don't know. There's a lot of guys, but those are probably the three."
Why is the 43-year-old former...
Why is the 43-year-old former World Superbike and AMA Superbike champion racing professionally again? "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."
The advice he'd give to young riders is "Have fun and be yourself. Whatever happens, if you hit the big time, be yourself. I didn't try to hide and be somebody I wasn't. I think people appreciate that. So just have fun with it. And normally that's when good things happen to you. So that's what I'm trying to do again, get that angle going again, see what happens."
Of hindsight, Russell says, "Well, you know, you want to say 'No regrets,' but I do have to say I wish I would have been more serious about it, because I probably would have been a multitime world champion and probably would have had an illustrious career on top of that, because I know I was as good as anybody in the world at that time. I really believe that. I kind of regret the fact that I took it with a grain of salt. It came easy, so I took it like that. I didn't have any aspiration to be that guy, and when it happened it was still me. I regret not being hard-core at it. But it was so easy and it didn't seem like I needed to. But I know if I would have done it I could have accomplished a heck of a lot more. But I can't be disappointed with what I got. I'm happy and I've got some good points on the board."
What he finds amusing is that he's more serious now that he's ever been. He's training every day and thinking about racing every day, even though he knows he won't win.
"I'm just here to have fun. But I'm serious about it. There's no fooling around."