On Friday, March 8, 2002, Raymond Scott Russell announced his retirement from racing at Daytona.
The history books will say Russell, who last raced at Daytona in 2001, earned one World Superbke Championship, one AMA Superbike Championship, three AMA Supersport Championships, five Daytona 200 wins, and a Suzuka Eight Hour victory. Those who followed Russell's career will remember the high highs and low lows, the big wins and the hard struggles. Russell earned a lot of glory and money in his career, but always seemed to be much like the guys in the stands.
Not bad for a guy who quit school to follow his dream, finding inspiration in Freddie Spencer's 1985 Daytona victory. Russell went from a job in a garbage bag factory to the podiums at racetracks all over the world.
"I'm retiring because of the injuries from last year," Russell, wearing the Rolex he won at Daytona in 1995, uncomfortably blurted out those gathered in the Daytona pressroom. "I'm unable to ride the bike the way I need to ride it."
And thus ends one of the great Superbike careers. Mr. Daytona was always his own man, racing hard when the green flag dropped and having a good time away from the track.
Being a Russell fan meant there were times you wanted to strangle him, but Scott always seemed to be good for a miracle or two when you least expected it. A classic Shakespearean flawed hero come to life, Russell seemed at times to be all too human in a world where some modern racers appear robotic.
Scott was Hamlet in a helmet, Othello on two wheels. When he won he was over the moon and when he lost, things were hopeless. He had personal problems and made a few poor career decisions. He could be brash when things were going well, aloof when they weren't. But when he won, Russell showed us that the Everyman can be Champion.
The handwriting was on the wall at the VIR test last fall, according to a reserved Russell. Nerve damage in his foot severely limited what he could do, and his other injuries hindered him on the bike as well. "I was hanging off that thing with one arm and one leg, trying to shift with a foot I can't feel."
Russell described his recovery process as "slow". He said he's come to terms with his retirement, but not fully made the transition into the next phase of his life.
Scott's mastery of Daytona was astounding. "I'd roll into Daytona, turn left on 92 and something just switched. I was here for one reason and that was to win."
Who was Russell's toughest competitor? "Carl Fogarty, without a doubt. He was a hardass, a tough competitor. He did whatever he had to do to win."
Russell's favorite bike? "The Kawasaki, for sure."
Which of his accomplishments gave Russell the most pride? "The world title was nice. That would have to be it. I had so many great things happen, five of these (Daytona wins), the Suzuka Eight-Hour. The World Championship was kind of anticlimactic because it didn't end at the last race. We had boycotted the race, so it was over. It was like, 'Oh well, now I'm World Champ, so let's go have a drink'."
Russell rates his most exciting moment as the 1995 Daytona 200, partly because of the war of words between Carl Fogarty and the Americans before the race. Russell crashed early in that contest, but remounted and beat Fogarty.
Scott says the 1996 race, won by Miguel DuHamel, was most disappointing defeat at Daytona. "I really wanted to win for Suzuki. That was my fault, basically. I was actually tired at the end of the race. The bike wasn't set up as well as I liked it to be. I should have won that race."
In fact, Russell was in the hunt at the flag every year from 1992 to 1998. "I feel like I should have won seven in a row," Scott claimed.
The Georgian also showed his sense of humor. When asked by a local newspaper man about how many crashes he had in his career, Russell replied, "Not as many as Jamie Hacking in one year."
The future's uncertain for Scott. "I don't think I'll do much after this. Life's too short to work hard if I don't have to. If there's something out there that sounds like fun that involves the motorcycle industry, I'll think about doing it, but I don't have any plans."
Russell said there was no way he would try another comeback, ending a meandering path from his former greatness. "My career was over (three) years ago," Russell said, referring to the Harley years. "I spent two years out here making a fool of myself as it was. I wasn't going to do it halfway again. That was really the end of me, right there."
Russell, who attended the press conference with family and friends, spent the better part of an hour talking with media folks, Speedway personnel and members of the racing community -- including Kevin Schwantz -- shaking hands and receiving well wishes.
"Racing came easy to me," said Russell. "It was natural ... I'll miss it dearly."
And racing will miss Scott Russell.