Deep In The Heart: The Tragic Story Of Rusty Bradley
part two
by dean adams
Friday, August 08, 2003

part one can be found here

Joe Russell "Rusty" Bradley was born in 1949 in Dallas, Texas to a hard-working blue-collar family; his father ran his own auto repair shop. Bradley was the only boy in a family of girls, and it is clear that his family felt he was very special.

"My brother was quiet, gentle, positive and just a general all-around good boy. He was quite studious and had a good head on his shoulders," remembers his sister, Becky, who later went on to race motorcycles herself (club racing against Freddie Spencer in the mid 1970s) and later work at Kawasaki.

Bradley graduated in 1967 from high school and enrolled at the University of Texas to pursue a mechanical engineering degree, all the while continuing to race more often as his renown spread. It was a turbulent time in America, this was, of course, the era of the Viet Nam war.

Rusty Bradley started out on small 100cc Honda streetbikes in his racing career, moved on to Yamahas and Triumphs while an amateur rider for the Big D Cycles shop in Dallas, and then Kawasaki at Boston Cycle. He spent his entire racing career—except for his final race—as an amateur or a junior rider, as promising new riders were known then. Bradley, by all accounts of the era, was overwhelmingly fast from the moment he slid into leathers, and once counseled out of an early crash and burn period, started winning races all over the country.

"He was a local legend," says former racer Blaine Birchfield, then a district rep for Kawasaki, who knew Bradley well. "Rusty was very fast and he was very competitive, he loved to race and loved to win. He'd love to go to some race a few states away and get up there and race with a Gary Nixon or someone. Just to see what he could do. He wasn't as mechanical with the motorcycle as you'd expect with his background. He was a talent rider, could just do a lot with any kind of bike just because his riding talent." Birchfield remembers Bradley as a clean-cut young man with a future. "He came from a good family, you could take him anywhere, he knew how to handle himself. He was very popular with the other riders; he was a nice kid."

Bradley raced with the number 64 on his Kawasaki. Here it is on the grid at Daytona.
image--thanks, kc

After some now rather obscure but still amazing wins, Bradley was the talk of the racing industry at the time. Bradley's on-track accomplishments then are still minor legends today: although he was primarily a club racer, he was game for anything and managed to win some very big races, including a 12 hour endurance at Riverside, his victory over future AMA champion Gary Fisher. He also beat Harley-Davidson factory rider Walt Fulton Jr. at a local race in Texas—Bradley on a big wide-handlebar equipped Triumph; Fulton on a factory KR Harley. After that incident, insiders say a meeting was held between Bradley and renowned Harley-Davidson Racing Manager Dick O'Brien at the Houston Astrodome. Legend has it that O'Brien offered Bradley a ride on the factory Harley-Davidson team, with the only stipulation that he had to start riding for them right away. Bradley, then still being little more than an amateur rider for Big D Triumph out of Dallas, remained loyal to the people that gave him his break.

With Bradley's versitle background it's hard not to compare him with what came after him—two decades later. Kevin Schwantz. Both Texans, both rode all forms of motorcycle racing before settling in with roadracing.

Frank Camillieri later rode for Boston Cycles as Bradley's teammate and recalls what a phenomena the young Texan was. "I raced some race in Indianapolis before we were teamed. That was the first time I'd seen him. I remember him just being amazingly fast, just broad sliding this big old Triumph, feet up, around the track."

Feet up, mind you. Bradley was born at the right time to be a young racer in late 1960s America. Almost all aspects of racing radically changed in the US in the late 1960s; from the riding style to the bikes to the tracks and equipment the racers used, all of it underwent cataclysmic change. The sport changed from essentially crude dirt track racing on asphalt tracks to what we know today as roadracing. Arguably there were never bigger performance leaps in roadracing motorcycles than there were from the late 1960s to the early 1970s. Fast production race bikes in the early 1960s topped out at 135mph and were still raced on the beach course at Daytona. By 1973, fast production based race bikes went 170mph at the Speedway.

And Bradley was a pure rider of the European mold. Nearly all of the American riders of the era raced both dirt track and roadrace at the same time, in fact, there wasn't even a "roadracing" championship in AMA racing back then, the title was decided by points earned on both the dirt and the roadraces. Handsome and charming, Bradley was many things, but he was not a top level dirt track racer.

"I think he could ride dirt track, but he didn't like it that much and had really no interest in it" remembers Blaine Birchfield.

Kawasaki set the Boston Cycles team up as a farm team to the factory effort. "It was a back-door deal" former Kawasaki exec Paul Collins states about the Bradley effort. It worked: Riding a bike tuned by Freddie Mitchell, Bradley hit the ground running on the Kawasaki H-1 in 1970, winning all five amateur nationals that year, including Daytona on the Boston Cycles bike. Bradley beat future champion Gary Fisher in the Daytona race, his rear tire worn to the cords as testament to his struggle. He was the fastest "Junior" rider in the country in 1970 and the next step was for him to join a factory team for 1971, the presumption being that he'd be on Kawasaki's factory team. Kawasaki were of course interested in nurturing the boy and would move him up, when they could make it happen.

Just not fast enough for Bradley.

He had his sights on world championship racing and felt he was ready for the next level in America. However, instead of a slot on the factory team in 1971, Bradley would again be on the Boston Cycles farm team, with Yvon DuHamel and crew on the Kawasaki factory team. Rusty Bradley was exceptionally disappointed at not being promoted to the Kawasaki factory effort in 1971.

Bradley, although pining for a true factory ride as his next step in racing, continued his studies at the University. In fact, he was still studying for finals the week of Daytona in March of 1971. "I still have in my mind's eye a picture of him sitting at that hotel room desk every night at Daytona," remembers Blaine Birchfield, who shared a room with Bradley at the Daytona Holiday Inn that week. "He'd race or practice all day long, then go back to the room, beg off any offers for dinner and sit at that desk studying until he went to bed."



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