Scott Russell is best known in the United States for earning the title of "Mr. Daytona" for winning the Daytona 200 a record-setting five times. In the 1990s, the brash, hard-riding Russell practically owned America’s most prestigious motorcycle race, taking victories at Daytona International Speedway in 1992, 1994, 1995, 1997 and 1998. He often won in dominating fashion.
But Russell was much more than just a dominant force in the Daytona 200. He also won the AMA Superbike Championship in 1992 and the next year triumphed in the World Superbike Championship, both times riding for Kawasaki. In addition, Russell tallied three AMA 750cc Supersport titles in the early 1990s, won the famous Suzuka Eight Hour endurance race with teammate Aaron Slight in 1993, and was named AMA Pro Athlete of the Year in 1992.
Raymond Scott Russell was born in East Point, Georgia, in October of 1964. He raced motocross as a youngster, but as he grew older and purchased his first streetbike, a Kawasaki Ninja, he became more interested in road racing. By the mid-1980s, Russell began racing WERA events and became one of the best novice racers in the country. His hero was Freddie Spencer, another Southerner who came up through the WERA ranks to eventually become world champion. Russell honed his skills in the next few years racing WERA National Endurance and Suzuki Cup road races and his raw talent was something that could not be denied.
"I think endurance racing helped me learn to race in all conditions," Russell said. "I became pretty good in wet conditions, plus I learned to ride a road race bike that had brakes and tires and everything else going bad. I felt really confident and sharp from all the racing I did in WERA in the early part of my career."
In 1987, Russell began racing AMA national events, and a year later he earned his first victory in the AMA 750cc Supersport race at his home track of Road Atlanta. In 1988, he finished runnerup in the AMA 750cc Supersport Series and was in the top 10 in both AMA Superbike and 600cc Supersport. He was named 1988 AMA Superbike Rookie of the Year.
Russell’s legend in his home state of Georgia was solidified in 1989 when he scored his first AMA Superbike victory on May 7, at Road Atlanta in Braselton, Georgia.
"That one was special not just because it was my first, but because it was in front of the home fans," Russell recalled.
Russell finished a close second to Yoshimura Suzuki teammate Jamie James in the final 1989 AMA Superbike point standings.
In 1990, Russell moved to Kawasaki and began an unprecedented domination of AMA 750 Supersport (later renamed Superstock). Russell won the championship three consecutive seasons, 1990 through 1992. In 1991, he scored a perfect undefeated season in the class, winning all nine rounds of the series. Russell would go on to become the all-time wins leader in AMA 750 Supersport with 23 career victories.
Russell began his reign as Mr. Daytona by winning the 1992 Daytona 200 on a Muzzy Kawasaki in a photo finish over Ferracci Ducati’s Doug Polen. The race was considered one of the best in the history of the 200, with Russell making a slingshot move past Polen just before the finish line. He won the race despite having fuel spilled on his lap during a pit stop.
"Gas was everywhere," Russell remembers. "For a few laps after pitting I thought for sure I was going to go up in flames."
The pinnacle for Russell at Daytona came in 1995, when he crashed his Kawasaki on the first lap of the race and still won over a fuming Carl Fogarty, who blamed Daytona’s pace car regrouping of the race under yellow for allowing Russell back in the race. Russell leapt over his fallen bike to get back in the race and the famous photograph made the cover of Cycle World magazine.
In 1997, Russell, now riding for Yamaha, became the first four-time winner of the Daytona 200, forever earning him the Mr. Daytona moniker. Along the way, he won four Rolex watches for setting the fastest qualifying time and winning the Daytona 200 pole. For good measure, he came back and won his final 200 in 1998.
To understand the scope of Russell’s domination of America’s premier race, one only needed to realize that a mere six one-hundredths of a second separated Russell from seven-straight wins at Daytona. He lost to Eddie Lawson in 1993 by 0.05-seconds, and to Miguel Duhamel in ’96 by the sliver of 0.01-seconds – the closest finish in the history of the race.
In 1993, he became the third American to win the World Superbike Championship. Already the most popular road racer of his era in America, the world championship made Russell one of the most popular motorcycle racers on the world stage and helped World Superbike rival Grand Prix in terms of popularity during the 1990s.
Russell fulfilled a dream when he rode in the World 500cc Grand Prix Championship in 1996. Unfortunately, his factory Suzuki was not the most competitive at the time and he was unable to duplicate the success he had in Superbike racing.
Russell was hired by Harley-Davidson to race its ill-fated VR1000 Superbike in 1999. Despite of Russell’s immense talent, he was only able to muster a pair of top-10 finishes in two years on the Harley Superbike. In 2001, Russell was set to make another serious assault on the AMA Superbike Championship riding for Ducati. Unfortunately a freak starting line accident in the Daytona 200 put Russell in the hospital with grave injuries. Although he largely recovered from injuries and was able to race low-key events, he decided against racing professionally again.
In his 13 years of professional motorcycle racing, Russell amassed one of the most impressive records in road racing. He was in the top 10 all-time in AMA Superbike wins, the leader in AMA 750 Supersport, a four-time AMA road racing champion, World Superbike champ and of course the rider most experts considered the best ever at Daytona.
Russell also became one of the all-time fan favorites. Russell himself thinks it was because he brought flash and style to the racing game, the famous Ru$$ell on the back of his leathers just one example of his boldness. But even more than his outrageous style, fans loved Russell for how he made it to the top. No silver spoon or early factory ride, just Russell racing his way through the club ranks in the mid-1980s, working manual labor jobs to pay for it all. Or maybe his fans marveled at the way Russell lived his life wide-open yet was somehow able to pull it together on race day. He was always quick to sign an autograph or pose for a photo with fans and had a natural friendliness and openness about him that forever endeared him to fans and fellow racers alike.
By the 2000s, many of the up-and-coming road racers of that era cited Russell as their hero when they were growing up. That spoke volumes on the influence he had on the sport.
When inducted into the Hall of Fame Russell lived on a large and picturesque ranch in Georgia, complete with motocross and woods courses that became a popular hangout and informal training grounds for racers of the area. He continued to enjoy racing in local events and attend some of his favorite racing events, especially his beloved Daytona 200.
Inducted in 2005