Copyright 2001, Roadracing World Publishing, Inc.
By Bruce Wilkins
Photos by Bruce Wilkins
Doning his racing leathers for his first track session since a horrible crash earlier this year at Daytona, Scott Russell took some surprising laps earlier this week around Virginia International Raceway. He recorded several 1:29 laps, coming in after his first hot lap session grinning from ear-to-ear.
A smiling Scott Russell gives the thumbs up during testing at VIR with HMC Ducati Crew Chief Owen Coles (left) and team owner Mitch Hansen (right).
"I'm thrilled to be back...I never thought I'd ever be able to race again the way the injuries were at first," Russell said during a Tuesday afternoon practice session on VIR's North Course. "I'll be honest with you, I never expected to be able to come here and run this fast."
He arrived at VIR with low expectations that quickly evaporated after sharing track time with teammates Steve Rapp and Andy Meklau, as well as fellow road racers Kurtis Roberts, Miguel Duhamel, Nicky Hayden, Doug Chandler and Eric Bostrom.
"I rode my streetbike around a couple of days last week and I thought, 'Man, I'm going to have a rough time when I get to VIR,'" Russell said. "But the racebike is actually easier...it's lighter, the brakes are better, it made it a little bit easier on me riding it."
Russell concedes he has not fully recovered, but doing wheelstands coming out of the downhill turn into the front straight, Russell showed many of his peers that he is well on his way to becoming fully race-ready. "I had some problems with shifting because I lost a lot of feeling (in his left foot) and nerve damage from that crash," Russell said. "But I expect to be 90-95 percent when I come back here to race. Hopefully, I'll be back."
As for when, where and if he will return to race at the AMA Superbike finale at VIR on the weekend of September 28-30, Russell and his team remain mum, but with obvious smiles of high hopes and solid confidence brought on by Russell's remarkable recovery-in-progress.
HMC Ducati team owner Mitch Hansen is every bit the optimist, despite the tragic start for the new team. "It is a start-up year and, of course, we couldn't have started up on a worse foot with the crash," Hansen said. "It took the wind out of our sails with a bunch of new guys working together for the first time...it was devastating to the team."
However, the adversity faced by the trying year is a source of pride for Hansen. "I'm very proud of my team, but especially so for Scott. (The crash) has made us closer as a group; made us stronger. We haven't won yet...but the key word is YET."
Hansen believes that Russell's return to the track, even in a practice session, is the turnaround story of the season. "Scott is incredible...he's not up to speed yet; he hasn't even really rehabilitated his arm and his leg. The left arm and left leg are a little bit thinner because he hasn't been able to work them out...but give him another four or five weeks."
HMC Ducati Crew Chief Owen Coles is another true believer in Russell's comeback prospects, especially after receiving a call from Russell last week in which the racer complained about sitting around his home for six or seven months in pain. "He still has some issues with some bones that haven't healed up in his arm yet. The doctors really didn't want him to get on the bike...but we said to him, 'Listen, we'll get your bike ready, just come on out here, there's no pressure, just have some fun.'"
When he did come back into the pits after his first run, Russell "couldn't even talk, he was grinning so much from ear to ear," Coles said. "The whole paddock was happy to see him back. It put that smile back on his face."
One of the factors that Russell has pointed to as important to his ongoing recovery is the expressions of concern from so many fans. "It was awesome. When I got hurt you just couldn't believe all of the letters and all of the responses we got," reflected Russell. "It really showed me how many fans I do have out there and it's just nice to know. I want to thank them for all of their support."