Racer X: Mark, well, I met you a few weeks back prior to the Daytona Supercross, and at that time you were wrenching on Tim Ferry’s practice bikes. Tim suffered a broken heel at Daytona, so where does that leave you?
Mark Russell: Well, actually, before Daytona Tim and I had talked about me going back to racing, so I was headed in that direction. I’ve been at his house for the last two years. It’s been awesome. I’m not 100-percent sure what’s going to happen to Red Dog here in the future, so we kind of thought it would be best if I started looking somewhere else. Hopefully, I’ll find something for the outdoors, or possibly next year. At this point, I’m kind of in limbo, but Timmy definitely took care of me and didn’t leave me hanging.
What did you do prior to working for Timmy?
Man, I’ve been doing this since 1998. I worked for a kid named Johnny Marley at Planet Honda, and I started from there. I’m from Oklahoma, so it’s kind of hard to get a mechanic job being from there because you’re out in the sticks and nobody really knows who you are, so I had to come up through the ranks. But I worked for teams like Star Racing with Martin Davalos, Bryan Johnson and Jacob Saylor. The last go around before I went to Timmy’s I was with Yamaha of Troy and Matt Goerke. So I’ve been doing it for awhile.
What made you decide to go from a race mechanic to a practice mechanic?
For me, it was just a time in my life that I needed a change. I kind of felt a lot of burnout. I’ve been at it a long time, traveling back and forth from California, and it’s a big change. You pick up your whole life and give everything up for something you love.
How old are you now, Mark?
What are some of the pros and cons between a practice bike mechanic and a race mechanic?
Being on the road all the time, it gets to be stressful and becomes a drag, especially if you’re not having a great season. It can become pretty hectic, but it’s part of the game, and you know that going in to it. But I love being a race mechanic. For me, getting an opportunity to work with Tim Ferry was awesome. Even though it’s behind the scenes, we won the Motocross of Nations last year and he finished second in the outdoors, so things were good. I don’t think I ever knew a guy more driven than him. And it was nice for me because we lived five minutes away from Chad Reed, so there are not a lot of people that can say they see what Timmy and Chad and the guys do every day of their lives.
Another part which was cool was working with Kawasaki. Those guys are really professional and they want their riders to be the best they possibly can be. The last thing was not having to travel as much. So, in a way, if you want to be a normal guy, you could actually have more of a normal life being a practice-bike mechanic.
Since your job is behind the scenes, for the most part, what’s a typical week like for you?
It varies. I can’t speak for anybody else, but Timmy comes back from the race, takes a day off, and then Tuesday through Friday we’re at the track riding. The practice-bike mechanic has to be on top of every single moto. The bike has to be checked, I take lap times, help him with training, etc. When Timmy goes away on the weekend, my job doesn’t end. I have to get that bike ready for him for the next week, as well as the track. Sometimes I’d spend a full day out on the track getting it back to normal. The same could be said for the bike. These practice bikes get punished so much, and we’re changing stuff out all the time. We only go ten hours on a motor and then we change it out.
How many practice bikes does Timmy have? We try and keep two. Kawasaki likes to keep three bikes in rotation, but they give me enough parts to basically build another whole bike. But we have two full bikes that are ready to go at any time. You never know when you may have an issue or something doesn’t feel right, so it’s nice to have a back-up. Kawasaki is really on top of that, though.
Another cool part of my job is that Kawasaki believed in me enough to try different things with Timmy, whether it was parts or suspension. I kept a lot of notes and I was sending emails to Kawasaki every day. So I had to stay on top of my game, even though I was the “practice bike” guy. [Laughs]
That was my next question: How much communication was required between you and Kawasaki or the race mechanic? I’ll tell you what, I never worked for such a good program as Kawasaki, and they wanted me to talk to them every day. Tim’s race mechanic, Dana Wiggins, he’s really cool and we get along well, and he had me call him a bunch. They wanted me to be on top of things, for sure.
What’s your least favorite part of being a mechanic? You know, I really can’t say... If anything, I’d say it’s changing the tires. [Laughs] Honestly, if it’s 100 degrees in Florida and you’re changing a tire, man, it’s tough. I thought I had it rough in Oklahoma, but Timmy told me, Just wait till it gets hot in Florida. For me, that was the worst part.
So, you want to get back into the racing scene as a race mechanic. Any leads so far? That’s my intention. I injured myself and had back surgery, so after that healed up I decided with Red Dog and everybody else that it’s probably better to challenge myself. I haven’t had any leads so far because I’ve been out of the scene for almost two years now, so nothing yet, but I’m sure hoping that something comes down the pipe.
If someone is interested, what’s the best way for them to get in touch with you, Mark? The best way would to email me at email@example.com, or call me at 405-824-4690. I’m just back in Oklahoma hanging with Robbie Reynard and Trey Canard, so I’m ready to get to work.