Insight: Kailub Russell

Insight Kailub Russell

June 17, 2013 4:00pm
FMF KTM factory off-road’s Kailub Russell is on a roll now in the Amsoil Grand National Cross Country Series, with two-straight victories including a triumph yesterday at the Parts Unlimited Mountaineer Run GNCC in West Virginia. He’s now within eight points of series leader Charlie Mullins, who is his teammate. As you’ll see here, though, Russell’s success is not due to logging the gnarliest hard work sessions ever. It’s strange, and he’s not going to change.

Racer X: You’re really on a roll now, with two in a row. But, you were also close to wins at most of the races this year. So did you change anything, or is it just working out now?
Kailub Russell:
Um, I wouldn’t really say anything changed. At the other races this year, I’d say it was mistakes that were the determining factor if I won or lost. I’m just minimizing my mistakes at the end. The tracks are getting a little more technical right now that we’re racing up north. They don’t have as much traction, and it’s more rocky with more roots. It makes it tough to get around lappers, they get hung up on that stuff and that creates bottle necks. So you have to be patient and careful and pick good lines.

I don’t remember the technical, rocky, rooty races being your specialty. Do you feel like you’ve stepped up there?
Yeah, I’m trying to get rid of that MO, of not being able to ride in nasty conditions. I think I have the talent and ability to do it, it’s just the mindset. You have to really not care about anything during those races, let the bike do the work for you.

Is it one of those situations where you’re going to make mistakes and you have to be cool with that and shrug it off?
Yeah. You can’t let that get to you. I made a couple of big mistakes this weekend, and it’s really hard not to do that. It’s basically impossible to not have a couple of big mistakes on a track like this, there will always be something buried in the ground and you’re going to hit it and go off the track. You’ve got to be as consistent as you can. The looser you can be, the more the bike works underneath you. If you’re tense, you’re going to struggle more. So you need to be relaxed.

Russell won his second straight XC1 race at Masontown on Sunday.
Ken Hill / photo

So have you spent time literally practicing super gnarly rocks?
You know, I’ve ridden one time since the last GNCC, and that was another race on the weekend in between. What’s working for me right now is minimizing the riding. I’m just getting to the race ready to go. I have the ability to ride my dirt bike, and all the hard work is done. Right now it’s just maintaining your stamina. I’ve been struggling to have fun riding and practicing, so I’ve been just keeping that to a minimum during the week. I’ve been doing a lot of play riding, that’s all. I’ll play ride on the rocks and rooty conditions. You know, get to some stuff and try to do some gnarly things on them. Sometimes that practice pays off!

Wait, so you’re not crediting this win streak to doing military-style motos during the week?
I can’t tell you the last time I’ve actually ridden during the week on my actual practice bike. My whole program has really changed up over the last few years. I just go out and do my work, my training, to be conditioned enough to race for three hours, and I do a lot of other activities that are motorsports inclined. But that’s it!

So you’re still training?
Yes, still training, but not riding as much.

Coming into the year you had arm pump surgery, and I know that didn’t work out quite the way you had hoped with some complications. Did that slow you at the beginning of the year?
No, it worked out perfect. There were some complications from the surgery, my right arm got infected, and I was in the hospital for a week and a half. They had to reopen it up and clean it out. That was a little bit of a setback, but we still had a month and a half before the season. And as soon as I started riding, I felt great on the bike. I did a lot of hard work from that point on leading to the opener in Florida.

And the arm pump surgery worked as far as the races go?
Yeah, it has made it to where it’s not even an issue. Doesn’t even happen anymore.

So take me through Sunday’s race. Weren’t you down early?

"It [practice] just kind of mentally defeats you when you go into the weekend and you didn’t have a good week. If you go practice with guys that are faster, it can break you during the race." - Russell on why he doesn't practice much during the week.
Ken Hill / photo

How did you come back through?
It’s kind of funny. I do that Driven to Win series with MotoSport, and I was doing the interview before the race with Brandon [Bolling]. Before the race, he asks me, “Give me your keys to the race, Jeff Emig style.” And I said, “Start, not even important. Probably going to go down.”

And that’s what you did!
[Laughs] Yeah fell down in the first turn, was in the lead within two miles. The last couple of years I’ve gotten creative with the first lap, I haven’t gotten the best starts so I’ve figured out a way. I walk the track very carefully for those first few miles and try to find some lines to get underneath guys.

Last year you were battling Paul Whibley for the title, and he was literally grabbing every holeshot. You weren’t even seen normally in the first few turns. Did that even matter to you?
It doesn’t. Off the start I just know I’m not going to be in the top two or anything, and I’d rather be where I am, in the back of the pack, or midpack. It’s less stressful. You can dive underneath guys. I’m patient early, and when I find an opening I go for it.

So once you got the lead by the second mile over the weekend, how did it go from there? Were you able to ride your own race?
Yeah I felt pretty good. Charlie [Mullins] was creeping up on me at mid race and I kept the hammer down because I didn’t want him to catch up to me. It’s so much easier when you can follow a guy. I knew if he didn’t see me, he’d have to go through the same stuff I had to go through without the benefit of seeing me. I just tried to pick good lines and be smart and not make a big mistake that would let him get to see me.

You and Charlie have been so close this year, is it even down to speed or fitness, or is it just who makes the last big mistake? Seems like that’s told much of the story this year.
Yeah, for sure. There’s a bunch of races that could have swung in either direction. The ones he has won, it could have fallen in my favor, and the ones I won, they could have gone in his favor, except for maybe [his win in] North Carolina, and this last one, we’ve been close at every race. We’ve been battling down to the last lap. You make a mistake on the last lap, either one of us will be right there to take advantage.

Russell looks to make it three straight at Snowshoe June 30.
Ken Hill / photo

At one point he won two in a row, had a small points lead. You’ve obviously closed it back in now. But how did you not get frustrated at times?
Um, I don’t really get frustrated as much as I get pissed off at myself. I was tired of that happening and I needed a change. It’s that whole mindset thing, and I’m pretty good at bottling up my emotions and saving it for the track. I try to just get angry when I’m out there.

Since you and Charlie are teammates and you both live in North Carolina, do you see each other much during the week? Do you get along at the races?
We see each other during the week every once in awhile, he lives about an hour and a half away from me. But I don’t even want to go practicing with him during the week, because I’m a terrible at practice, and he’d probably smoke me. That’s the reason I haven’t been practicing a lot. It just kind of mentally defeats you when you go into the weekend and you didn’t have a good week. If you go practice with guys that are faster, it can break you during the race. So I just do my own thing during the week, and come ready on the weekend.

Okay this is hilarious. You’re totally admitting the guys you’re racing with on the weekends would smoke you during the week.
Yeah, yeah. The last few years I’ve struggled with arm pump really bad. I would go ride during the week and get arm pump and get so mad at myself. This year I got the arm pump surgery so that’s not so bad, but it hasn’t helped the practice situation. There’s just not that drive during the week like there is when I go race. I just figured out what works for me. It’s been working so I will stick with it.

You have one more race at Snowshoe, then it’s summer break time for GNCC. Will you actually ride at all during that? You can’t take that much time off!
[Laughs] I’ll ride a little bit. I have a 125, that’s why I bought that, for fun. I’ll do some motos on it. And I have another series I’m doing, the OMAs, and they have three races during the GNCC break. So that should keep me occupied.