GNCC Racing

Tuesday Toolbox: Kailub Russell

Tuesday Toolbox: Kailub Russell

Tuesday, October 31, 2017 | 3:30 PM
Tuesday, October 31, 2017 | 3:30 PM

Kailub Russell is a familiar name for anyone who follows the GNCC series. He is 27-years-old and from Kingston, Ohio, though he currently lives in Booneville, North Carolina. Kailub has been involved in GNCC racing since he was on 65ccs, and currently has 11 titles in various classes, from Mini Junior all the way to XC1. He was kind enough to invite me into the KTM Factory semi for an interview after celebrating his 47th career win in the GNCC series this weekend at Ironman. He has now surpassed Scott Summers’ previous record to become the “winningest” motorcycle rider in the history of the series, as well as your 2017 XC1 champion.

Kailub Russell earned his 47th GNCC Bike Overall Win at the AMSOIL Ironman, breaking Scott Summers’ all-time record.
Kailub Russell earned his 47th GNCC Bike Overall Win at the AMSOIL Ironman, breaking Scott Summers’ all-time record. Ken Hill Alright Kailub, let’s get started – this weekend marks how many wins for you? And what does breaking that all-time bike win record mean to you? I mean, arguably you are now the fastest man to have ever ridden a motorcycle in the GNCC series.
Kailub Russell
: This is win number 47. It’s a great accomplishment! I’ve said it a hundred times, I grew up racing motorcycles with the goal of being a professional racer. My dad [Jeff Russell] did it and that’s what I wanted to do. I didn’t really set goals for myself about that back then though, I just rode. But I never let anything deter me or steer me the wrong way.

So you’ve grown up in this series, right? I know there’s a family connection.  
Yep. I’ve grown up racing this series. I’ve been racing Thad [Duvall] too. I think my first year of kind of doing some races and getting started was 1999. Pretty sure my first race was Brownsville [Pennsylvania]; Thad and I actually battled there at our very first race. Well, I’m not sure if it was his first GNCC or not, I know he’d been doing some local stuff. Anyway, I think my first full year was 2001.

You would have been on little bikes back then, right?
Yes. Back in the earliest years I was racing there were just three youth classes, and we raced Saturday afternoon, right after the quads. There was mini senior, mini intermediate, and mini junior. So I was racing a 65cc against 85s the first few years because there wasn’t enough 65s to fill a class. Then in 2001 they expanded the youth program to include a 65cc class, but I was on an 85cc by then. My first youth championship was in 2002. I wasn’t the greatest rider back then though, I still wasn’t lighting the world on fire or anything.

But obviously that changed! 
Yeah, I got a little bit better and just kept plugging along. I knew I was going to get there one day. I just didn’t let anything get me down or distract me. I just kept racing, kept having fun, and kept getting better. Then I moved up to big bikes in 2006. It was a rough year. A really rough year in 200A. I was super small, super short. I was a small kid back then. I was sixteen, but probably looked like I was thirteen. But yeah, it was a tough year. I was racing John Bennett, Todd Morain, and a couple of the older guys, and they just beat me down at the first six or seven races of the year. There towards the end of the year I finally got a couple of wins and then going into the following year it was like someone flipped a light switch. I got better all the sudden. I won the 200 A class [author’s note: with a perfect season too. Nine wins out of nine races entered], and was close to the top 20. After that I moved up to XC2 in 2008 and it kind of progressed from there. 

Russell says he's going to take it race by race and year by year...
Russell says he's going to take it race by race and year by year... Ken Hill

So how many GNCC titles do you have now?
(sighs thoughtfully). I’m going to have to count for a second. Okay: I have five XC1 championships, two XC2 championships, 2007 200 A title, 2005 overall youth title, 2004 Mini Junior title, 2002 maybe … mini something title, mini intermediate maybe? [Author’s note: according to GNCC records archives, Kailub was the Mini Junior champion that year]. So how many was that … five, six-seven-eight… So, I have about 11 or so titles now.

So by any measure, you’ve had a successful career. Where do you see yourself going from here?
It’s tough. You know, this day and age, it’s definitely more of a job instead of a hobby. I’m at the top and the only place to go from here is a step backwards. I just plan on trying to keep my head up and stay focused and stay in the moment. 

And stay on top as long as you can?
Yeah, you know that’s the plan. To repeatedly and repeatedly be the guy to beat. It takes a toll on your body and your mind, especially in the social media centered world that we live in today. It’s a bit overwhelming… just like I said, it’s tough so I’m going to take it race by race and year by year, just see how I feel. Just keep reminding myself why I do this – you know, I don’t have to race dirt bikes; I get to race dirt bikes, and I just have to keep telling myself that. Everybody starts taking things for granted sometime or another, and it’s the little things that keep me grounded.

Like what? 
My little boy Krue and my wife Chandler! It’s been awesome watching my son grow up and I can’t wait for him to race, he’s definitely into motorcycles and there’s no stopping it now (laughs). He’s not riding yet, but he’s definitely into the whole thing, he really loves it! 

Is he on a strider or anything yet?
Yeah, he’s got a strider and he just got an electric stability cycle, he has a good time on that! 

Russell earned his fifth straight GNCC National Championship this year. 
Russell earned his fifth straight GNCC National Championship this year.  Ken Hill

Now, you’re originally from Ohio, but that’s not where you live now, is it?
No, I live in Boonville, North Carolina now. It’s definitely better for year-round training, especially in March and April. I actually spend the first three months of the year down in Florida. My wife is from North Carolina and that’s where her family is from. I moved down there straight out of high school. I packed my stuff in the back of my ranger and on the last day of high school and moved down. I haven’t looked back since. 

I assume the GNCC is going to be your primary focus, but will you be doing anything else in 2018? 
Yeah, we’re going to mix it up a bit, do another series for sure. But we’re still trying to decide what that other series will be. I’m definitely racing two series though. I would like to do some pro motocross stuff, but we’ve got to see if it works into the schedule and see how things are going in my real job! (laughs) 

I saw you signing autographs for a bunch of kids down at the podium earlier today. You’re definitely a role model for a lot of them. What kind of advice would you give them?
It’s all about your outlook on life! I know when I was a kid, my heart was set on being a racer. And if that’s your goal, if that’s your thing, your vision, just stay focused on that. Or whatever else it is that you want to do with your life. Great things happen when you don’t give up on yourself. There’s so many “life coaches” out there who will tell you the same thing. Just don’t give up and stay focused.

Russell wore his career number #557 on his front number plate at Tomahawk in honor of the late Dale
Russell wore his career number #557 on his front number plate at Tomahawk in honor of the late Dale "Cookie" Cooke, who drove the FMF KTM Off-Road team semi. Ken Hill

Which sponsors do you need to thank? 
FMF KTM, Scott Goggles, Bell Helmets, Troy Lee Designs, Alpinestars, Motorex, Twin Air, Acerbis, and Dunlop.