AMA Motorcycle Hall of Famer visits museum for first time in nearly 20 years
September 28, 2021
By Keaton Maisano
The AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum is full of information on and relics of the legendary machines and figures that helped shape the motorcycling community.
However, for an hour on Sept. 23, one of these legends roamed the halls and viewed the displays — some of which he had firsthand experience with.
AMA Motorcycle Hall of Famer Russ Darnell visited the AMA’s Pickerington, Ohio, campus with his wife, Sherri, and daughter, Sherrika, for the first time since his 2002 induction ceremony. The trip offered Russ and Sherri Darnell an opportunity to show their daughter the museum for the first time.
“We wanted to share it with her, and also see how [the museum] expanded,” Darnell said. “One of the main goals was to buy T-shirts, because the last time we bought T-shirts and now they’re getting a little faded.”
The visit down memory lane was one of happenstance for the Darnell family. Living out West, a work meeting for their daughter brought them to Columbus, Ohio, and close to the museum.
A pioneer of U.S. motocross, Darnell brushed up on his motorcycling history while adding some tidbits of his own. A particular spot of reminiscing came in front of the 1963 Husqvarna Racer — one type of bike he rode during his racing career.
Along the tour, mentioning two-time AMA Grand National Champion Dick Mann was met with an anecdote from Darnell about his firsthand interactions with the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Famer.
Darnell’s track record includes a win in the 1964 Grand Prix at Corriganville — later known as the Hopetown Grand Prix — and he was one of the first Americans to race in the Motocross Grand Prix and International competition in 1969 and 1970.
Although a prolific and trailblazing racer, Darnell’s impact extended beyond his competitive career. For a quarter of a century, Darnell taught young riders at his motocross schools, and he was widely known as Dr. Darnell by his students.
Known for his teaching, retirement brought out Darnell’s love for learning. Encouraged by his wife to keep his mind busy, Darnell earned a degree in mechanical engineering — a discipline he utilizes in his work today.
Despite his new career path and growing age, Darnell — now in his 70s — still rides motocross on a track at his ranch, and the experienced rider has yet to break a bone while riding.
Pairing his job with his former racing career, Darnell reconstructs riding accidents. As part of this job, Darnell rode a street bike on a track in Utah to put himself in the shoes of a rider who had crashed, and he topped out at a speed of 140 mph — his highest over the last 20 years on a motorcycle. His wife joked that she told him to keep his pace under 150 mph.
“It brought back a lot of memories, but my wife threatened my life if I got hurt,” Darnell said while laughing.
Although his days of competing are decades in the past, one of the sport’s greatest pioneers said he enjoys watching motocross grow to what it is today.
“I’m actually part of the history of motocross, because I’ve been in it from the first day it was here; I helped bring the sport to the United States,” Darnell said. “To see how it’s developed now to where you’ve got superstars, supercrossers and they’re making tons of money; […] it’s very fun, very rewarding to see how it’s expanded and how it’s matured.”