“Local Boy Makes Good”
Interview with Rusty Holland
Story & Photos by Eddie Graveline
Unless you’ve paid close attention to Supercross and National results for the last ten years, or frequent big regional races in California, you may not have heard of Rusty Holland. Rusty, like me, is from Fresno, CA. Yes, it’s the same city that was the centerpiece of that famed motion picture, “Frezno Smooth” that was met with so much critical acclaim a few years ago (actually, none of the movie was even shot in Fresno). Even though Fresno is only a few hours north of L.A. and the center of the MX universe, we haven’t had very many guys make an impact on a national level. Don’t get me wrong, the motocross scene is huge and thriving in Central California, but other than George Holland, who lives in nearby Kerman, Rusty is the biggest thing the San Joaquin Valley has exported in several years. He toiled on the national circuits as a privateer for the better part of the last decade, but never landed the type of sponsorship or equipment that was needed to win championships. Actually, he’s turned in some surprisingly good results considering the fact that he’s raced more often out of a pickup truck than a box van. Back in 1999, he got holeshots in more than one main event in the 125 West series and turned in a career best 5th place finish aboard a privateer Honda. He joined the short-lived Demarini Suzuki team the following year, but didn’t have a lot of success in that campaign. In 2001, Rusty sort of fell into an Arenacross ride with the Thor/Tuf/Honda team. Even though he had almost no AX experience, he was competitive. He won a few main events and finished the series in 8th place. His quick start caught the eyes of someone behind the Bill’s Pipes/AXO/Suzuki team and he was given a ride for the 2002 series. For all intents and purposes, he inherited the position that five-time champion Buddy Antunez left open, even getting the “Budman’s” old mechanic. It seems like it was a lifetime ago when I first saw Rusty racing an 80 locally, but the guy has come a long way and seems to have finally found his niche. I recently wrote a profile on Rusty for our local newspaper, the Fresno Bee. The following is a transcript of the interview that we did while working on the story. If you happened to read the version that was in the paper, keep reading because a lot of this was left out.
Q: Rusty, tell me about growing up in Fresno.
A: “I went to Roosevelt High School, which is over on the southeast side of town. I grew up here in Fresno. I’ve been riding since I was 4 and racing since I was 12.”
Q: Were you involved in any sports other than motocross as a kid?
A: “I did other things as well, but just a few. I wrestled from fifth grade until my freshman year of high school. I went out for high school wrestling, but I kept breaking my leg racing my dirt bike. Every year I would make weight and make the varsity team and then not be able to wrestle because I got hurt in my other sport.”
Q: Dirt bikes were a family affair for you, weren’t they?
A: “From when I was four until I was about twelve, it was a passion for my whole family. We’d go on the weekends to Pismo or down to California City in the desert. It was really fun. That’s the good old days. I’ve raced a lot of races since then, but those days definitely have a place in my heart.”
Q: How old were you when you turned pro?
A: “I was 18.”
Q: How did your pro career get started? What types of races did you hit first?
A: “Well, I wasn’t the fastest guy around, but at the same time, I knew that I wanted to be a professional motocross racer. I jumped in with both feet and kind of moved myself through the ranks a little bit faster than normal. There’s no better way than to be out there riding with those guys if you want to get faster. That’s what I told myself anyway.”
Q: Did you start going to Supercrosses and Nationals right off the bat?
A: “Yeah, just a few though. I got a reality check when I showed up at my first Supercross. I’ve learned a lot and have a lot better knowledge of what I’m doing now. Hopefully I can go back and do more.”
Q: Who else from the local area helped you beside your family?
A: “Clawson Motorsports. Darlene Kawasaki is actually the person that’s been behind me. Also my grandfather and of course my family. I thank myself too for digging hard and getting up there when I needed to.”
Q: When did you first get some good support as a professional?
A: “Well, I was pumped when I got my first free (exhaust) pipe. That still pumps me up! I’m real fortunate to get some products for free that help me get to the races. My first good year was probably ’95, when I really started to blossom. Hopefully, I’m not done blossoming either.”
Q: You moved to the Arenacross series last year. What led to that decision?
A: “I’ve always seen myself as a sprinter. I’ve always done shorter races. It just seemed to fit my style from what I saw from the outside looking in. I got a lucky break with the opportunity to go back and ride a few of them on a trial basis. That was last year. I put in some good finishes and got to ride the whole year. I got re-hired this year on a different team. I’m just trying to keep the dream alive.”
Q: You kind of inherited Buddy Antunez’s ride on the AXO/Bill’s Pipes Suzuki team. That’s probably the strongest team on the AX circuit as far as backing goes. What’s it been like to ride the best equipment and have the best support?
A: “It’s been good. Sometimes, though, some of the best races I’ve ever had have been out of the back of my pickup truck. That’s one thing that’s cool about the sport of motocross. If you and your machine are working as one, you can be competitive no matter what you’re doing. But I’m grateful for all of the support that I’ve been getting from Team Suzuki and Vision One Racing. I’ve got two races left and I’m just trying to keep it in the mix.”
Q: Is your equipment this year the best that you’ve ever had?
A: “Yeah. I think it’s the most perfected for me. That’s what I think bikes come down to. I think they’re all good in the beginning. It’s just the fine little things that fit your riding style that make a difference.”
Q: You’ve got a chance to make it into the top five in the final points standings this year. What would that mean to you personally and in terms of your value for next year?
A: “Well, it would definitely help. I think I’ve raced 72 main events so far this year and I’ve got eight left. The racing is so close every week and here we are, it’s the last two rounds and we’re fighting for each little point. I kind of keep an eye on it, but at the same time, I’m just letting whatever happens happen. I just do my best every time I go out there and that’s all that I can do. I’d follow the points more closely if I thought it would help my status, but if I want to get in the top five and be a competitor, I need to keep doing what I’m doing. I want to be there.”
Q: You finished 8th in the series last year. You should finish no worse than 6th (note: he ended up 5th, just four points behind Jeff Willoh) this year. Does it feel good no matter what happens now, that you’ve improved this season?
A: “It’s like my buddy, John Nelson from Hanford was telling me. He said, ‘Do the math, Russ. 8-4-1.’ I’d like to finish fourth in the series this year and have a chance to come back next year and take another shot at the title.”
Q: What do you see in the future for your riding career and how long do you plan to do it?
A: “As long as I can. I’m grateful for every day of riding that I get in, not only having a ride, but also just riding in general. It’s part of my life and I enjoy it a lot. I’ve been trying to explore other things a little bit. I’ve tried promoting some races with CMA, the California Motorcyclist Association. I’ve also done some riding schools around the country. I’m just trying to pursue as many things as I can within the industry because I like it a lot.”
Q: You’re the most prolific motocross racer to come out of Fresno or the surrounding area since George Holland. For that reason, you’re a bit of a celebrity in the local MX community. Do you plan to bring your riding schools to the Valley where you have so many fans?
A: “Yeah, definitely. The more I travel, the more I love the area. Fresno is a great place to live. I enjoy the mountains around here as well. I do a lot of training up in the Sierras. I’m definitely open to doing that. I’d like to find some time while I’m chasing the goal of riding. But definitely, racing schools will be a part of my future picture.”