By Matt Coker
By R. Scott Moxley
By Charles Lam
By Nick Schou
By Gustavo Arellano
By Gustavo Arellano
By Steve Lowery
By R. Scott Moxley
* This article was modified on Aug. 15, 2011.
The backroom of Illusion Motorsports is full of bikes: some are set aside like museum pieces, others are jacked up on work tables, here a line of stripped-down and refurbished Harley-Davidsons, there the odd Triumph or Victoria. But two motorcycles in particular stand out inside the construction-in-progress custom-motorcycle shop in a Garden Grove business complex just off Interstate 405 at Golden West. They're distinguished less because of their physical appearance than for what they say about the store's owners, Rodrigo Requejo and Rusty Coones, and the amazing turn of personal fortune both men have experienced in the past few years.
The first bike, an Illusion Hellrazor with a 114-cubic-inch engine custom-manufactured exclusively for the shop, belongs to Kurt Sutter, the creator of the biker drama Sons of Anarchy that airs on FX. Requejo and Coones built the bike for Sutter earlier this year, but Sutter sent it back in for a custom fender and a one-of-its-kind aluminum fairing. It's the second bike Sutter has purchased from the store; the first was custom-made for the show in 2010, and then donated to the Wounded Warrior Foundation, a San Diego charity that benefits wounded and disabled veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A Sons of Anarchy camera crew filmed Requejo and Coones building the bike from scratch for a special feature for the upcoming DVD release of the show's third season. Coones' heavy-metal band, Attika7, for which he plays lead guitar alongside vocalist Evan Seinfeld of Biohazard fame, also contributed two songs to the second season, as well as one (so far) for the upcoming fourth season. Sutter and his wife, actress Katey Sagal (who plays Gemma on the show), met Coones a few years ago on a toy run in the San Fernando Valley.
"My first impression: 'Fuck, he is big,'" Sutter says. "Then I was struck by his enthusiasm and genuine love of bikes and the motorcycle subculture. Plus, he was a huge Sons fan. We became friends when he started talking about bikes."
Sutter says that although he has been riding motorcycles for 20 years, the Hellrazor was his first custom-built motorcycle. "The bike is an incredible mix of art, power and comfort," he says. "Beautiful to look at, a force of nature on the road and easy to ride. I fucking love it."
While Sutter's Hellrazor symbolizes the success Coones and Requejo now enjoy, the other bike in question speaks to the dark days the two men shared in the not-too-distant past. It's a 2004 West Coast Chopper Dominator, gleaming with a spotless, satin black paint job, resting on a rack high up on one wall of the shop. It was a surprise gift to Coones from his pal Jesse James, who personally built it in celebration of Coones' Dec. 27, 2004, release from federal prison for his alleged role in what police, prosecutors and newspaper articles at the time described as Orange County's biggest drug-smuggling network.
Even as Coones walked out of prison a free man that day, Requejo was behind bars, having just been arrested for murder. For weeks, Requejo sat in jail, facing either the death penalty or life in prison without parole until finally being cleared of any wrongdoing. Both men look back at their pasts with a healthy dose of humility.
"You have to make the best of the bad," says Requejo, whose burly frame belies his soft-spoken, philosophical nature. "Every day, we're here making people happy, working on their bikes and having a good time. Life's been good to us. You have two guys who could have gone way down the wrong path and somehow made a U-turn."
* * *
A 6-foot-5-inch tower of tanned flesh and muscle, Howard Irvine Coones, known to friend and foe alike as Rusty, has piercing hazel eyes beneath his black-nylon skullcap. Scrolling down the back of both of his bulging biceps are flaming letters spelling out "Hells Angels." Coones is the founder of the Orange County chapter and current president of the San Fernando Valley chapter of the club, which he refuses to mention by name, much less discuss in detail, because its rules preclude members from doing so.
Coones was raised in the small Sacramento-area farming town of Madera in the 1960s. His father owned a crop-dusting business, and Coones began flying as a youngster, which is also when he began riding Harley-Davidsons. His dad wasn't too enamored of the hobby, and after a girl crashed into Rusty, totaling his bike but leaving him miraculously unscathed, his dad gave him an ultimatum. "He told me, 'If you get another Harley, I'm going to kick you out of the house, and I'm going to fire you,'" Coones recalls.
With nowhere to stay and no work to speak of in rural California in 1974, it seemed as though Coones' riding days were over. "But once you get a Harley, you get kind of hooked," he says. "So the day I got the insurance check, I went out and got a bike." Sure enough, Coones' dad both fired him and evicted him from the house on the spot. "So I rode my bike down here to Orange County and got a job with my uncle doing plumbing, and I've been here ever since."