ENNIS, Texas - When Joe Amato hired Darrell Russell to take over the driving duties of the Amato Racing dragster at the beginning of the 2001 season, he knew he was getting a quality driver that could make am immediate impact on the Top Fuel ...
ENNIS, Texas - When Joe Amato hired Darrell Russell to take over the driving duties of the Amato Racing dragster at the beginning of the 2001 season, he knew he was getting a quality driver that could make am immediate impact on the Top Fuel scene.
Russell couldn't have made a more immediate impact on the competition. He joined longtime friend Gary Scelzi (Top Fuel, '97) and K.C. Spurlock (Funny Car, '90) as the only three drivers in NHRA history to win their first professional start. Subsequently, Scelzi and Spurlock capped off their seasons with NHRA Winston Rookie of the Year honors, an award in which Russell is the clear favorite among those eligible.
The rookie sensation Russell will enter the home stretch of his first Top Fuel season when he returns to his native Texas for the 16th annual O'Reilly Nationals presented by Castrol Syntec, Oct. 18-21, at the Texas Motorplex. The $1.8 million race is the 22nd of 24 events in the $50 million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.
After collecting his first professional win, Russell marched on to Phoenix and, for the second straight event, advanced to the final round where he was the runner-up to Doug Kalitta. So far this year Russell has one win in six final round appearances, has qualified in the top half of the field for 17 of 21 events, and is a lock to finish in the top 10 in the standings, maybe even in the top five.
"You only get one chance at that award," said the 33-year-old Russell. "You have to go out and do the best you can at every race. I've been able to come out and do something I have been dreaming about for 14 years. To top it off, I'm filling the seat of Joe Amato, could finish in the top 10 in points and possibly win rookie of the year. I couldn't ask for anything better. To me, that would be the icing on the cake for the whole year."
Russell isn't the only rookie on the team assembled by the winningest Top Fuel driver ever. Longtime crew member Jimmy Walsh is completing his first campaign as the team's crew chief. Despite all the inexperience, it is a team that has learned quickly.
"Joe is going after a top five finish in the standings," said Russell. "With me in my first season, and Jimmy in his rookie year as well, we have had a pretty stellar year. We couldn't ask for much more."
Russell, who breeds miniature donkeys on his Hockley, Texas, farm with his wife Julie, is looking forward to returning to the Texas Motorplex, a facility he raced at frequently while winning four division titles during his sportsman career.
"The Texas Motorplex is a very good track," said Russell. "It's probably the smoothest surface on the circuit with the entire track being concrete. Depending on the weather, it could be 50 degrees or 90 degrees in Dallas, the cars can be very fast. We'll go out and do what we know how to do and see if we can win and if so great. If we don't win we'll go to the next race and take what we learned and try and do better."