CLERMONT, Ind. -- Country music superstar Clay Walker will honor Top Fuel racer Darrell Russell with the singing of the national anthem Labor Day morning during pre-race ceremonies for the 50th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. Prior to becoming a...
CLERMONT, Ind. -- Country music superstar Clay Walker will honor Top Fuel racer Darrell Russell with the singing of the national anthem Labor Day morning during pre-race ceremonies for the 50th annual Mac Tools U.S. Nationals. Prior to becoming a professional racecar driver, Russell, who lost his life in a tragic, high-speed accident two months ago in St. Louis, served as Walker's tour manager for several months.
"I feel a great person like Darrell deserves every accolade," Walker said. "I remember the man as a champion in life and if I can voice that to everyone at the race and watching on television then I will have really accomplished something."
Walker and Russell met through their wives, Lori and Julie, who both compete on the show horse circuit. A few years ago, when Walker's manager left for personal reasons midway through a tour, Walker reached out to Russell and asked him to fill-in for the remainder of the tour. Russell readily agreed and their friendship was solidified as they spent numerous days together on the road.
"It seems like we spent years with each other because we became very close in a very short amount of time," Walker said. "It was a big decision that needed to be made because the previous tour manager had been with me for a long time. But as soon as I thought about Darrell the decision became a no-brainer because he was the perfect person for the job.
"Darrell was always very detail-oriented and meticulous in everything he did. I knew whatever he handled for me would be done right. The same things that made him a champion drag racer made him an excellent tour manager for me. I feel privileged to have had him around as my manager and a friend. He was very special."
With a whopping four platinum and two gold albums to his credit, Walker is one of the most successful country singers of all-time. He's topped the Billboard charts 11 times with No. 1 hits like "Live Until I Die," "If I Could Make A Living," "This Woman And This Man," "Then What," and most recently, "Chain Of Love."
His hit "Live Until I Die" was played during Russell's funeral in Tomball, Texas, before an estimated 2,000 mourners, including many of the top names in drag racing.
"I continue to be amazed at the impact Darrell had on so many people from so many different walks of life," Russell's widow Julie said. "It's such a thrill and an honor that Clay and his band are taking time out of their current tour and flying to Indy to sing the national anthem. I'm touched beyond words."
"Darrell really enjoyed his time with Clay," Julie said. "He got to see so many places across the country and he was really interested in how the music industry works. It was a lot of hard work but they really enjoyed themselves. Clay loves to play golf so they played some of the best courses in the U.S. in between tour stops. Darrell would always call home and say, 'You'll never believe where we went today.' They had fun together."
A native Texan, like Russell, Walker is one of a small handful of country singers to have musical pieces included on Billboard's year-end Top 10 country list for five consecutive years. Each year Walker is listed as one of the top 10-grossing touring acts in the music industry.
Russell had asked Walker to sing the national anthem at the U.S. Nationals prior to his death. Walker had agreed and he never wavered on keeping his commitment.
"Darrell asked me about this some time ago and I was very excited to go to my first drag race and watch him win," Walker said. "It certainly won't be the same without him there, but it will all be in his honor.
"I'm excited about seeing my first race live. I've watched Darrell many times on ESPN and I did attend a NASCAR race once, but Darrell was always quick to point out that there's nothing like watching a pair of Top Fuel cars take off from the starting line. I can't imagine what it will be like."
Julie Russell, together with Darrell's parents, Burnell and Gwen, brothers Ronnie and Chris, and close family friends Bob and Pat Haygood and David Powers, are attending the U.S. Nationals and will be on hand at the starting line when Walker sings the national anthem.
"We've all had an interwoven friendship with Darrell's family from the start," Walker said. "We love to show horses with them and we've always considered them great friends. I look forward to seeing everyone again this weekend in Indy."