Making noise: Russo ready to step into spotlight Immediately following his first career win at the Texas Nationals two weeks ago in Dallas, Chris Russo admitted that he was finally glad to be able to make a blip on the drag racing radar after...
Making noise: Russo ready to step into spotlight
Immediately following his first career win at the Texas Nationals two weeks ago in Dallas, Chris Russo admitted that he was finally glad to be able to make a blip on the drag racing radar after several years of flying relatively unnoticed through the Pro Modified ranks.
It is safe to say no one is looking past him anymore.
Russo quietly qualified second at the Amalie Oil Texas Nationals two weeks ago on his way to claiming his first career IHRA Ironman while moving from 17th to 4th in points all in one career defining afternoon.
"It feels so satisfying to know that after all the hard work, all the years we have put in, it finally paid off," Russo said. "I raced Pro Mod even before I raced in the IHRA because I knew I wasn't ready for that level of competition. To finally be able to step up to the highest level of door car racing and finally win one, it makes me really proud. It is a long time coming."
And it truly has been a long time coming for the firefighter and former Marine from New Jersey.
Russo has been climbing the Pro Modified ladder for some time, waiting for just the right time to make a move up to the sports highest level.
And after years of putting in the time, Russo and his team finally decided to make the move earlier this year and it didn't take long for the decision to pay off.
Russo made his season debut at Rockingham in April, qualifying ninth before having to retire early from the event due to a mechanical issue. Exactly one month later, however, in only his second race of the year, Russo topped defending series champion Kenny Lang and tasted victory lane for the very first time.
"I never thought it would happen so fast. Originally I just wanted to qualify for a race, I never thought I would have a win and be sitting fourth in points so this is all pretty exciting for me," Russo said.
Despite a great all-around weekend, Russo still managed to find himself well under the radar in Dallas as all eyes remained transfixed on the tight points battle between defending champ Lang and the fastest man of the weekend Ed Hoover.
Hoover looked unbeatable after two days on the brand new concrete surface with the fastest lap of the weekend which not only gave him the No. 1 qualifying spot, but also gave him the 10 bonus points associated with being the Last Man Standing both Friday and Saturday night.
With the bonuses, Hoover cushioned his points lead over Lang heading into Sunday's eliminations while Russo quietly put down the second fastest lap of the weekend.
Adversely, Lang's weekend was filled with one disaster after another and he never managed to put together a full run in four tries, relegating him to a sixth place spot with a best time of 6.838 -- well off the pace of Hoover's six flat.
With that poor performance, the matchup that many expected to see in the finals actually took place in the first round as Hoover met up with Lang in the first run of the afternoon.
To make matters even worse for the No. 1 qualifier, Hoover had to replace an engine overnight after breaking a piston during Saturday's run.
With the points lead on the line, Lang showed why he is the defending champion as he put his troubles behind him and finally made his first successful run of the weekend, taking a holeshot victory over Hoover to all but guarantee a spot in the final round.
With all eyes on Hoover and Lang, Russo did what he does best, quietly knocking off one opponent after another.
Russo gained a bye into round two when Jason Stock failed to show and then knocked off Harold Martin in a thrilling come-from-behind victory to line himself up with Lang in the final.
In the championship round, a nervous Russo did what he never thought he could do -- chase down and pass Lang.
Lang got a decent start off the line, but Russo was able to run him down and get the win with a 6.223 elapsed time at 230.13 miles per hour to Lang's 6.302, 229.35 mph run.
"I really do respect those guys. They are fast and they are the champs for a reason," Russo said. "They always find a way to win and to be able to beat someone like that it makes you feel good about the win.
"To be able to beat him in a good race made me feel good about the whole thing that we are doing out here."
The wild weekend saw Lang walk away as the points leader, 12 markers ahead of Hoover. Baton Rouge winner Ray Commisso dropped to third while Russo made a huge leap from 17th to 4th in the standings, 81 points back of Lang.
"We are very excited to be sitting fourth in points. As far as climbing in points, that is another story," Russo said. "In front of me you have two Al Billes cars with Ray Commisso and Kenny Lang and you also have Ed Hoover. It is going to be really tough to climb with that kind of competition, but we are going to give it a shot.
"That is why we race, you never know what can happen. But you can bet we will be right in mix throwing punches the best we can."
Going into Tulsa, Russo admits that he has a new sense of confidence and sees no reason why he can't once again challenge for the win. The only difference is that this time around, he hopes to instill a little more fear into the competition when he pulls up beside them in the staging lanes.
"When you go down the race track and put up good quality numbers time and time again, that gets peoples attention," Russo said. "When you put down solid numbers, especially in the worst conditions, that is what really gets the people in the other lane to look at you and say I better strap in because these guys are for real."
And Russo will have another chance to make an impression on his peers this weekend as several Oklahoma based Pro Mod teams throw their hat into the ring ready to challenge the regular fixtures of Hoover, Lang and Russo.
The Oklahoma based teams of Rick Senft, Kirk Wilmes and Jeff Pierce, who made his IHRA debut two weeks ago in Dallas, will join several other quality teams helping make for a competitive Pro Mod field in Tulsa.
"I am really looking forward to it. Even though the tows are long, it doesn't matter because you are going to race in front of a bunch of people and race against the best there is so it kinda makes the tows a lot more bearable," Russo said. "From New Jersey to Tulsa is pretty far, but after winning last week we are really excited about taking another shot at it."