Amato signs Russell, Dupuy through 2005

Amato signs Russell, Dupuy through 2005; Primary and major associates extend sponsorship agreements INDIANAPOLIS (Aug. 30) --Top Fuel driver Darrell Russell and crew chief Wayne Dupuy will challenge for the POWERade Drag Racing Series ...

Amato signs Russell, Dupuy through 2005; Primary and major associates extend sponsorship agreements

INDIANAPOLIS (Aug. 30) --Top Fuel driver Darrell Russell and crew chief Wayne Dupuy will challenge for the POWERade Drag Racing Series title side-by-side for the next three NHRA seasons, it was announced Friday by team owner and Top Fuel legend Joe Amato. Amato also revealed an extension of the primary sponsorship of his team with Bilstein Engine Flush Systems and its owner, Marty Yacoobian Jr., as well as continued backing of longtime associate-level team supporters Valvoline and Keystone Automotive Operations.

"I think I'm getting the hang of being the team owner instead of the driver," Amato said with a laugh. "I wasn't sure if I'd like it at first but I'm having a good time so I decided, together with our great marketing partners, to extend our efforts through the 2005 season. I can see with the group we have now, from Darrell and Wayne to the guys on the team and the sponsors we have, that the pieces are in place to win a championship. That's the goal and that's why we wanted to keep the chemistry we've developed and make a concentrated run at the POWERade title."

The sport's most decorated Top Fuel driver of all-time with five championships and 52 national event wins, the 58-year-old Amato retired at the end of the 2000 season and appointed Russell, 33, as the heir to his coveted seat. Since then, Russell has raced to five victories in 11 final-round appearances, including three wins in four finals this season. A native of Hockley, Texas, Russell is a four-time Division 4 Top Alcohol Dragster champion with 26 sportsman-level victories. He also is the NHRA's reigning Rookie of the Year.

"It gives me a lot of pleasure to take a young, talented guy like Darrell Russell and give him the chance to compete at this level," Amato said. "To mold him into a good Top Fuel driver and see him go on to win Rookie of the Year and the races he's already won is a big kick for me. He deserves this three-year extension and I'm happy to give it to him.

"I've won my championships. I've won a bunch of races. It's not about that for me any more. I get more of a kick giving up-and-coming guys their chance to shine and then watching them do it. For me, at this point in my life, it's more fun to develop talent then to win. It really is."

Russell was thrilled to secure his future. "Joe giving me a chance in the first place was a huge day in my life," Russell said. "It's satisfying to know I've proven myself well enough over the last year and a half for him to offer me this contract. Not many drivers and their families have this sort of security. Now I'm more motivated than ever before to prove my value to Joe, our sponsors, and this team."

Just as he did with Russell, Amato took a chance on another emerging talent when he hired Dupuy to take over tuning duties on his car in early April. Once again, Amato's keen eye for raw ability has paid big dividends on the race track. With Dupuy making the calls, Russell has raced to a 22-10 elimination record and has sky-rocketed from 13th to fourth place in the prestigious POWERade championship points standings.

"Wayne's a young guy who showed a lot of potential as a tuner but he was never with a team that had the budget to compete at the top level," Amato said. "I took a flyer on him because I saw in him a guy who had the tools to do this job but that no one would show faith in and give a chance. I did, and I couldn't be happier. I'm glad we'll be together now for the next three years and hopefully beyond that because I see big things on the horizon for Wayne."

Dupuy added his thoughts. "When you're competing at this level you need to be able to focus on racing," he said. "Now I can devote 100 percent of my attention to winning another championship for Joe Amato. I know I have a home now, and I expect to be here for a long time. My thanks to Joe and Donna Amato, and Marty Yacoobian for offering me my dream job. I won't let them down."

With his race team secured for the next three seasons, Amato is anxious to write another chapter in his storied career, which was capped off in style when Amato was named one of the top 10 drag racers of all time during the NHRA's 50-year celebration of the sport one year ago.

"It all ties together," Amato said. "The better our sponsors do, the better the team will do. I'm really excited about the future because it'll be a blast to watch Darrell, Wayne, Bilstein Engine Flush, and the rest of our sponsors grow together. These guys will only get better and better the more experience they get. I know what it takes to win championships and I see it here."

Marty Yacoobian, president and owner of Bilstein Engine Flush Systems:

"The business-to-business relationships I've developed in our inaugural season with Joe Amato Racing has already exceeded our company's expectations," Yacoobian said. "To have a drag racing icon like Joe Amato take me under his wing and teach me this sport is truly a dream come true. I'm grateful for Darrell, Wayne, and the entire crew for all of their help and friendship this season. I look forward to many happy years ahead. Thanks also to Donna Amato for keeping us all together."

Bob Vor Broker, president of Keystone Automotive Operations:

"Speaking for all of Keystone Automotive Operations, we couldn't be more proud of this year's performance by the legendary Amato Racing team. With the team headquartered in Keystone's facilities we have watched its growth and development over the past two years, which has been very gratifying. As the longest standing sponsor of Amato Racing we are very pleased that Joe has arranged for the continuation of his racing program and Keystone is extremely excited about the team's future prospects."

Mikel Hartman, Valvoline's sports marketing manager: "The partnership between Valvoline and Joe Amato began in 1984 and is one of the longest and most successful in modern motorsports history," he said. "With all of his career accomplishments, Joe has certainly taken his place alongside the other legendary drivers who have made such great contributions to Valvoline's winning history, names such as A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Cale Yarborough, Al Unser Jr., Jeff Gordon, and Mark Martin. Darrell has added to our winning tradition by earning NHRA Rookie of the Year honors last season and five Top Fuel victories so far in his young career. It's obvious he has quickly become a fan favorite and already is an excellent representative for Valvoline, both on and off the race track."

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Series NHRA
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Joe Amato , Al Unser Jr. , Mario Andretti , A.J. Foyt , Cale Yarborough