Atlanta race represents unfinished business for Team Amato. ATLANTA (May 1) -- One year ago, Top Fuel driver Darrell Russell, the handpicked successor to NHRA legend Joe Amato, appeared to have the title of the Southern Nationals at hand. After...
Atlanta race represents unfinished business for Team Amato.
ATLANTA (May 1) -- One year ago, Top Fuel driver Darrell Russell, the handpicked successor to NHRA legend Joe Amato, appeared to have the title of the Southern Nationals at hand. After plowing through a competitive field of racers, Russell arrived at the starting line for the finals with a steady and quick race car that had run well enough to earn him lane choice in the title round. Then the unthinkable happened: After his pre-race burnout, Russell's car would not shift into reverse and he was forced to drive off the track and forfeit his run.
"It was such a huge letdown for all of us," Russell said. "I really felt like we had the car to beat but we never got to find out. I'm not saying we would have beat [final round opponent] Mike Dunn for sure but it sure would've been nice to race him to see what would have happened."
Russell and the entire Bilstein Engine Flush System team will look for a measure of redemption this weekend during the 22nd annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals presented by Pontiac at Atlanta Dragway. Coming off their sixth career runner-up finish just a few days ago in Bristol, Tenn., the team once again feels in control of their racing destiny as this weekend's racing action approaches.
"Going four rounds Sunday in Bristol spoke volumes about this team," said Russell. "This is a mostly new crew and our crew chief Wayne Dupuy has only been with us for three races. To see all of them handle the pressure of championship-level drag racing was awesome. It was a great test for the entire Bilstein Engine Flush System crew and they handled it like pros.
"I feel really confident coming into this race. The spirit and mood of the team is sky-high and in my opinion that's half the battle right there. Atlanta Dragway was certainly good to Joe Amato over his career (one win in six final-round appearances), it was almost very good to us last year, and I won my first national event here in 1994 when I was driving our family's Top Alcohol Dragster, so I feel very good about this weekend."
Russell, a 33-year-old from Hockley, Texas, is currently seventh in the POWERade championship points standings. He could advance as high as fourth place this weekend. The second-year driver has two national event wins in eight final-round appearances as a professional. He is the reigning NHRA Rookie of the Year.
Qualifying highlights of the 22nd annual Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals will air from 9-11 p.m. (ET), Saturday, on ESPN2. The elimination rounds will be broadcast in primetime from 5:30-7:30 p.m. (ET), Sunday, on ESPN2, with a repeat showing from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. (ET), Sunday, also on ESPN2.