Darrell Russell first 2002 test at Phoenix

Opening squirts please Russell and Co. PHOENIX (Jan. 18) -- Reigning Rookie of the Year driver Darrell Russell took his first steps as a sophomore Top Fuel professional today during the National Time Trails testing session at Firebird ...

Opening squirts please Russell and Co.

PHOENIX (Jan. 18) -- Reigning Rookie of the Year driver Darrell Russell took his first steps as a sophomore Top Fuel professional today during the National Time Trails testing session at Firebird International Raceway. Under partial cloudy skies and cool temperatures, Russell guided his new Bilstein Engine Flush dragster through two partial passes, successfully producing the best incremental numbers of the numerous drivers in attendance at the annual preseason gathering.

After a 10-week winter break, Russell began his 2002 campaign as though he'd never left the cockpit, clicking off a respectable reaction time of .484 seconds during a planned early-shutoff pass. His 60-foot time during his first run showed .849 seconds, while his 330-foot numbers registered a 2.412-second mark.

The real fireworks came later in the day when Russell streaked out to a stunning .817-second 60-foot time, one of the best ever recorded, after another solid .489-second launch. Whether the quick start would have translated to a monster top-half number will never be known, however, as Russell once again followed the instructions of crew chief Jimmy Walsh and clicked his 6,000-horsepower machine off just past the 330-foot timers, which he reached in 2.161 seconds.

"I'll have to check our books but I think that's the quickest 60-foot elapsed time I've ever had," an excited Russell said. "Wow, what a great start. That really got the guys fired up. Everyone's pretty happy with what we accomplished today.

"We did exactly what we wanted to do. We planned both passes to be under an eighth of a mile. Jimmy changed some things in the fuel management system and we were trying new clutch settings so we had a lot of things to take into consideration. We'll take it further tomorrow and try to get to a 1,000 feet and maybe even all the way out the back end if the cars reacting correctly. We're here for a week so there's no rush."

As for his driving skills, the former four-time Top Alcohol Dragster champion reported feeling in good form from the onset.

"This was my first off-season as a pro and I wasn't sure how fast it would all feel when I got back in the car," Russell said. "The first hit of the throttle today sure got my attention but then it was back to business as usual. I fell right back into a groove. It certainly wasn't like it felt last year when it was my first time ever in a Top Fuel car. I'm pleased with everything that happened today."

Testing resumes in the morning. The POWERade Drag Racing Series begins in earnest Feb. 7-10 in Pomona, Calif., with the 42nd annual K&N Filters Winternationals.

-bef/rg-

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