KENT, Wash.- There is something about Pacific Raceways and Joe Amato. Before the all-time winningest Top Fuel driver retired from going rounds on Sunday, he practically owned the race track outside of Seattle. Between 1988 and 1999, Amato took...
KENT, Wash.- There is something about Pacific Raceways and Joe Amato. Before the all-time winningest Top Fuel driver retired from going rounds on Sunday, he practically owned the race track outside of Seattle.
Between 1988 and 1999, Amato took home the Top Fuel winner's trophy five times (1989, '91, '94, '98, '99). He joins Gary Scelzi as the only two Top Fuel drivers to win back-to-back, as Scelzi took the honors in 2000-'01 before switching to Funny Car in 2002.
Amato may have retired at the end of the 2000 season, but that hasn't stopped his winning percentage at Pacific Raceways. Darrell Russell took over the driving duties in the Amato-owned Bilstein Engine Flush dragster in 2001 and won the Seattle race in 2002.
Russell will be looking to add to the Amato Racing win list when the NHRA makes its way to the northwest part of the country again.
"Knowing you won a race before you get to that track is the best thing about defending an event title," Russell said. "There are some people who just do better at some tracks than others. I don't know what it is and I have not been able to put my finger on it yet, but it is just the way it is. Joe had a lot of success at Seattle and I have one win in the two years I competed there so far, and that makes me feel pretty good.
"Seattle is a good place for us to race. We seem to do well in those conditions and we want to go back there and try to win it again."
Since a first round loss in Houston in April, the Bilstein team has been on a tear to the top. Russell has yet to claim an event victory so far in 2003, but he has climbed from 11th place to the No. 3 spot in the Top Fuel standings. Russell also has earned two runner-up finishes: in Atlanta in May and Columbus, Ohio in June.
"There is something to be said about being the defending event winner, but we also know that what you did last year doesn't mean anything for this season," Russell said. "We still have to beat quality teams all day long to get a win. We need to qualify well on Friday and Saturday and then knock it out on Sunday. Last year won't help us do that.
"I think so far we are making a lot of improvements. We are third in the points, but we still have a lot of work cut out to catch the No. 1 and 2 cars. But I think we are going in the right direction. I think it is going pretty darn well for us. We started off a little slow and we found the problems and we have corrected those. Since Bristol the team has been clicking, the car has been running well and we haven't had a first-round loss."
Russell also has been turning heads with a new body style for the Top Fuel dragster. Instead of having the body in panels that are pieced together, the Bilstein Engine team replaced that with one slick body piece. So far, the results have been positive.
"I think we have to make a couple of adjustments with the data from last year, but for the most part, I think the new body is helping us," Russell said. "The jury is still out on the new style, but we are still making some runs and testing it to see how it will hold up. So far, I think it is going to work out pretty well for us."
One thing is certain, Russell is looking forward to Seattle.
"St. Louis was a place that we thought we had a good chance to win," Russell said. "But I threw down the red light against Doug Kalitta and that was it for us. I think we are due for a win, and it is just a matter of time. Hopefully it will be sooner than later."