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SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW: ANDY RUSSELL—Following in his father's footsteps, he is a successful second-generation racer

Posted By: Steve Baur
INTERVIEW BY MARY LENDZION
PHOTOGRAPHY BY FSC STAFF

 
Andy Russell experienced some seriously cool cars in his younger years. His father, John Russell, worked at a Ford dealership near their home in Lebanon, Ohio, and owned and raced his fair share of Thunderbolts, Mavericks, and Fairlanes. Andy accompanied his father to races across the country, and his life changed when he was permitted to miss a week of seventh grade to go cheer his dad on at the NHRA Division 3 event at Beech Bend Raceway in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
 
It was that weekend that Andy, who was also helping his father campaign his car, realized that he wanted to start racing, too — so he did.
 

With his father’s words of wisdom in mind, he holds his own in the hyper-competitive NMRA Exedy Racing Clutch Modular Muscle in his Mustang which is dialed in for 10.00 but has clocked a best of 9.71 at 135 mph with a 305 cubic-inch Modular engine and G-Force Racing Transmissions’ G5R clutchless five-speed.
 
With a win and three runners-up under his belt, he is giving it everything he has to earn a championship in the category he has been competing in for several years.
 
Read on for more about Andy, who recently retired from his longtime position as chief mechanic for the Warren County Sheriff’s Office Garage in Lebanon, Ohio. When he is not racing, he likes to travel with his fiancée, Carolyn Duvelius, who is also his crew chief. They recently explored destinations in Ohio, Michigan, and Florida, and in his words, “life is good.”
 
YOUR FATHER HAS RACED SOME REMARKABLE CARS. WHICH WAS OR IS YOUR FAVORITE?
 
That would definitely be his Maverick called Mad Maverick, which he raced in NHRA H/Modified when I was just eight years old, and he still races to this day. Bruce Sizemore, who worked for Ford, used to take my father’s cylinder heads, cut them up and make one cylinder head. Bruce raced with my father, too. He had a car called Preparation H, and he was a champion in NHRA I/Gas. My dad, who is 87 years old, currently races the Mad Maverick in NMRA Open Comp.
 
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST MUSCLE CAR?
 
My first muscle car was a 1968 Camaro with a big-block Chevy and a Turbo 400 transmission. I was in my early 20s when I got it, and I drove it on the streets. I restored the car, and I had every nut and bolt off of it. We rebuilt the engine and the Turbo 400 transmission, and we put a 12-bolt rearend in it. My dad helped me with all of that, and it’s funny because when I was little and working with my dad on his car, I could barely hold the light on the right spot, and here he is holding the light for me, which is special to me. I sent the car out to be painted black with two white stripes, and I drove it for about five years before I bought my first pick-up truck, an F-150. I got married and had kids, and sometime after they grew up and moved away, I went to the NMRA race at Beech Bend Raceway in Kentucky in 2007 to support my dad, who was racing his Maverick in Open Comp, and that is where I decided I really wanted to race and where I actually met the Mustang I race now.
 

HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?

 
My dad and I were pitted beside Scott Spandet, and he was racing in Modular Muscle and True Street in the Mustang. I got to helping him, as well as my dad. We got to talking, which was cool, and then I didn’t see him again for two years. When I did, it was at the NMRA race at Beech Bend Raceway in 2010, and the next thing I knew, I was heading to Kansas after that race to purchase his Mustang. It was absolutely flawless, and we started fooling around with it, and we took it from a street car to a race car and started preparing it to race in the NMRA.
 
WHAT WORK DID YOU PERFORM ON IT?
 
I took it to Pat Kronenbitter, who has a chassis shop in Columbus, Ohio, and he put a chrome-moly, 10-point cage in it. We took the existing engine block to Tony Bischoff and told him I wanted to run 10.00 and join the NMRA Exedy Racing Clutch Modular Muscle category. He bored and stroked the 4.6-liter and put a Cobra crank in it, along with Manley rods and Ross pistons that are gas-ported, and he topped it with Trick Flow cylinder heads, which he ported, polished, and added some metal to for strength. It has an Edelbrock Victor Jr. intake and a Holley Pro Series 950 carburetor, and I’m running VP Racing Fuels’ C114-Plus. When Tony Bischoff put the engine on the dyno, it made 560 horsepower, and I backed it with a G5R clutchless five-speed transmission from Leonard Long at G-Force Transmissions, and I use one of his Long shifters, a McLeod Soft-Lok clutch, and a Quick Time bellhousing, plus 8.8 rearend, Strange spools, and axles. The rearend was welded and braced by Pat Kronenbitter. We completed the car in 2011.
 
WHAT DID YOU AND LEONARD LONG DISCUSS BEFORE CHOOSING A G-FORCE CLUTCHLESS FIVE-SPEED TRANSMISSION?
 
Leonard Long helped me out tremendously, and I’ll tell you, his transmission and shifter are like greased lightning. I was trying to figure out what kind of transmission I wanted to run, and when I met Leonard Long at PRI, we talked about automatic transmissions and manual transmissions. My family has always run manual transmissions, and the G5R that Leonard Long recommended for me is a spinoff of a Doug Nash transmission. It’s compact yet durable, and you can bang on it and it lasts. He set me up with gear ratios and rear axle ratios to make the car work. The car is a little over-geared in the rear to help us get down the top end quicker. Kurt Neighbor has also talked with me about my clutch.
 
WHAT COMPELLED YOU TO CHOOSE NMRA EXEDY RACING CLUTCH MODULAR MUSCLE, ESPECIALLY SINCE IT WAS SUCH A DEPARTURE FROM THE CATEGORIES YOU GREW UP WATCHING YOUR FATHER COMPETE IN?

I ran the Warren County Sheriff’s Office Garage in Lebanon, Ohio for 40 years, and I mainly worked on Crown Victorias with 4.6-liter engines, and I became very familiar with that engine platform. The main goal was to keep the cars serviced and maintained, and because of that, we seldomly had any major engine problems. I did some transmission work on the 4R70W transmission, and I rebuilt a lot of those.
 

WHEN DID YOU COMPETE IN NMRA EXEDY RACING CLUTCH MODULAR MUSCLE FOR THE FIRST TIME?

 
The first time I competed in Modular Muscle was at the NMRA event at Beech Bend Raceway in Kentucky in 2012. I met everyone in the category, and they felt like family and I felt immediately at home. The camaraderie was outstanding, and I loved it. We started by running that race each year.

YOU HAVE FINISHED IN THE TOP-10 IN POINTS A COUPLE OF TIMES. WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO ACCOMPLISH THAT IN THAT CATEGORY?
 
The competition is very hard, and you have to stay focused, but it is very rewarding and I enjoy it so much. I finished in the third spot in 2018, and then I had a few issues in 2019, as I was breaking a few things and working a few kinks out. I tied for 10th in 2020, and because I missed a race, I took the 11th spot. Then, I finished in the fifth spot in 2021 and currently have a number 5 on the car.
 
YOU EARNED YOUR FIRST EXEDY RACING CLUTCH MODULAR MUSCLE WIN AT THE NMRA EVENT AT SUMMIT MOTORSPORTS PARK IN OHIO LAST YEAR. WHAT DID THAT MEAN TO YOU?
 
I was so excited. It took a combination of things to be able to do that. I had to have the car set up right, I had to have the right dial-in, hit the lights, and not break out. I had to do the same thing for every single pass, and I had to check the datalogger and weather gauges. That was extremely helpful in predicting what the car would run. At any race, all of that is even more challenging if there is downtime.
 
AT THE TIME OF THIS INTERVIEW, YOU WERE HOLDING DOWN SECOND PLACE IN POINTS. WHAT HELPED YOU GET THERE, AND WHAT WILL HELP YOU STAY THERE?

We freshened the car over winter, and the car ran great at the first NMRA race of the year in Florida. I did break some parts in competition in the rear of the car, and that cost me some rounds, but we came home and fixed them. Then we went to the race in North Carolina and got down to three cars and I broke out. I should have tapped the brakes a little. Then, I finished as the runner-up against Shane Williams at the race in Illinois. He’s a good friend of mine. I was dialed 10.17 and I broke out with a 10.16. I finished as the runner-up against Shane again at the event in Ohio, too. I was three off my number, and I choked and went red in the first round of eliminations at the event in Michigan.
 
YOUR CURRENT STANDING IN POINTS IS YOUR HIGHEST STANDING IN NMRA SO FAR. DOES THAT MAKE YOU REALIZE A CHAMPIONSHIP, NOW OR IN THE FUTURE, IS WITHIN REACH AND MAKES YOU REALLY WANT TO GO AFTER IT?
 
It definitely does, and that tickles me to death. While I don’t think I can mathematically catch Shane in points in 2022, if I can stay in, or close to, the position I’m currently in, I’ll consider it a winning season because it’s the best I have done so far.
 
 

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