southern belle gearhead
from the cradle to the starting line my interview with up and coming racer brianna russell
Russell Racing's 1996 Camaro Pro Mod. Photo courtesy of Russell Raciing
When you talk to 22 year old Brianna Russell about racing its like a machine gun of passion. Whether she's telling you about the engine that she worked on or the hundreds of trips to the starting line, you can feel her enthusiasm in each syllable.
Photo courtesy of Russell Racing
Brianna with father Brian Russell Photo courtesy of Russell Raciing
At the tender age of three months she made her first appearance at the dragway with her father Brian, a successful NHRA & IHRA division racer. After that almost every weekend was spent at Southeastern International Dragway in Dallas, GA until it closed in December of 2005.
SDL: So where and with whom did your father race?
BR: We raced with the Dixie Door Slammers a lot, and we did quite well there. They raced on a 5.10 index. We had a killer combination that just happened to turn out 5.10 passes every run. In 2005, we started racing with the Dixie Pro Mods, a very popular organization in the South East. They hosted Quick 8 races and turned out some of the best racers in the game today. I’ve belted my dad into every pass he’s ever made in a Pro Mod, pulled him in the water box, and stood behind every pass. He’s stood behind me every pass I’ve ever made down the track, too.
Brianna Russell age 14 Photo courtesy of Russell Raciing
SDL: What type of setup were you and your dad running on the car?
BR: The actual race car which we just sold a few weeks ago, was a 1996 Pro Mod Camaro built by Tommy Mauney. We raced it with a 706 cubic inch Fulton motor with three stages of Nitrous. Initially, it was a clutch car with a four speed Lenco. At our last outings, we had swapped over to a Bruno combination. There was once a time where you wouldn’t need to specify that a Pro Mod was a big tire car, but I guess nowadays you have to.
Getting dad ready to make a pass Photo courtesy of Russell Raciing
SDL: So with the car sold, are you done with the season?
BR: No. I'm currently taking my 2012 Camaro, which is my daily driver, to Friday night drags at my local track. I always enter the bracket race and have gotten in the money a time or two. It’s pretty neat running a bone-stock, street car against some tube chassis cars. The race car was originally built for a man my dad’s size, 6’ 200 lbs. I am only 5’2“ so it was going to be very difficult for me to fit comfortably and safely in that car. We are currently searching for a new race car to fit me and hope to debut it in the 2017 season.
SDL: What track do you consider to be home?
BR: It’s hard to pick a home track. My heart will always be at Southeastern, even though it is closed. With the Pro Mod, we considered our home track to be Atlanta Dragway in Commerce, GA. For now I bracket race at Paradise Dragstrip in Calhoun, GA.
SDL: Do you guys work on your own cars or sub contract it out?
BR: Most of the work on our car was done in house. We do use an engine shop for maintenance and rebuilds on the engine. I disagree with the whole, “Built not bought” movement. We don’t have a CNC machine or any other the other six figure machines found in machine shops, so yeah. We sub that stuff out. But I learned to work on the car a lot out of necessity. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love it, but I wasn’t given a choice. Sometimes with less than an hour to turn the car around, it’s all hands on deck. It took me, my dad and mom to work on it. Routine maintenance between passes can easily take that long, not to mention when things go wrong. When you’re racing at that level, believe me, things go wrong. I’ve been catching attention for working on the car since we got it. I get it, it’s different to see a 12 or 13 year old girl in the car working on the clutch, packing the parachutes, working on the motor, hooking up Nitrous bottle, or whatever else needed to be done. It was just what I had to do and I loved it.
Turning the wrench. Brianna and father Brian at their shop Photo courtesy of Russell Raciing
SDL: Obviously your dad is really supportive of your racing goals. How does your mom feel about her only child jumping into the driver's seat?
BR: My mom, Kim Hyde Russell, is a super star too. She grew up in round track racing with my papa, who helped my dad get his started in drag racing. She’s stood behind my dad every pass he’s ever made, from 1989-2016. If she’s not there, he doesn’t go down the track. She’s the backbone, and the mouth piece of Russell Racing. She’s a great example of what it’s like to be a tough woman in a man’s world, just like my granny and her granny before her.
SDL: Who have been the biggest influences in your decision to pursue drag racing?
BR: First and foremost, my dad is my biggest influence. He’s taught me that you don’t get a free ride, to be a fair and courteous racer, but also not to take crap from anyone. He’s the most honest person I know. I know that whatever battles I fight, on or off the track, he’s right there behind me. And then there's the living legend John Force who has and will always be my hero. I am thrilled to see him in a Chevrolet now! When I was four years old, my mom kept me out of Pre-K to go to an event at Walmart he hosted the week of the Southern Nationals. We were waiting in the back of the line when he came out of the parking lot behind us. Without any warning, he picked me up and said, “Come on, mom. Let’s go take pictures.” He didn’t know me from Adam, but he carried me to the front of the line, posed for as many pictures as mom could snap, and gave me signed hero cards and hats. I will never forget that. My dream is to one day have the same kind of impact on another kid.
SDL: Okay Brianna we have a Top 5 Q & A for you.
BR: (laughs) Ok hit me!
SDL: Number 5: Street or Track?
SDL: Number 4: Small block or big block?
BR: Big block! There's no replacement for displacement
SDL: Number 3: Carburetor or fuel injected?
BR: Dual Carbs please
SDL: Number 2: Nitrous, Turbo, or Procharged?
SDL: Number 1: Big tire or small tire?
BR: Big tire with small tire tendencies. if that’s a possible answer.
SDL: Brianna I want to thank you for your time and wish you continued success.
BR: Thank you for the opportunity.
SDL: Best of luck on finding the new car and I hope we can sit down with you next season and see what's going on new with you and Russell Racing.
BR: Yes I'm excited to start this new chapter and would love to talk to you again about what we are doing.
Catch up with Southern Drag Life next week for another interview in our series.