Although they followed different paths, Jami Russell and Kory Gurney are having a successful season racing sprint cars.
Earlier this season, the 16-year-old Russell won the Capital Region Sprint Car Agency feature at Glen Ridge Motorsports Park, while Gurney, who turned 21 last week, won the first sprint car feature of his career last weekend at Five Mile Point Speedway in his first trip ever to the track.
“We aren’t following the entire CRSA tour, but we were able to get a win at Glen Ridge earlier this year,” Russell said. “We started out the season at the 360 Sprint Open at Fonda and qualified fifth in our heat race, racing our 305 motor against all of the 360s. Earlier this season at Utica-Rome, we also ran the 305 against all of the 360s, and were 19th fastest out of 30 cars. We were fortunate to be able to qualify for a lot of 360 races with the 305 motor last year.”
“The win at Five Mile Point was a birthday present to me,” Gurney said. “I believe that it was the right move for me to go to sprint cars, as they just suit my driving style very well.”
Russell has been racing for 10 years, starting out in go-karts at Dodge City and Glen Ridge. With over 80 wins in a go-kart and five track championships at Dodge City alone, there is one experience that stays with Russell more than any others.
“In 2004, I ran in the WKA
Go-Kart Nationals at Daytona, and finished fourth on the big track that they run the Rolex race on,” he said. “That was a pretty neat experience.”
This season marks the third year that Russell has been in a sprint car.
“We were able to finish in the top 10 almost every week, so that was a big confidence booster for me,” Russell said. “A lot of people don’t know this, but my first sprint car was bought off of Tom Patterson, and was run by Jessica Zemken. When we got the car, I took it all apart and put it all back together by myself. I am pretty much a do-it-yourselfer, as I work on the car, the motor with my dad and setups, right down to designing my own paint schemes for the car and doing my own press releases.”
Last season, Russell did some racing for Patterson and qualified for some Empire Super Sprints shows in the process. He also won a CRSA event at Thunder Mountain with his 305 car last year.
“Last week at Utica-Rome, Tom came over to see us and he wants me to run some shows in his 360 sprint car again this year,” Russell said. “I blew my 305 motor at Accord a few weeks ago, but we still plan to go to the Lebanon Valley World of Outlaw race and try to qualify. To qualify for that show will carry us a little bit, as far as funding goes for the car.”
Russell’s father, Bob, taught him a lot about what he knows about race cars, as Bob Russell was once a racer himself, and also worked on Tim Hartman’s car at Albany-Saratoga Speedway.
“My dad raced drag cars at Lebanon Valley, starting out in a Nova, and then moving up to a Super Comp Dragster,” Russell said. “I remember coming home from taikwando in the white suit when I was 5 or 6 years old, and going to work on the race car.”
Russell will be a senior at Schenectady High School this year. He is a member of the National Honor Society, and is big in sciences, which he doubled up on this past school year. He would like to go to either RPI or SUNY Maritime for engineering after he graduates from high school.
“Out of a class of 787 kids, I was ranked 26th or 27th last year,” he said. “Next year, I will be trying to get into the top 10.”
Just like Russell, Gurney also started out in go-karts when he was 5 or 6 years old. Gurney then spent a year and a half in a Slingshot before moving up to a modified, which he ran up until last year. Over the winter, Gurney, his mother Debbie and father Lee bought out a sprint car team from Pennsylvania, including a complete 2007 Maxim car, a spare car that Gurney hopes to out a 360 motor in and some parts, as well.
“We were talking about going sprint car racing and the modifieds were just getting too far out of reach for us, money-wise,” Gurney said. “With all of the different tire rules that the local tracks have, we didn’t have enough money to buy all those tires to run at different places. In this series, we can get tires off of the ESS guys or the WoO guys, and go all year long on what they throw out.”
With the money a little more feasible in the CRSA organization, Gurney decided to sell all of his modified equipment. He currently leads the regular CRSA point standings, and also leads the CRSA rookie point standings, as well.
“We use spec heads on the CRSA Tour, and the motor rule is pretty tight, as well,” he said. “The CRSA was a new club and we decided to give it a try, and so far, the learning curve has come together real well.”
Gurney looked at the opportunity with the CRSA series to get to know new race tracks, new people and have a chance to travel a little bit, and is having a lot of fun
doing it with his family-owned race team.
“I plan on sticking with the sprint cars,” Gurney said. “They are cheaper to race, and the CRSA club is a good club that is just getting off its feet. It has definitely been a fun year, so far, and I am very surprised that we have gotten as far as we have at this stage.”
Gurney admits that it was tough to switch from a modified to a sprint car.
“The sprint car is nothing like a modified,” he said. “It is like learning all over again, as it is a totally different ballgame, a whole other animal. Seat time is everything in both modifieds and sprint cars, in order to get to learn the setups. John Scarborough told me that you don’t drive the sprint car, the sprint car drives you.”
Tonight at Albany-Saratoga and Saturday at Fonda, the New York State Stock Car Association will present contingency awards to the top-two finishers in each feature that are members of the NYSSCA organization. The highest finishing member will get $75, a NYSSCA hat and a NYSSCA yearbook while the second-highest finishing member will receive $25.
Drivers must be current members of the NYSSCA organization to qualify for the contingency
bonuses. If you are not a member or if you haven’t renewed your membership for 2008, you can go to www.nyssca.com
Albany-Saratoga will be hosting Seniors Night tonight, with all fans 62 and over admitted to the grandstand for free with ID. Starting time will be 6:45.
Tonight be Topless Night at Glen Ridge Motorsports Park, where the modifieds and budget sportsman will run without roofs, and will have to do so in order to receive points. All other divisions will also be in action with a starting time of 7:30.
At Fonda on Saturday, all divisions will be in action, along with the budget sportsman, starting at 6 p.m.
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