A growing pattern among the Late Model ranks of the country has now emerged at New Smyrna Speedweeks. Several former champions of the nine-night World Series of Asphalt Racing will be returning in new roles this year atop the pit box instead of in the driver’s seat.
2011 Florida Speedweeks champion Tim Russell as well as former champions BJ McLeod and Wayne Anderson have all given up their seats to aid the efforts of other drivers at New Smyrna Speedway in the coming weeks.
Tim Russell’s #36 machine is a staple in victory lane at the New Smyrna Beach, Florida half-mile, so it was no wonder that open-wheel sensation Kyle Larson and Canadian Riley Emmel sought out Russell’s ‘Tim Russell Driver Development Program’ when it came to making their own attempts at the annual nine nights of action this year.
"A good friend of ours got the deal going,” said Russell. “We were interested in a couple guys and so we put some stuff together and we’re looking forward to a good Speedweeks with both drivers. We’re going to try to get them both up to speed as quick as we can and everything and introduce them to the short track racing world.”
Up and coming sprint car star Kyle Larson will pilot Russell’s Super Late Model entry throughout the event. Larson recently finished third at the Chili Bowl in Tulsa, Oklahoma and was recently announced as a driver at Rev Racing in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East.
“From what I understand this is his first asphalt Late Model experience,” said Russell. “I’m looking forward to working with him because from what I’ve heard he’s quite a wheelman. So I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do out there against some big names in Super Late Model racing. It’s going to be a big test, but I think he’s going to be able to get the job done.”
Also racing out of the Tim Russell Driver Development Program stable will be Canadian driver Riley Emmel. Emmel will compete in the Pro Late Model events for Russell during the nine nights of racing. Coming from a strong dirt racing background, this will mark Emmel’s first attempt at an asphalt Late Model event of this magnitude.
“I’ll just have to teach him as best as I can about control and things like that,” said Russell. “And hopefully we can make it through the whole week and keep the car in one piece. It’s almost like a whole season of racing jammed into one week so hopefully he will learn and come out victorious throughout the week.”
When asked if he was stepping out of the seat for good, Russell was quick to end the rumors before they have a change to get started.
“No, (I'm) just sitting out Speedweeks this year,” said Russell. “It’s becoming more and more popular. Parents are more willing to pay to put their kids in top notch equipment these days rather than to have to go buy the equipment and build the teams themselves. And this way they have a shot to win races right out of the gate.”
Russell’s “official” duties for the week will be that of driver coach for both Larson and Emmel as they make their transitions into asphalt short track racing.
“I'm the driver coach. I’m not spotting for them. I think we’ve got some people already lined up to do that, but I’ll be there helping them out all week with any questions they’ve got and I’ll do the best that I can to get them around there faster.”
Despite having to step out of the spotlight, Russell is excited for the turn his business is taking.
“It’s going to be a little different of an experience for us,” said Russell. “But hopefully we’ll come out on top as a team again and get the Speedweeks title and win some races.”
Although he says he’s not done driving, Russell did say that the Tim Russell Driver Development Program is still fielding inquiries for more races throughout the 2012 season.
“We’re open for every race. We’ve got a couple of people talking about doing stuff after Speedweeks and we’re trying to put deals together. You know, we’re putting deals together for people to come in here and get in winning stuff right away.”
Look for Larson and Emmel in the Tim Russell Driver Development Program Late Models when the New Smyrna Speedweeks World Series of Asphalt Racing kicks off on February 17th.