By Carol Haynes
Oswego, NY – At the end of 2005, Pelham, NH driver Russ hung up his helmet on a tenuous hook – not really retiring, but not planning anything for the next year or two in the racing game. The very successful Dunigan team Russ had been with had stayed together for two years after the passing of car owner Paul Dunigan in 2004, but that was over. In 2007, Russ ran a couple times in friend Scott Martel’s #14, but still the helmet stayed in that precarious position. After all, Wood had done about everything and won about everything there was in supermodified racing with or without a wing. His son was beginning a racing career and Russ wanted to be a part of that too, but Wood Sr. soon decided that he was quite ready for at least a couple more full-time years when Jeff Holbrook came knocking on the door.
Holbrook, an Oswego businessman, car owner and driver, stepped in to help Russ take the helmet off the hook. Jeff was having a new car built by Russ’ friend and car builder Brian Allegresso. Jeff would drive that first new machine in 2007 and have another built for Russ to drive full time in 2008.
The idea of teaming up with Brian again as a car builder was a logical one for Russ. He and Brian had been together during those Paul Dunigan years garnering four ISMA titles and a couple runner-up spots, the last second place coming in 2003. Russ’ first two ISMA titles came with longtime ISMA supporter Ed Shea way back in 1991 and 1994, giving him a record – at the time, of six crowns overall.
So, it certainly was not a surprise to any super fan that Russ would step into a new Allegresso creation in 2008 and almost immediately, become competitive again. The team would come home with a second-place in the points trailing the Vic Miller-Chris Perley team which was on championship number 5. Wood, the then current championship king was back to challenge the “Rowley Rocket” with a third car owner, Holbrook.
In 2009, Wood came up with one feature win and a fourth place in points while Perley was burning up the tracks with five features and his now sixth-title, tying Wood’s mark.
Wood’s one goal that had always eluded him was winning the famed Oswego International Classic. In 2009, Jeff Holbrook had chosen mainly to race closer to home in non-winged Oswego competition while his team of three winged ISMA cars traveled far and wide. But, it was also decided that Wood would take the reins of Jeff’s “Oswego” car come Classic time. While Russ didn’t achieve his goal, he still had a fourth place in the tough 200-lap grind.
Said Holbrook during a recent interview after his first-ISMA title was in the books, “I think, had there been another yellow in that Classic, Russ might have won. He had over 7 gallons of fuel left, when everyone else was running out.”
Holbrook then went on to talk about his first-ever ISMA championship as a car owner. “I don’t think it’s sunk in yet, Everyone on the team is happy for someone else. Russ is happy to have won for me. I’m happy for Russ and Brian is happy for both of us. I just hope Russ plans on continuing next year. He’s always saying that I could find someone better. He never gives himself a lot of credit. Now, really – where else could I find a driver who has won 49 ISMA features (and 2 non-pointers), who never wrecks, is always consistent, and finishes toward the top, even if he doesn’t win?”
In turn, Russ was his usual humble self in victory lane after clinching the title at Thompson. “This race was awesome and it’s awesome to watch Chris race ahead of you. We had a tough battle going for the championship and I was waiting to see what would happen with the 84. But, it was a tough one for him. It’s been a tough year. My guys are great and nobody quit. Things just went our way and it’s pretty awesome to win the championship for Jeff Holbrook and the team.”
It hasn’t been all gravy for the 2010 championship team who didn’t came up to really challenge Lichty for the title until early August. Says Holbrook, “We’ve struggled with the car throughout the season. Things haven’t been as easy for Brian as they used to be. Everyone else has stepped up to the challenge and that makes it much harder.”
Russ certainly agreed with his car owner on that last statement. “This title was wasn’t totally expected. We hadn’t even led the points until late in the season. When Brian and I had won titles before, we sometimes had led the entire season.
“Earlier in the year we just wanted to win races. I think I was saving tires and being cautious to get those wins. Then we didn’t win a whole lot and the points started to get closer about three-quarters of the way through the season. It really became stressful. I started thinking about winning heats and getting points when we realized we had a mathematical chance. Then came Seekonk and we broke the motor. We figured we were done then. But, then Mike had his misfortunes and the tide turned at Thompson on Sunday. It was really nerve-wracking. This championship was mostly for Jeff. He had said a while ago that he’d like one. Brian and I have had our share. Jeff put in a great effort for this. We were happy to get it for him.
“I’d really like to thank Jeff, Woody’s, Jeff’s businesses, JWJ and Seabird Environmental, NEMRS, where they keep the cars, Brian and the whole crew. I couldn’t have done it without them,” said the veteran of 27 years of supermodified racing.
Will Russ be back to defend the title? “I never plan on next year this early. My son’s racing NEMA Lites and there is our business which is always hectic. But, then Chris will probably come back to try for his seventh, so I’ll have to come back…and then…” said Wood laughing as he speculated on 2011 and the future.
Russ’ car owner, Jeff Holbrook certainly hopes he will be back. “I’m thinking it would be great if Russ stayed a couple more years at least and then if he wanted to retire, I could have Russ Jr. take over. I’d love that!” , said Jeff emphatically.
The Holbrook team, not only won the championship, but claimed third place in the standings with pilot Robbie Summers. The third car, which did not run the full season, still finished 13th in the ISMA standings with Bob Magner the main man in the seat.
The ISMA Awards Banquet closes out the 2010 season on November 13 at Turning Stone Casino. Tickets may be purchased through ISMA, 315-668-0068 or email to Murphydmjm@aol.com.