View from the Stands (12/09/2013)
by Eric Arnold, Knoxville Raceway Track Historian, Blogger, & Twitter Commentator
An interview with Russ Hall
Like most racers, Russ Hall comes from a racing family. His grandfather was Bert Sonner, brother of Knoxville Raceway Hall of Famer Gil Sonner. Bert was killed in a racing accident at Knoxville in 1974. Russ is 33 years old, a husband, and a father of three children. He has been racing a sprint car for seven seasons now, but growing up he raced go-karts and was the kid listening in the corner while the old guys talked in the race shop. He has won two 360 features at Knoxville and has three career wins with the Sprint Invaders, and this year they won the Sprint Invaders series championship. It was time to catch up with this guy after a successful 2013 season.
EA: When did you first start racing?
RH: I began racing in go-karts when I was 8 years old in Des Moines at the fairgrounds in the dome. I raced go-karts all the way through high school.
EA: Who were some drivers that you looked up to or influenced you growing up?
RH: Mike Pinckney was the first driver I really admired. I called him Uncle Pike and I grew up in his neighborhood. My uncle Gil had some drivers like Jimmy Grafton that I really liked. I actually admired mechanics more than drivers as a kid because I spent a lot of time with those guys. We would go to coffee with my uncle and we would see Lenard McCarl, John Leverenz, Bob Dyer, and a bunch of those local legends, that’s what I call them anyway. John Leverenz won the Knoxville Nationals with Joe Saldana. I followed those guys around a lot. As I got older I wanted to be a driver though and I was lucky enough that Terry McCarl befriended me. He would call my Mom and ask to get me out of school early on Friday so we could go race up at Spencer or someplace like that. He would pick me up with the truck and trailer at school and we would be gone!
EA: That sounds awesome!
RH: Yeah it was!
EA: And then you traveled with the Outlaws for a while as a crew member correct?
RH: Yeah, once I graduated in 1999 I went out on the road to work with my uncle Gilbert and the 47 car on the World of Outlaws when Daryn Pittman was driving for him, so that is pretty cool that Daryn ended up winning the championship this year. The next year I moved to Indianapolis and worked for Bud Kaeding on the USAC tour. I came home after that and got back into go-kart racing and we started our Skillz Motorsports team. In 2006 I went back out on the road with Terry McCarl for a season.
EA: So you must have liked the road to keep going back out there.
RH: I loved that lifestyle at the time. I’ve seen both sides of the fence though where some nights after the races we were lucky we had enough money to eat. And I had times where money wasn’t ever problem. I think that’s helped me with my own team and career. I know what it takes and what I need to have to compete at those levels.
EA: Your first race at Knoxville in a sprint car was the last night of the season at Knoxville in 2006 right?
RH: Yep! At the end of 2006 with Terry, part of my pay and my bonus at the end of that season was that I was going to get a rolling chassis from his team. So at the end of 2006 my Dad and I saved up some money and we bought a 360 motor and we put it in that car and went racing. There was an Outlaw show at Knoxville at the end of the season and we raced one night just to see what we could do. That was a long winter itching to get back racing! So then we came back in 2007 at Knoxville and once we made some laps we started going pretty good.
EA: Looks like you did well in the 360 Nationals in 2007 as a rookie.
RH: We did, and that’s been my best finish in the 360 Nationals as well that first year (laughs). We drove from 16th to fourth in the feature on our qualifying night, and finished sixth in the B-Main on Saturday night.
EA: Most local 360 teams don’t travel as much you do.
RH: We raced 38 or 39 times this year. I love racing at Knoxville but I want to race more than 16 nights a year, so we race the whole Sprint Invaders series, some ASCS and Warrior shows, and we went to East Bay in Florida this year and to Devil’s Bowl, so we definitely do some traveling and hope to do some more this next year. Our team is just me and my Dad (Roger), we try to race at Knoxville every weekend and when there is a race close by we usually go to it.
EA: You finished seventh in Knoxville point this year, but it looks like you missed a couple of races at Knoxville this season.
RH: We missed one show in the middle of the season, and then season championship night, but the point race was pretty much over with and we had some family stuff going on. My grandparents have a big fish fry every year and my Dad and I always miss it with racing, so this year we went to their party to see family, but I was on my phone checking updates a lot (laughing).
EA: Talk about your season with the Sprint Invaders, it was impressive.
RH: We won the Sprint Invaders championship this year, they had 14 races and we finished in the top four 12 of those nights with them, one night we blew a tire, and another night we had motor problems while leading the dash or we might have been up front in the other two races. So it was a really good season there.
EA: 410, 360, costs of racing, do you want to move up, what are your thoughts?
RH: Right now I don’t have much choice but to keep racing with the 360. I really want to move up to the 410 class, that’s my goal, but I don’t want to buy a used $18,000 engine and struggle to qualify at Knoxville. Qualifying is half the battle and if we can’t be competitive it’s not worth chasing the points there. If I was able to buy a 410 that was top of the line I would love to move up, without hesitation, but it’s the cost that keeps us out of that for now. But with the 360 shows we can travel and recover our costs almost every night and that helps us to race at Knoxville. We know if we don’t win at Knoxville regularly we won’t break even there, but we don’t mind that because the facility and competition is the best in the country. This year we were able to race well enough that the car paid for itself so it was a good year. Our qualifying effort this year was horrible, but our motor is built to run 30 nights and it did, but because of that we weren’t able to qualify well at Knoxville, but we made the most of it and passed a lot of cars in the features. I ran one motor 36 out of the 39 nights and we ended up with 17 top fives, and I don’t know how many top ten’s, but it’s tough to compete with guys who have an engine built to last 18 nights and we want to run twice that many races in a season. I wish we were in the position to have a second motor just for Knoxville but the funds aren’t there. Our goal is to get a 410 motor and race at Knoxville full-time in a year or two, but if that doesn’t happen we will stay with the 360.
EA: Any prospects for sponsors to help you next year?
RH: Maybe. The new MavTV package is hopefully going to attract some more sponsorship for us, I just talked to a guy who was interested after hearing that news. To have the weekly racing on national TV will be huge.
EA: I take it you have a real job?
RH: I work in Indianola for Moffit trenching.
EA: Any hobbies outside of racing?
RH: My family is my world outside of racing. I have three kids, my oldest daughter Kelsey is 12 years old and she is into softball so that keeps us busy in the spring. My daughter Rilynn is 3, and my son Ryder is 2. They keep Nicole (wife) and I busy!
EA: Who are some people who helped you this year?
RH: Our partners this year are Waterfront Seafood Market, Kulow Trucking, Northtown Motors, Schnee Chassis, Ostrich Racing Engines, Tom Davis Automotive, Des Moines Industrial Products, Midland Performance, Ballistic Designs, HRP, Jim’s Johns, R&L Racing Shocks and Jocko’s.
Russ Hall has become a good driver in the 360 ranks and traveling to so many different tracks and getting more laps has certainly honed his skills as a driver. As he mentioned, qualifying was a struggle this year at Knoxville as his season average qualifying finish was 13.5 but his feature average finish was 8.8 and he racked up 10 top ten finishes in 12 nights. At the Knoxville banquet a few weeks ago he won a new chassis and was awarded the 360 hard charger for passing the most cars. I look for good things out of Russ Hall in 2014 as they change from the 45c car number back his original number of 29.
*Eric can be contacted at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @_EricArnold.
*The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and not necessarily those of Knoxville Raceway.