LEWIS CENTER, Ohio (Jan. 21, 2019) - Clay Russell, of Spartanburg, S.C., was named the 48th recipient of the RRDC Mark Donohue Award. This unique award is presented annually by the Road Racing Drivers Club for outstanding performance, competitiveness and sportsmanship during the amateur Sports Car Club of America National Championship Runoffs. It is voted on by RRDC members attending the Runoffs and/or viewing them live on the Internet.
In his fourth attempt to win the Runoffs, Russell pulled off his first victory driving his No. 31 Angry Llama/SVN/Comprent Motorsports Spec Racer Ford in the 55th SCCA National Championship Runoffs at Sonoma Raceway (Oct. 16-21, 2018). The win, in the Spec Racer Ford Gen3 class, gave him his first Runoffs podium finish, along with a fourth- and a sixth-place finish since 2015.
Qualifying on the pole of the 36-car field, the 26-year-old Russell forged a battle with No. 2 qualifier Mike Miserendino, swapping the lead four official times at the stripe and several more unofficially during the 20-lap, caution-free race. The pair weaved through traffic to set up a final-lap showdown.
In the lead, Russell held off Miserendino in two key passing zones, positioning his car cleanly, defensively and perfectly. Miserendino had no choice but to brake late, locking up his tires and aborting the attempt to pass Russell. Russell then drove on to take the win.
Russell, who started racing a BMW at track days at Carolina Motorsports Park while in high school, admitted this was the best race of his life. "I was a big underdog going out there," he said. "Everyone overlooked me coming out West. There are a bunch of good drivers, like Mike Miserendino, Bobby Sak, Tordy Acker, who are from California. Sonoma is one of their home tracks.
"Sonoma is a technical track. I actually prefer technical tracks, which rely more on your skill instead of drafting like at Indianapolis, VIR (Virginia International Raceway), or Road America, where drafting is really important. At Sonoma drafting doesn't really count for much at all.
"So, to race head-to-head with Mike Miserendino and pull off the win is pretty exciting.
"I knew I had the skill and the temperament to win. I'm a pretty patient driver in the car."
Russell became the only driver of the weekend to claim the SCCA Super Sweep award, which requires a Majors Conference Championship, Hoosier Super Tour point title and a Runoffs win - all in the same class.
The RRDC award is named for RRDC member and former president Mark Donohue, who won his first National Championship in the SCCA E Production class in 1961, and then went on to become one of the U.S.A.'s greatest racing drivers. He won the Indy 500, the Can-Am Championship, three Trans-Am Championships, and the IROC Championship.
"It's a big honor to get an award named after Mark Donohue," Russell continued. "He was a great guy and a great racer. It means a lot to me to receive this award from the Road Racing Drivers Club."
Russell was born and raised in Spartanburg, attended the university of South Carolina, and briefly worked with Porsche N.A. in Atlanta. Today he sells commercial real estate in Greenville, S.C., for SVN / Blackstream.
His future goals in his racing career include defending his Hoosier Super Tour title at VIR, testing a stock car, and considering a move to IMSA competition. He's single and shares his driving and life experiences with his dog Trout.
RRDC president Bobby Rahal, a Runoffs champion (1975 Formula B) long before he won the 1986 Indianapolis 500, emphasized the RRDC Mark Donohue Award is "about personal spirit and performance behind the wheel. Those qualities are more important for this award than winning the race," he said. "The RRDC honors Clay not only for his outstanding drive to win, but for his passion for the sport he's embraced and for being so cool under pressure."
Every year, the RRDC Mark Donohue trophy is an engraved glass top mounted on a special, racing-experienced wheel, provided by an RRDC member. This year's wheel was donated by the Rahal Letterman Lanigan IndyCar team. It's a rear wheel produced and put into service in 2011 and used in numerous IndyCar events, Including several Indy 500s by team driver Graham Rahal. It has been signed by both Graham and Bobby Rahal.
Russell will be presented the award at the annual RRDC members' dinner in Daytona Beach, Fla., on January 23, 2019.
About the RRDC:
The Road Racing Drivers Club was formed in 1952 as a way to give champion drivers a say in their sport, particularly in the areas of safety, and has evolved to serve the future of road racing by mentoring new drivers on both amateur and professional levels. The Club's membership includes leading industry professionals, race officials and motorsports journalists, in addition to prominent racing names.
In 2011, the RRDC launched a free on-line training seminar - SAFEisFAST.com - featuring RRDC members and other industry experts in high-quality videos covering subjects from physical and mental preparation to driving techniques, driver safety to car setup and sponsorship. The videos are updated regularly. Each week, a professional from the world of motor racing answers readers' questions on the site in a feature called "Ask a Pro." To date, more than 550,000 racers in 171 countries have viewed nearly three million video tutorials in 70 languages.
In 2017 The Mark Donohue Foundation, a 501c3 organization, was formed to support the SAFE is Fast program and to help ensure its operations. www.rrdc.org/mark-donohue-foundation/.
Bobby Rahal is President, John Fergus is Vice President/Treasurer, and Tom Davey is Secretary.
The RRDC presents three annual awards: the Phil Hill Award, the Mark Donohue Award, and the Bob Akin Award, and supports the Team USA Scholarship, which has been assisting young Americans in the early stages of their careers since 1990. The RRDC also honors icons of the sport at its annual dinner at the Long Beach (Calif.) Grand Prix. Honorees have been Dan Gurney, Parnelli Jones, Roger Penske, Jim Hall, Brian Redman, Mario Andretti, Bobby Unser, George Follmer and Emerson Fittipaldi.
Membership in the RRDC is by invitation only. For more information, visit www.rrdc.org.
Photo: Spec Racer Ford Gen3 driver Clay Russell on his way to a 2018 Runoffs win at Sonoma Raceway.
Photo Credit: Jay Bonvouloir