Troy Russell Leads Wes Distefano to Consistent Late-Round Finishes in PDRA Pro Outlaw 632

In every final round in $hameless Racing Pro Outlaw 632 competition during the 2020 and 2021 seasons (leading up to the last two races of 2021), there’s been one constant factor: Wes Distefano. The Michigan-based driver has appeared in every final round since the start of the 2020 season, and he won four of those 11 final rounds. It’s taken a near-flawless car to achieve that level of consistent success, and one of the people responsible for that flawlessness is Distefano’s crew chief, Troy Russell.

Russell started working with Distefano several years ago when Distefano called the chassis shop Russell was running at the time to perform some work on his previous Camaro. The plan was to run the car in Milan Dragway’s Outlaw 632 series.

[Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in DI #171, the Crew Chief Issue, in September of 2021.]

“I gave them an estimate, Wes and Dave [Swallow, Distefano’s stepfather] brought the car in, I got the work done when I said it was going to get done, and everything just snowballed from there,” Russell remembers. “I ended up doing a lot more work on the car at my personal shop. We took it to the track to test for the first time, and Dave asked me, ‘Hey, what do you think about doing this full time?’ It kind of went from there.”

Russell continued working at the chassis shop while working with Distefano on the weekends when Milan ran the Outlaw 632 program. When Distefano decided he wanted to take the next step up into the PDRA’s Pro Outlaw 632 class, Russell switched to working on smaller projects out of his personal shop so he could devote more time to the $hameless Racing operation.

At the 2019 season-opening East Coast Nationals at GALOT Motorsports Park, Distefano debuted his current ride, the Musi 632-powered $hameless Racing ’68 Camaro that was formerly known as Henry Dogay’s “Cajun Nightmare” Top Sportsman car. Distefano qualified third and lost to Johnny Pluchino in the final round. Two races later, he qualified No. 2 and lost to Pluchino in the final again. Towards the end of the season, he qualified No. 1 and won his first race at the Fall Nationals at Darlington. It seemed like a perfect weekend, but for Russell, there was more left on the table.

“Johnny [Pluchino] had the record at the time at 4.163,” Russell starts. “We went 4.166 [in the second round]. I missed the record by three thou. We ended up winning the race. That was our first PDRA win – everything was great, but as a crew chief, it hurt like hell missing the record by three thou when we knew it was there.”

That missed opportunity sweetened the deal when Distefano wrecked the record at the inaugural PDRA Doorslammer Derby in Bowling Green, Kentucky, earlier this year. Russell made wholesale changes to the car going into the weekend: engine, torque converter, transmission gearing, rear gear, and tires. The changes went into the race untested, as rain washed out Thursday testing. Still, Distefano ended up with the record after three rounds of qualifying.

“We come off the trailer, it goes 4.15,” Russell says. “We didn’t change the tuneup for all three qualifiers. I moved some weight in the car. It got a little aggressive and shook the tires in Q2. I moved a little bit of weight around for Q3 and it goes out there and goes 4.105. The planets aligned and everything did what it was supposed to. The .987 60-foot on that pass wasn’t even our quickest 60-foot of the weekend. To go out there and be able to run .980 60-foots in a car that weighed 2800 pounds at the time was just huge.”

Distefano went on to win the Doorslammer Derby, his first of three wins in the first six races of the 2021 PDRA season. His other wins came at the North vs. South Shootout at Maryland International Raceway and the Northern Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway. Outside of PDRA points races, Distefano also won the $15,000-to-win World Doorslammer Nationals at Orlando in March, as well as the $7,500-to-win Summit Racing Equipment PDRA ProStars race at Virginia Motorsports Park in late July.

According to Russell, a simple philosophy has taken the car from a hit-or-miss player to a constant final round hitter: don’t be your own worst enemy.

“The first year in the class, I think we could’ve won some more races,” Russell believes, “but it was always, ‘Oh, we’re racing so and so, we have to step up. We have to do this, we have to do that.’ Last year, we kind of started out doing that, then by the middle of the year it was like, “You know what, this is what we’re running. Make everybody else catch us.’ At the last race at Pennsylvania, we qualified No. 1, we ran 4.19 first round, 4.22 second round, and 4.23 in the semis. We came back to the pit, I did my maintenance and I shut the laptop and I didn’t touch it for the final. And it goes out there and goes 4.22.”

Along with working to make Distefano a front runner in Pro Outlaw 632, Russell has played a critical role in bringing Vinny LaRosa and his “Feather Duster” ’71 Duster up to speed. Russell met LaRosa and his team, Aaron Cashwell and Clyde Lovette, at the 2019 GALOT spring race and hit it off after the trio helped Russell rebuild an engine overnight. He started helping them with the chassis setup before eventually offering to rebuild the car.

“We went 4.40s with the car, but it wasn’t what it needed to be to be competitive in 632,” Russell says. “I got with Vinny and said we can redo this thing and make it right. We got together, worked on a price, and he brought the car over. It was a complete running car when it rolled into the garage. I cut the body off the chassis, set the body on my chassis table and started bending up tubes.”

LaRosa has progressed since bringing the car out earlier this season. After running a .982 60-foot time in testing at Coastal Plains Dragway ahead of Proline Racing PDRA DragWars presented by Modern Racing, Russell is eager to see what LaRosa can do at the final two races of the season.

Russell is quick to credit Distefano, Swallow and the rest of the team for their respective roles in the team’s success. Specifically, Russell’s wife, Shawne, is a key player in the operation, from the late nights back at Russell’s shop in Ohio to the long hours at the track.

“Without her doing what she’s doing, I couldn’t do this,” Russell says. “Actually, in the chassis shop I worked in, she ran the office and I ran the shop part of it. So we’ve worked together for going on seven years now between the chassis shop and the race team. And she races also. She has the background. She can look at the time tickets, she can look at the Racepak. She spends time going over data, I spend time going over data. It helps to have somebody there at home that you can bounce stuff off of. You look at the big data while you’re at the track, then you go home and analyze everything.

“It’s nice,” Russell continues. “Like everybody else, we have our problems, but when it comes to the car, we do what we need to do and we get it done.”

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