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Tue, 26 Sep 2000, 10:40 AM

Froscher's Forum
By Norm Froscher





You may not be familiar with the name, but you'd certainly think members of the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters (AARWBA, or pronounced Aruba) would be and it's with them I'm voicing my displeasure.

The name is Bob Russo and apparently it's completely new to some. What a shame.

So bear with me a minute.

Just as several racing venues and motorsports press associations have their own halls of fame, so does AARWBA.

Never mind that AARWBA chooses to call its shrine Legends in Racing, it's still a Hall of Fame, into which members vote for whom they feel is deserving. There is a Historic Driver, two modern era categories and Historic Non-driver and Active Driver and non-driver divisions.

It honors previous past achievers and modern era legends in ALL forms of motorspors, from drag racing to sprint cars and from stock cars to Indy cars and any stops in between.

The late Russo made an impact in several of those venues, beginning in Indy car and moving on to drag racing and later to off road racing, Indy Cars and Danny Sullivan and even organized the grand opening of the NHRA Motorsports museum in Pomona.

Not only the founder, he was charter president of the AARWBA and the guiding force.

What a shame. Not only that Russo did not qualify on the first Hall of Fame ballot on which he was eligible by gaining the certain percentage of votes required, but to compound the injustice, the number of votes cast in his behalf was published.

Sixty. That's right, sixty. Out of an organization which numbers nearly 600 members, he received sixty votes out of the 473 or so who voted.

So who received more?

Well Roger Penske received 80 and was voted in. Car builder A.J. Watson received 76, but missed, as did legendary Andy Granatelli (71), then came Russo.

What a shame.

The very founding father of the organization is an also ran.

But, what about his achievements?

*** *** ***

Glad you asked.

I first met Bob Russo back in 1971, when was doing the public relations work for the then fledgling National Hot Rod Association and its president and his close friend, a guy named Wally Parks.

Russo passed away at 71 last Sept. 17 leaving his wife of 30 years, Shirley, a daughter, grandson and granddaughter.

Of his friend, Parks said:

"We owe Bob more than we can ever repay. I'm sorry we didn't have the foresight to honor him more often during the time he was deeply involved in our sport."

In those early days PR types didn't have e-mail to zip out to everyone in the world, Russo took it upon himself to make personal contact with all the media when he'd come into a National Event community maybe only two to three days in advance of a race.

Before the Gatornationals, for instance, he'd be in Gainesville his first day, visit Jacksonville the next and finally Orlando and Tampa the second or third. Then be on hand to file releases during the race.

That was when I first met him, and learned to my delight he was a former Marine and we hit it off immediately.

"Yeah, I flew a F4U," he said in reply to my question if he'd ever flown a Corsair, the beautiful gull-winged fighter which I had serviced during my stint.

Bob stepped away from racing briefly to become active with the Anaheim team in the (ahem) World Football League. But he soon returned to racing, which he served in various track positions to spokesman for teams, including that Mickey Thompson Off-Road Series.

Bob Russo was what a newsman, a driver/owner or a sanctioning body president would want a pr guy to be, and he was extremely popular.

Don't take my word for it alone. Listen to Shav Glick, the ageless motorsports writer for the Los Angeles Times:

"Bob Russo was a living legend among motor sports publicists when I entered the racing field in 1969. And from then, he only added to the legend."

*** *** ***

On the lighter side, allow me to pass along a couple of anecdotes on Russo, the first from long-time friend and associate Deke Houlgate and the second, mine.

"Arriving at Indianapolis Airport with his friend Bud Tucker prior to a race, Bob rushed to the baggage line to pick up his blue and green plaid suitcase. After an hour of fighting traffic, they finally arrived at the hotel and Russo opened the red and yellow plaid suitcase, which was filled with womenís clothes," Houlgate laughs.

"Tucker said how in the world did you mistake that for your bag? Russo said, 'oh, you didn't know? I'm color blind."

Personally, the last time I saw Bob was at the AARWBA Hall of Fame banquet on the Queen Mary at Long Beach, Calif. The banquet was started in the convention center, but when emcee Dave McClelland announced calmly there'd been a threat against the building, everyone moved aboard the ship, where there was a free open bar.

There were about five ladies, including my wife, sitting side-by-side, chatting, but obviously concerned about the developments. Here came Russo, always the good PR man with a sense of humor.

"Hey, I know what you ladies like," he cracked with a smile, then turned on his heels, flipped his suitcoat flaps above his waist and rear-end and walked away to the laughter.

Hey, Bob, we miss you. And dadgummit, we want to see you in the AARWBA Hall of Fame next year.

(Norm Froscherís opinions are not necessarily those of FastNews, Roger Penske, all except 60 members of AARWBA or members or the World Football League)



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