Paul Russo

10/4/1914 - 23/7/1976

Record updated 10-Apr-07

Part of midget racing's famous 'Chicago Gang' Paul Russo started racing in 1934. In 1938 he won the AAA Eastern Midget Championship. He became a regular at the Indianapolis 500, starting 14 times and led the 1956 and 1957 races. He co-drove with Tony Bettenhausen Sr. to 2nd place in 1955 and placed 4th in 1957.

Paul Russo
Paul Russo started in Midget racing in 1934 and was part of a contingent of drivers who journeyed to Hawaii to race during the winter of 1934-35.

In 1938 won the the first race held at the famous Nutley Velodrome in New Jersey and went on to win the AAA Eastern Midget Championship.

After 1938 he became a regular in the Indianapolis 500, starting 14 times, and led the 1956 and 1957 races with one of the famed Novis.

In 1946 he drove the Fageol Twin Coach 'Special' at the 1946 Indy '500'. This car was based on Harry Miller's ill-fated 1935 front-wheel drive Ford Adventure. The 11 year old drive systems were combined with small-block Offenhauser engines and placed at either end of the car's chassis, creating a four-wheel drive Indy racer. One 4 cylinder, 91 cubic Offy powerplant was connected to the rear wheel, while another identical Offy engine was carried conventionally in front and drove the front wheels. Both engines were Supercharged with Roots-type blowers and were connected together only by throttle linkage, which could be disconnected to isolate an engine in an emergency.

As Fageol was the manufacturer of the Fageol Twin Coach, a twin engine, he named the car the Fageol Twin Coach Special. The 1.59-litre Offy engines came from midget racing but their stroke was decreased to give a capacity of 1.47 litres. Combined they remained eligible for the supercharged capacity rules of the time, and so thebus engines were blown in European fashion using Roots superchargers, which were less peaky than the American centrifugal superchargers. The two engines shared a throttle linkage but could be split and disconnected.

Although heavier that the competition the four wheel drive concept and good balance saw Russo qualify in second with an average of 126.183mph, just fractionally slower than pole-winner Cliff Bergere's.

Unfortunately in the race the finned Fageol RaceCar crashed heavily. Running near the front on lap 16 Russo hit a patch of oil possibly left behind by an Alfa Romeo and slid into the wall. He was carried away with a broken leg. The Fageol Twin Coach Special reapperaed at Indy in 1948 driven by Bill Cantrell.

In a pre-arranged agreement, he co-drove with his old friend Tony Bettenhausen, Sr. to 2nd place in the 1955 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. He placed 4th in 1957 and was 8th in both 1949 and 1954. In 1941, 1950 and 1959 he finished 9th.

His 9th place in the 1950 Indianapolis 500 was in the Russo-Nichels Special. Paul Russo and Ray Nichels constructed the car in the basement of Russo's Hammond, Indiana home during the winter of 1949-1950. Qualifying on the 7th row, the Russo-Nichels Special captured the imagination of the American racing public by running with the leaders for much of the day, before the rain-shortened race ended at 345 miles. The Russo-Nichels Special soon became affectionately known as “Basement Bessie” as it was campaigned on the AAA Championship Trail during the 1950 season. After rain shortened the race, Russo headed to Union Station in downtown Indianapolis and immediately traveled to St. Louis, where he competed in a midget race that night at Walsh Stadium. Russo missed the opportunity to win the National Championship only after a season-ending injury in the November AAA Indy car race in Phoenix.

Russo was a part of midget racing's famous “Chicago Gang,” which included such drivers as Jimmy Snyder, Tony Bettenhausen Duke Nalon, Wally Zale, Emil Andres and Cowboy O’Rourke.

Always a crowd favorite, he died on February 13, 1976 while in Florida for the Daytona 500.