Family sacrifices keep Dugger racing at full throttle

Family sacrifices keep Dugger racing at full throttle
"Racing is a selfish sport by design," Owasso, Oklahoma's NASCAR hopeful, Russ Dugger, said. "It takes a lot of time away from family. And once you make it to the point you can have our family with you, it gets easier." But Dugger isn't to that point yet. He is basically getting started.

And "step one" may be at the ARCA Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 on Saturday, Feb. 6 at Daytona International Speedway. 

His wife Shelly will be by his side for that race, although his three children, Russel, 5, Dylan, 3, and Brooklynn, 2, will be at home.

"The biggest sacrifice for my wife is not so much having to deal with me climbing into that machine," Dugger said. "It's tough for me, but I get to get into the race car and get to go drive. Our oldest, Russel, said, 'Daddy, why do you always take mommy away?' It's tough. It's really tough for Shelly. She's mom."

Dugger tested at the famous Daytona track Dec. 19-20, and got to run laps with Danica Patrick, the Indy Car-turned-stockcar marketing machine. She will be making her stock car debut in the race Dugger is attempting to qualify for.

And Shelly was there with Russ during testing. She didn't go with Russ when he tested there in 2007. He was timid going around that famous track. He lifted his foot off the accelerator on the curves and was hesitant about going full bore.

But this time was different.

"Daytona is very intimidating," he said. "You can hold it wide open all the way around that racetrack. This time, I knew it was business and we didn't waste any time."

Dugger was very pleased with his runs during testing. His time was good enough to qualify for the Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200, and if he runs that well during qualifying on Feb. 5, he will be in the field for the race.

"My average speed was 179.667 m.p.h.," Dugger said. "We went 2 1/2 miles in 50 seconds. It's hard to put into words. It's a humbling experience. On Saturday, I was in the race car for 3 1/2 hours. We posted a good enough time to qualify for the race and run really well in the race in drafting conditions. I can't wait to get back in February."

Shelly wasn't as happy. Russ said his wife started out well, but eventually couldn't watch her husband run in a pack. After all, this was the track where Dale Earnhardt lost his life. And according to Dugger, the banking from the bottom of the track to the wall is three stories high.

"I can't put into words how nerve-wracking it is for a loved one to watch," Dugger said. "We got into a pretty dicey drafting group and I led a seven-car draft for 15 laps. Shelly began to figure out what the spotter's lingo was and what it meant. She figured out that if the spotter is constantly talking to me, then I'm constantly in traffic. It got the point where she got off the hauler and couldn't watch. When we came in after the run, Shelly met me at the pumps and helped me get unbuckled. She wanted me out of that car."

Russ and Shelly have been married for 10 years. They met when both were in the marching band at the University of Arkansas. He was a junior trumpet player and would later tour with the famed Air Force Band for five years. Shelly was a freshman clarinet player. They've been together ever since, although at times they've had to be apart. While Russ was touring with the Air Force Band, Shelly was working on her degree on her way to becoming a physical therapist. It was a long-distance love affair.

"We're really close because earlier in our relationship we had to rely on old-fashioned love and trust," Dugger said. "It seems like we've always had some type of sacrifice. She's an amazing woman. I don't know why she puts up with me sometimes. I'm not that good looking and she's gorgeous."

Dugger's second love is racing. And the chance at the biggest race of his life came together when Dugger met some of the right people. First, he hired an agent and finally got the attention of Mario Gosselin, the owner of DGM Racing out of Florida. He also got help from a local sponsor, Steve Todhunter, owner of Accell Construction in Claremore.

"I had been trying to put something together with that team [DGM] for three years," Dugger said. "Finally, it came together."

His agent from Champion Motorsports Marketing got the ball rolling, and his partnership with Accell made it happen.

"As a driver, I wasn't diverse enough," Dugger said. "So I hired an agent, and they were able to bring a lot more to the table for our potential sponsors. Because of [Todhunter] and his company and his generosity, he was willing to take a chance on somewhat of an unknown at a big racetrack like Daytona. It really means a lot."

He hopes the marriage of his racing partners will do as well as his marriage to Shelly.

The race will be shown live on the Speed Channel at 4:30 p.m. Eastern on Saturday, Feb. 6. Shelly will be by Russ's side, although she may be watching the race through her fingers.

"She asked me why I wanted it so bad," Dugger said. "I tell her it can put me in a situation where she won't have to worry about anything. We all have our dreams and goals and aspirations, and for whatever reason, some people choose not to pursue it. I want to be able to inspire other individuals not to say 'I'm too old' or 'not pretty enough' or 'not smart enough' and just go do it. Just give it a shot."

And that's exactly what Dugger is doing. He got his shot and wants to make the most of it - for his kids and for Shelly. He wants to give his wife the ultimate gift.

"This whole deal started out with me saying all I wanted is a shot," Dugger said. "If they say I'm not good enough, then I'll back off. As I kept going to the next level, I kept waiting for somebody to say 'stop.' Shelly loves those kids so much. I would love nothing more than to provide her a living that would allow her to stay home if she wants."

The ARCA Racing Series is featured in the media every day and "Family sacrifices keep Dugger running at full throttle" is just one recent example. This article originally appeared in the Owasso Reporter (Oklahoma) and was written by Sports Editor Rick Heaton.  

The 2010 ARCA Racing Series presented by RE/MAX and Menards kicks off with the Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 at Daytona Int'l Speedway on Saturday, February 6, 2010. The race is live on SPEED beginning at 4:30 p.m. Eastern.