Drag Racing Online: The Magazine

Volume VIII, Issue 3, Page


Russell lawsuit, tire issues still plaguing Goodyear and NHRA

By Jeff Burk

On April 13, 2006, the next chapter in Julie Russell's lawsuit against the NHRA and Goodyear Tire and Rubber will be revealed. On that day a judge in the 274th Judicial District Court of Texas will make a Summary Judgment ruling that will decide whether Mrs. Russell will be allowed to take the NHRA, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, and Simpson Helmets Inc. to court over the death of her husband Darrell Russell.

Briefly, the issue, based upon the some 200 pages of documents filed on behalf of the NHRA, Goodyear, and Simpson, contend that Darrell Russell signed a standard NHRA restricted area release that absolves all of the three companies from any liability for anything that happens in the restricted areas of the track facility.

In an interview I conducted with Mrs. Russell’s lawyer, John Simpson Jr., he said that as he understands it the NHRA lawyers are of the opinion that the release all competitors and some of the press are required sign in order to gain access to and work in restricted areas prevents the signer from suing the NHRA for ANY reason. Mr. Simpson and his partners disagree and on April 13th a judge will determine which group is right.

After reading the court documents that DRO obtained from the County Clerk’s office, it appears that Goodyear’s tires and the NHRA’s management team will be the main subject of Mrs. Russell’s lawsuit if the judge rules in their favor.

In the meantime, the NHRA has put on a full-court press to keep any of their people from discussing or commenting on anything to do with the case, Goodyear tires, or any type of tire failure.

Reportedly, high-ranking NHRA tech officials have told teams that they simply can’t discuss the tire issue at all. However, in the same conversation they allegedly tell tuners their tune-up is causing their tire problems or that they are the only ones having problems. The verifiable fact is that many Top Fuel and Funny Car teams continue to have rear tire “chunking” problems. When crew chiefs have publicly expressed their concerns about the tires, they have been called on the carpet by the NHRA and reportedly by the manufacturer as well.

I placed a call to the NHRA’s VP of Public Relations and Communications, Jerry Archambeault, who told me, “We (the NHRA) don’t comment on ongoing litigation.”  I wouldn’t have expected anything else. That was the NHRA’s position regarding requests for comment on the Pro Stock Truck lawsuit.

It’s pretty easy to make a connection between the impending summary judgment concerning the Russell lawsuit and the NHRA’s clamping a lid on any information concerning the tire issue or the lawsuit, but I don’t blame any of the parties involved -- they are just taking their marching orders from the corporate lawyers. This lawsuit appears to be taking on the same tone and secrecy that surrounded the Pro Stock Truck lawsuit.

After wading through 200 pages of testimony, charges and counter charges pertaining to this lawsuit, the essence of it seems really simple to understand. Mrs. Russell and her lawyers contend that the NHRA and Goodyear Tire and Rubber basically forced Darrell Russell and all drivers and teams of nitro-burning cars to race on tires that they (Goodyear and NHRA) knew were unsafe, and denied that the tires were unsafe.

For their part, the NHRA, Goodyear, and Simpson contend that anyone who signs the restricted area release gives up all their rights, legal and constitutional. In part the Goodyear filing states (the important part for Goodyear, the NHRA and Simpson): “A party can expressly and knowingly waive a statutory, constitutional, or any other right so long as there is no violation of public policy or other law.”

If the judge decides in favor of Goodyear and the NHRA then the party is over. However, if Mrs. Russell and her lawyers get a ruling in their favor, this trial could get very interesting indeed for all of the parties named and unnamed in the lawsuit in a hurry. 

Attorney Simpson has said that he would immediately depose Graham Light -- and you can bet, since they are specifically identified in the lawsuit paperwork, the Goodyear engineers, Wayne Dupey, Ray Alley, Rich Shreck, and Don Taylor. You’d have to think every racer who has had a tire failure would be interviewed also.

There is a lot of interesting and potentially damaging information in the depositions of Joe Amato and Julie Russell, as well as the claims and counterclaims of all the parties’ lawyers. Should this case go forward I may talk about some of them, as the depositions are public information. If the case doesn’t go forward, then I’ll probably just let the subject go.

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Smart money believes that the Texas judge is probably going to rule in favor of the widowed Mrs. Russell. Her attorney told me that Goodyear just lost a case concerning one of their tire brands and had to pay $17,000,000 in damages. Mr. Simpson added that he doesn’t think the Russell case will ever get to court. For the sake of the sport I’d have to hope that he's right.

If this gets to court, like the truck lawsuit the case will probably drag out for an agonizing period of time and then the parties will settle out of court.

It is interesting that, according to Mr. Simpson, he was originally hired by Mrs. Russell to get the NHRA to give her a copy of the investigation and NHRA refused to do so. That is when Mr. Simpson and his law firm went to work for Mrs. Russell. This is the investigation that Graham Light promised would be forth-coming over a year ago.

“We asked about the investigation and the report and were told that not only have they not completed the investigation but even if they had, they wouldn’t release that information to us,” Simpson told me.

Maybe the NHRA should have sent a copy of the investigation they promised to conduct to Mrs. Russell along with a check. It’s still not too late.