In the motor racing lexicon, Jim Russell’s name will forever be attached to the racing school that launched countless careers – so much so that it’s easy to overlook his own driving achievements.
Russell, who died recently at the age of 98, was in his 30s when he was gripped by racing, following a 1952 visit to his local circuit, Snetterton. He began competing in 500cc F3 and established himself as a front-runner against drivers such as Stirling Moss, Stuart Lewis-Evans, Don Parker and Ivor Bueb. He went on to become BRSCC F3 champion in 1955 and retained the title for a further two seasons. He made his F1 debut in 1957, taking Gilby Engineering’s Maserati 250F to fifth place in the non-championship Glover Trophy at Goodwood. Although his racing horizons were expanding, however, he continued to compete in F3 until the end of 1958 and notched up more than 60 wins in the category before he bid it adieu.
A works Cooper driver in the late 1950s, he competed with distinction in F2 and sports cars. He finished fifth against a strong F2 field at AVUS in 1958, just ahead of fellow Cooper T45 driver Jack Brabham, and a fortnight later the pair took first and second at Montlhéry, with Russell once again ahead.
Although he began his 1959 campaign strongly, not least by leading a Cooper clean sweep of the top 15 places in the British Empire Trophy at Oulton Park, an accident at Le Mans that June left him seriously injured and he didn’t return to the cockpit until 1961, racing a Lotus 20 in Formula Junior. That lengthy absence hadn’t affected his speed – he recorded podium finishes, despite now being in his 40s, but after beating all the youngsters at Silverstone in May he decided to step away from racing to concentrate on developing the racing school he’d opened at Snetterton in 1957.
As well as giving many youngsters their start, it created a template that schools around the world would adopt. In that much Russell will always be remembered as a pioneer, but it should not be forgotten that he was also a driver of significant ability.
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