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Native American team makes its NASCAR debut in a Ram

by Bill Cawthon on

Austin J. (AJ) Russell, 28, of Clovis, California, made his NASCAR debut in the Camping World Truck Series F.W. Webb 175 that ran today at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. At the same time, he was making history.

Russell was at the wheel of the No. 73 Ram sponsored by Sacred Power Motorsports, owner of the first top-level Native American NASCAR team. Russell himself is a member of the Cherokee nation of Oklahoma, courtesy of his maternal great-grandmother.

Sacred Power Motorsports is owned by David Melton of the Pueblo of Laguna tribe in New Mexico. Melton also owns Sacred Power Corporation, the largest Native American-owned solar integration company in the United States.

While this is Sacred Power’s first race, it is the result of years of preparation. Even so, the crew was working feverishly down to the wire to pull it off.

“I feel pretty good, but wish we weren’t as rushed,” Russell said on Friday from New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “We just got in a new truck and missed the first practice session setting it up. Since we only logged 68 laps in the second practice, we’re still working out the bugs.”

Russell joined SPM in 2007 after winning the East-West Supermodified Shootout in Concord, North Carolina. There he met Sacred Power’s marketing director, who later introduced him to Melton.

Russell began racing with quarter midgets and micros, then moved on to truck racing and then to 360 modifieds and supermodifieds. He has also competed in Indy Lights, USAC midgets and late models.

Today’s 175-lap race on the 1.058-mile oval was the longest of Russell’s career. He knew he would be up against seasoned drivers with more experienced crews, so his goal, and the Sacred Power team’s goal, was to complete the race with the truck intact. Russell came through on all counts, though he was the last to cross the finish line.

Russell hopes to be able to compete at the Smith’s 350 in Las Vegas on October 15 and the last two Camping World races of the 2011 season, the WinStar World Casino 350k at Texas Motor Speedway on November 4 and the Ford 200 at Miami-Homestead Speedway on November 18.

Parker Kligerman also raced at New Hampshire Motor Speedway today, finishing 18th in the No. 29 Penske Racing Ram. Kligerman fell one spot to ninth in the driver standings.

Bill Cawthon grew up in the auto industry in the 1950s. His Dad worked for Chrysler and Bill spent a number of Saturdays down on the plant floor at Dodge Main in Hamtramck. Bill is also the U.S. market correspondent for, a British auto industry publication, and a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association, which has named the Jeep Grand Cherokee the “SUV of Texas” several times and named the Ram 1500 as the “Truck of Texas” two years running.

Bill has owned five Plymouths (including the only 1962 “Texan”), one Dodge and one Chrysler and is still trying to figure out how to justify a Wrangler. He also has owned at least one of every 1:87 scale model of a Chrysler product. You can reach him directly at (206) 888-7324 or by using the form.

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