Article reprinted from The Richmond Times-Dispatch
Photo by Robert Dennis
Racing has been good to Russ Ellis. You might even say it has been berry, berry good.
Ellis leads the Late Model Sportsman chase at Southside Speedway in a canary yellow Monte Carlo (No. 33). He's sponsored by his family business, Chesterfield Berry Farm.
Southside and the Berry Farm are two prime institutions along the Hull Street/Route 360 corridor west of Richmond.
Ellis, 27, has his heart in both.
"I've worked on the farm all my life. I've gone from driving the hay wagon to driving speed wagons [race cars]," he said with a laugh.
Ellis' mother, Betty Goode, and stepfather, Aaron Goode (a former crewman for Winston Cup racer Cecil Gordon), own the "pick your own" farm that specializes in strawberries, pumpkins and covered wagon hay rides for the tykes.
"I was driving the wagon by the time I was 8 years old," said Ellis, who lives on the farm with his wife Erin and infant daughter. "I've done about everything there is to do on the farm."
Ellis, whose full-time job is doing mechanical work at Broad Rock Muffler, is in his third year of racing at Southside.
He won Late Model rookie of the year in 2004 and was fourth in the final points standings last summer.
Through three races, he's first this season with 130 points, ahead of Chris Hoylman (112) and Dan Clatterbuck (110).
He's also 12th in the Modified Division, which runs on Fridays when the Late Model class is idle.
Ellis, who garages his race car on the farm, has a new crew chief (Rodney Goodman) and car owner (brother-in-law Richard Goode).
His father, George, is an active member of his crew. He notes he is no relation to Southside legend "Terrible" Tommy Ellis.
The Berry Farm had Ellis prove himself on Southside's demanding one-third mile, asphalt oval - known as "the toughest track in the south" - before he received any backing.
"The first year, they didn't lift a hand," he said of his family. "They made me show them I could do something before they stepped in."
Ellis has found more than fame and $1,000 first-place checks at his neighborhood track. He also discovered true love.
Veteran race aficionado John Bray took Ellis under his wing two years ago as his first crew chief. Ellis and the best friend of Bray's daughter's took a liking to each other.
In Hollywood style, the first time Erin came to a race, Ellis came in his second - his best finish at the time.
"It was a big deal," he said. "I got to speak on the track microphone afterward, and I told the crowd Erin was my good-luck charm. The next night we went out. . . . "
Ellis once was the leading rusher on the Clover Hill High junior varsity football team as a sophomore.
"But I stopped growing, and everyone got bigger," he said, adding he didn't play as a senior. "And I knew I wasn't going anywhere in football."
Now, he's going places, in a big hurry, in a race car. He has a shot at a track title - a berry good shot, indeed.