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Jim Russell, 1920-2010


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#1 Cheater

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Posted 12 December 2010 - 09:45 AM

Just learned from a post over at OWH that Jim Russell has passed away.

No further info at this time...

Gregory Wells

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#2 TSR

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Posted 12 December 2010 - 09:48 AM

It was unfortunately expected. Bless his soul. Here is a man who was instrumental in our hobby.
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#3 havlicek

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Posted 12 December 2010 - 09:53 AM

There can't be anyone who did slots back then who didn't have or want Russkit stuff and I had a boatload. "Russkit" was almost synonymous with slots and even though I of course didn't know him, the news makes me kind of sad. RIP

-john
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#4 Howie Ursaner

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Posted 12 December 2010 - 10:22 AM

This news makes me sad. I got to meet with Jim and talk i think at the mail in proxy race at BP. It was special and I think of it often.

Jim was a great guy who did a lot. We will all miss him.
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#5 MG Brown

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Posted 12 December 2010 - 10:32 AM

I am sorry to hear of Jim's passing. He was a true innovator, gentleman, and we could certainly use his enthusiasm today.

It is worth noting that the 1:1 racing world will surely remember that in December 1965 Jim purchased one of the original Pete Brock designed Cobra Daytona coupes, chassis number CSX2287, from Carroll Shelby for $4500. This car would later be sold to Phil Spector and after many bizarre twists and legal battles over ownership, was at one time valued at over $3 million in its unrestored condition.
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#6 Duffy

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Posted 12 December 2010 - 11:54 AM

Nothing to add, just that I share the loss. The Russkit name just runs all across the visual landscape of my memories.

Another bit of the CSX2287 story--Greg Holland documented the car's racing career in a great article on the VSRN site.

Duffy
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#7 Buzz-A-Rama

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Posted 12 December 2010 - 12:19 PM

For those who missed the opportunity of knowing Jim Russell in the heydays of slot car racing, he was a true gentlemen and a fine human being and I was priviledged in knowing him plus doing business with his company. Along with his many visits to my raceway in Brooklyn, NY, and the many times I'd meet with him at the New York Toy Fair shows each Feburary, he will surely be missed. The slot car world has lost a great man. Condolences go out to his family and especially his son who will follow in his footsteps.

Godspeed, Jim Russell. I am so happy that I knew you personally and that you were part of my life.

Buzz
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#8 Tex

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Posted 12 December 2010 - 12:27 PM

R.I.P., Jim.
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#9 Gus Kelley

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Posted 12 December 2010 - 02:13 PM

Hey, Jim! R.I.P. Few of us knew you but YOU were one of the "BIG" pioneers behind this hobby in its infancy.

Everyone will miss you.

Gus in Sacto
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#10 TSR

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Posted 12 December 2010 - 02:38 PM

These are extracts from my new book, that I have placed here in honor of Jim:
 

 

Jim Russell was a business consultant in Los Angeles and had been dabbling with the new hobby since 1959. That year, 34 year old Jim Russell was looking for something to do on a weekend when a friend introduced him to a novel new hobby called slot car racing. Russ, as everyone calls him, was hooked. A visit to Hollywood Raceway, one of the nation's first commercial slot racing centers, inspired him and friend John Tyler, a hobby shop owner, to build a multi-lane routed track in his den. They used Strombecker cars, modified for higher performance. This was an instant success in the neighborhood, and the need for better parts became obvious. A small accident that dropped some Behr varnish over one of his models convinced Russell to market the polyurethane coating to protect the finish on slot car bodies, so he founded Russkit in November 1963.
....

Quoting his son Steve: "At one of the races that year, Jim was talking with Carroll Shelby who mentioned that they were getting ready to crush the Cobra Daytona Coupes that had been so successful in GT racing over the prior two years. Jim offered to buy the original coupe, chassis number CSX2287 (that Craig Breedlove had used to break some speed records at Bonneville after that year's successful racing season, in which Shelby trounced the Ferrari GTO/LMs. Biggest problem was to get all the salt out of the car) to use it for promotional display at the west coast races during the year. Shelby agreed and sold the car to Jim for $4,500. Strictly in the interest of saving money you understand, Jim hit on the idea of converting the car to street legality so it could be driven to the races instead of needing a trailer. This meant that Jim would have to make the ultimate sacrifice of driving the car on the street. Stepping into the breech, he steadied himself and drove the car back and forth to work many times while he had it. The sound of this 200 MPH supercar firing up in the driveway would bring kids out of the neighboring houses just to see it pass. Unfortunately, the slot car craze was waning and the slot car shops that at one point nearly outnumbered bowling alleys, began to close. And by 1968 the market was in a full nose dive. The Daytona Coupe was sold in 1967 to music impresario Phil Spector (Wall of Sound, Righteous Brothers, celebrity party-er, noted gunman) to meet payroll. Selling price: $12,500. (This very same car recently sold for $4,500,000.)

Finally, in 1969, Jim closed Russkit. He liquidated the assets and was able to pay off almost all of his debts. Charles Diker, (VP of Nabisco and President) of Aurora Plastics Company approached him and wanted Jim to work in New York and sell Aurora the patents on the Russkit controller. This contract allowed Jim to pay off the Russkit debt and set the stage for the creation and stunning growth of the AFX line of HO racing models.

 

Jim, Godspeed, it was a honor to have known you.


Philippe de Lespinay


#11 Prof. Fate

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Posted 12 December 2010 - 03:53 PM

Hi

I have told the story, but it is a good one. Back in the late '50s I was the only slot car racer I knew. When I got back from the Philippines in '63, I had still not met another racer. I wrote Jim Russell and he wrote me long letters explaining things, finding me contacts, and bits for a couple years. By hand.

One result is that I "return the favor" by spending whatever time is necessary with the kids and novices. He was a good example.

Fate


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#12 Alchemist

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Posted 12 December 2010 - 06:31 PM

That's sad to hear. He might be gone but he definitely will be remembered!!!

Ernie

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#13 loudspeaker

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Posted 12 December 2010 - 07:07 PM

Hi,

Sad to hear that this great man has passed. It was an honor and privilege to have known and worked for him. Clearly, he made a tremendously positive impact on my life and I'm sure on many others as well.

Sandy
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#14 macman

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Posted 12 December 2010 - 07:17 PM

So passes a beloved legend... Long live his memory.
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#15 HarV Wallbanger III

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Posted 12 December 2010 - 10:43 PM

I only got to meet Jim one time many years ago and he was a great asset to all of slot racing and a very nice guy.

RIP, Jim.


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#16 Big E

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Posted 13 December 2010 - 11:16 AM

I, too, had the extreme pleasure of spending a few hours of my life talking one on one with Mr. Jim Russell. I have documented this elsewhere in the pages of Slotblog, and won't go into repeating myself here, just to say - "ThankyYou, Jim, for spending time with me, and for all you have done to make our hobby (and our lives by association to it) more rich and enjoyable.

Rest in peace, a friend to us all, a gentleman to the end".

– Ernie Finamore
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#17 Steve Deiters

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Posted 13 December 2010 - 12:27 PM

I was saddended to learn of the passing of Jim Russell also. I had heard that he had not been in good health for quite some time.

He was certianly a giant of the industry in the early days who had that unique combination of spot-on promotion sense coupled with long range vision. Who would have thought the the basic concept of the Russkit controller would still by the controller of choice all most 50 years later?

I had the pleasure of meeting Jim on several occasions when I worked for a slot racng wholesaler when I was in high school and college in the late '60s and early '70s. Always the gentleman, impeccable dresser, and had a voice made for radio. Always treated everyone as an equal which is a quality that is experienced with less and less frequency these days.

A life well-lived is measured by the legacy it leaves. His family and many friends in the hobby community are in my thoughts.
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#18 Keith Tanaka

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Posted 13 December 2010 - 05:07 PM

Jim Russell's Team Russkit was the reason I started racing slots in '66. Team Russkit (Mike Morrissey, Ron Quintana, Rick Durkee) stopped by my local track (Checkered Flag in Torrance, CA) in '66. They did some demo racing with their scratchbuilt cars. I was amazed at how fast their cars were going on the reverse King type track. From that day on, I was excited to try scratchbuilding and hopefully someday race.

Team Russkit was actively involved in the Rod and Custom race series in '66. I believe Jim Russell's involvement in slot car racing was key to growing this part of the hobby.

RIP, Jim, we'll miss your presence but will always remember your efforts in helping start slot car racing in the '60s which has now come full circle to become Retro racing today.

Keith :rolleyes:
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Team Rolling Hills circa '66-'68


#19 Phil Hackett

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Posted 13 December 2010 - 05:53 PM

A little story about Jim Russell:

Russkit was located in a small industrial park within a three-minute walk from my house. The park was pretty much unattended during the weekends and evenings, so my friends and I would take our minbikes, go-karts, and moto-x bikes and even walk our dogs in the area and make maximum noise and mayhem there.

Somewhere along the way, one of us noticed the "Russkit" name and put 2+2 together.

One day I had nothing better to do so I went down to Russkit's place and hung around outside the loading dock. A short time later a blue and white-striped Daytona Cobra drives up and two men get out... The driver says to me, "Wait here, I'll be out to talk to you." About 20 minutes later he asks me to come up to the loading dock and points to a big pile of cardboard boxes. "Here's a knife. I want you to cut these boxes up and fold them up and then put them in the trash dumpster. Have someone inside come and get me when you're done."

I must have impressed him because he couldn't believe I had broken the boxes down that fast. So he says to me, "Wait here", and disappeared inside. What seemed like forever, he came back out and handed me a fully-built two-motor car (Spyder?). You'd thought I hit the lottery! I was so jazzed.

So, while many others who knew Jim Russell well, my only meeting with him was as a 12-year old who had a slot car obsession.

I will always remember that day and the kindness he had towards me. I'm sure I wasn't the only one.

RIP, Jim Russell.
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#20 n9949y

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Posted 13 December 2010 - 09:37 PM

He is remembered.

66RusskitPorsche.jpg

66RusskitPorschechassis.jpg


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#21 olderracer

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Posted 15 December 2010 - 11:46 PM

A true loss. Jim Russell will be remembered for as long as slot car motors whine.

A true gentleman. RIP. Mr. Russell.

---------------Jack


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#22 Cobbler

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Posted 17 December 2010 - 12:50 PM

The legend will never die.

 

RIP, Jim.


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#23 Champion 507

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Posted 17 December 2010 - 09:38 PM

Jim was to slot cars what Richard Petty is to NASCAR. If you raced back in the '60s, you can't think about slot cars without thinking about Russkit. I can't tell you how many times I've typed in "Russkit" when I wanted to do a search of old stuff on eBay.

 

I never met the man but I always admired him and what he did for the hobby.

 

RIP, Mr. Russell. We thank you for what you did and who you were.


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#24 edscars

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Posted 17 June 2020 - 05:48 AM

I got to meet Jim once at the Hobby Expo show in Chicago, probably in the late '80s. He was promoting his Rokar cars and sets in the best way possible, by racing them while greeting people while a small crowd watched. Later dealers were placing orders. 

 

Have to admit I was a little awestruck, but luckily he was a down to earth guy and easy to talk to. Jim did so much not just producing controllers and large scale slots in the '60s, but also later developing the HO chassis, with the G-Plus, his own branded Russell Maxx car, the Tyco 440x2 (I think), and Rokar. A slot legend for sure.


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#25 loudspeaker

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Posted 03 December 2020 - 01:44 PM

I am a little late in posting this but hopefully someone will read it.

 

Jim was someone very special and made a dramatic impact on my life. Howie and I were participating in the New York pro and NAMRA scene, which was pretty well divorced from the West Coast. We saw the Rod and Custom Race articles and had some inkling of the West Coast scene and cars. I remember spending many hours studying their chassis, which were very different from ours, as well as admiring the exploits of Mike Morrissey and Team Russkit.

 

We were running 16D rewinds by that point, having abandoned the Pittman 196/65X combos, but Graupners for tires, etc., in our basic but evolved East Coast cars.

 

One afternoon I stopped in at Peter Pan Raceway in Brooklyn, my local hang spot, to sort out my car for Saturday's pro race. There was someone running on the orange American track, running pretty fast with what looked like a Russkit Carrera. Pete, the owner, mentioned to me that it was Jim Russell. I was in awe. I sat down at the track to run with Jim and was shocked that I had to push really hard to keep up with him, who again seemed to be running a stock Russkit car. We chatted a little and Jim apparently was aware of Howie and I (we had already started to be known as "The Gold Dust Twins").

 

Then, after a while Jim showed me the car: not a stock Russkit, but one of the Morrissey-built Team Russkit cars that they were running in the Rod & Custom races. OMG, I was blown away. Jim asked if I wanted to try it out and, of course, jumped at the chance. Wow, it was amazing. Then, the most amazing thing happened: Jim gave me the car. OMG!!!

 

I ran it that Saturday in the pro race and totally blew everyone's minds. It was a low center of gravity, two rods on each side (one stainless steel) with Tiny's closed cell tires and, I believe, a Rick Durkee or Len Vucci wound motor. Needless to say, it totally changed the way we were building cars. I don't know what happened to the chassis, but I still have the first "West Coast Style" chassis that I built after that.

 

But then the most amazing thing happened: Howie and I both received letters from Jim asking if we wanted to be hired as Team Russkit East. OMG!!!! I believe we were paid $25 a week plus expenses and were sent out on weekends to visit tracks around the area to represent Russkit. He had the rep take us into a clothing manufacturer in the city to get matching blue blazers and sent us each a big box of tubing, rod, and parts, which I still have. Of course we also ran as and represented Russkit in the local races, and eventually in races all over the US. In many ways, it started to prepare me for my life's work in the audio industry.

 

In the summer of 1966 I travelled with my family on a West Coast trip and spent some time in LA interacting with Jim and the guys on Team Russkit, including Mike Morrissey, who was my hero. I remember cruising with Mike in the Russkit Daytona Cobra Coupe (who could forget that!) and also cruising with Mike in his normal car, which he steered at times with his knees and heard the Doors for the first time in the car with Mike on a local underground station. Jim's business partner, Hank Rose, who was involved in the film industry, took us into the studio to watch the filming of a Lost in Space episode. It was thrilling and even my parents were impressed.

 

Howie and I worked hard for Russkit, and it was exciting being part of the first factory team. Later in 1967 Howie was offered a deal he could not refuse to work for Cobra, and left Team Russkit. I continued on, however the slot car industry was in a downturn, as was Russkit's business. That summer a bunch of us wanted to go out to California and run in the Car Model race at Don's. Because of the business situation Jim said he could not pay my way, but I went anyway. I stayed at Jim's house in Encino for the first half of my trip, and then went down to stay with Doug Henline, another member of Team Russkit, who lived close to Don's raceway. I remember building a new chassis the week before the race in Doug's garage.

 

The race was exciting to say the least. I qualified first and won, beating all the West Coast pros on their home turf, something that was unheard of. Always the gentleman, after the race, Jim handed me his phone credit card so I could call my parents and tell them the good news. 

 

As I said I feel that Jim was instrumental in my life and I will never forget his kindness, support, and generosity. 


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