The King of Cat® Racing Memorabilia Answers All Our Questions
In the two decades he’s been gathering Cat® Racing memorabilia, Kory Russell has amassed a diverse collection of items — more than 200 of which currently are on display at the Caterpillar Visitors Center. Where does he find them? What are his favorites? What’s missing? Get all the answers in our Q&A.
Q: Do you remember the first Cat Racing item you ever collected?
A: The passenger side rear quarter panel off the car Ward Burton wrecked at Sonoma on June 27, 1999. I remember lying on the living room floor watching that race. I want to say my parents paid $50 for it.
Q: Do you have a personal favorite item?
A: Probably Ward Burton’s driver’s helmet from the 2002 Bristol night race. A driver’s helmet is a rare find and this one has a great story behind it. After Dale Earnhardt Jr. crashed into Ward, Ward got out of his wrecked car, walked up the racetrack and threw his foot heat shields at Junior. There are some great videos and pictures of this, which helps because I try to authenticate my items with visual proof.
Q: What’s the most interesting or unique item in your collection?
A: Maybe the Ward Burton helmet I just mentioned because the story behind it involves one of the most popular NASCAR drivers of all time. Another interesting piece is the 1998 David Green driver’s uniform with the NASCAR 50th anniversary patch since it also involves the history of the sport.
Q: What are your best sources for Cat Racing memorabilia?
A: Team members, race shops, auctions and other NASCAR fans or collectors. A lot of people in the NASCAR world know me now, so if they find something they usually contact me directly before they put it online. I also check eBay multiple times a day and recently put some ads on Craigslist.
Q: What Cat Racing items are you still looking for?
A: I have a fire suit from every Cat Racing driver but Dave Blaney, so I’m always on the search for one of those. I’m only a couple of pit crew shirts away from having every shirt from every year Caterpillar has been the primary sponsor, so it would be cool to check those off the list. I’d love to find sheet metal from any of the special paint schemes, especially when Caterpillar promoted new machines. I could go on and on about stuff I’m looking for!
Q: What’s the Holy Grail of Cat Racing memorabilia?
A: The suit or helmet Ward Burton was wearing when he won the Daytona 500. I’m sure he probably has those two things in his personal collection.
Q: Do you have a favorite memory from the racetrack?
A: Definitely the 2002 Daytona 500 when Ward Burton won the race. I could barely watch the last couple of laps. Ward missed a big wreck toward the end and was running second when Sterling Martin got out of his car to fix damage under a red flag. NASCAR penalized Sterling and that put Ward in the lead. We stayed at the track for a while after the race was over — I didn’t want to leave. Then we drove all the way back to Alabama and watched a VCR recording of the finish again in the middle of the night.
Q: Who’s been your favorite Cat Racing driver?
A: Ward Burton. Don’t tell Ryan! (Sorry, Kory…we’re sure he’ll forgive you.)
Q: Do you collect anything else besides Cat Racing memorabilia?
A: I also have a large collection of Cat scale model tractors I like to mix in with the NASCAR collection.
Q: What was your reaction when you learned Caterpillar wanted to display your collection?
A: It’s pretty unreal that a company as big as Caterpillar came to my house and is borrowing part of my collection to show their relationship with NASCAR over the years. It’s still sinking in. I hope that many of the employees at Caterpillar get a chance to check it out.
Q: Last question. Why do you love Cat Racing so much?
A: For me, it’s the best of both worlds — heavy machinery and NASCAR. It doesn’t get any better. I can’t go out and buy a D11 dozer or race for NASCAR, so I just put those two things together the best I can.