Laura Black-Wines has a gift for pouring her heart into her work as a songwriter, and it’s paying dividends.
Black-Wines’ song “A Legend Will Live On: A Tribute to Darrell Russell” was written specifically for a CompetitionPlus.com video piece on the late Top Fuel racer. It is among the tunes chosen for consideration as Song of the Year (Modern Country) for a Josie Award. The list of award nominees was released Thursday morning, and the winners will be announced as part of a live show in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., on Saturday, Sept. 5.
The Josies, now in their sixth year, are given to independent musicians, writers, and producers. Black-Wines’ song “Driver’s Seat” about her drag racing father, Bo, earned three nominations last year and won for Best Video.
“Last night I just happened to see them post that they had the list almost done,” Black-Wines said Tuesday morning from her home in Park Hills, Mo. “This morning when I woke up I checked and the list was up and was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, you’ve got to be kidding me!’
“‘Driver’s Seat’ didn’t get nominated for Song of the Year, and I felt like I had pushed that one a little bit. This one, I did it more for Darrell’s family and didn’t really push it. I’m shocked and honored.”
Russell was 35 when he was killed in a mid-season race near St. Louis in 2004. He had won six events as a Top Fuel dragster driver for team owner Joe Amato in his three-plus years in the sport’s premier class. At St. Louis, a rear tire failure caused catastrophic damage to the car that resulted in Russell’s death.
As CompetitionPlus.com publisher and editor Bobby Bennett began building a 34-minute video tribute to Russell for the site’s “Legends” series, he commissioned Black-Wines to write a song about the driver. She didn’t begin composing the lyrics for the song until she had read Russell’s biography, written by his publicist and good friend Rob Geiger. The video was released in December.
“After (Bennett) heard ‘Driver’s Seat’ and they did that article about the song and the video, he had told me about the Legends series,” Black-Wines said. “I had seen a couple of the episodes before then. He said, ‘I’ve got one I’d like to do something special with,’ and he wanted to have a more personal song for it.
“He asked me to write something about Darrell if I would be willing. I said, ‘I’m willing, I don’t know if I’m able. I’d love to give it a try.’ And that’s kind of how it all started.”
Black-Wines lives about 75 minutes south of St. Louis, and she remembered seeing news of Russell’s death. Her father, Bo, was a very successful drag racer in his area before selling his car to take a job that would provide for his family. He never lost his love for drag racing and tinkering with cars, and his passion for the sport was passed down to his younger daughter, one of four children. Black-Wines doesn’t race like her father did, but she is the track announcer at Bonne Terre (Mo.) Drag Strip.
“I wrote the song probably five different times and prayed about it,” Black-Wines said of the tune for Russell. “I wrote three different melodies. … The one I picked was the melody to a country song I’d written, and the lyrics that I originally came up with — at the time, I didn’t realize it, I’m such a perfectionist and I did not want to let his family or Bobby down, so I was kind of stressed out about it — the first lyrics I wrote fit the melody from that country song.”
The song was recorded at Blue Creek Productions in Patton, Mo., and produced by Dustin Bannister, a next-door neighbor of Black-Wines’ when they were children. The song can be found on YouTube as a standalone video and at the end of the “Legends” feature on Russell.
“It got a great response,” she said. “It was kind of a tear-jerker, y’know? It was definitely one that a lot of people said touched their heart and really moved something in them. When I wrote that song I just wanted people to remember him and how big he was as a new racer.
“He didn’t get much of a chance at it, but what little chance he got, my gosh, he stood out. It just amazed me. He was something special. He had ‘it.’ He had what it took, and it was almost like an anointing from God on his racing and how much he accomplished in that little bit of time.
“This time, I almost feel like I’m doing something for somebody else. It feels completely different. I’m getting to do something for an amazing family and kind of give Darrell some kind of recognition that I feel like he deserved as a person. To not make enemies in the drag racing world, my gosh, that’s a huge accomplishment. The trophies on top of that, he deserved trophies for his personality and attitude.”