Epping: USA Racing qualifying report

Rocca's Mohegan Sun "Ironhorse" Begins Epping Title Defense With Strong Qualifying Effort EPPING, NH (September 8, 2001) -- Johnny Rocca is hoping that his USA Racing Team's strong qualifying effort on Friday can pave the way for a repeat of...

Rocca's Mohegan Sun "Ironhorse" Begins Epping Title Defense With Strong Qualifying Effort

EPPING, NH (September 8, 2001) -- Johnny Rocca is hoping that his USA Racing Team's strong qualifying effort on Friday can pave the way for a repeat of last year's winning ways at New England Dragway, as it hosts the 6th Annual Amalie Oil North American Nationals, September 7-9, 2001.

Sanctioned by the International Hot Rod Association (IHRA), it is the eighth of 11 major events on the nationally televised Summit Drag Racing Series tour.

At last year's race, the Leesburg, VA-based veteran drag racer masterfully tuned his crowd favorite "Ironhorse" 1949 Mercury to the top of the Pro Modified qualifying charts and eventually won the event title, his first national victory in over 30 years of professional drag racing.

New for 2001 is a new crew, including second-generation racer Paul Athey, of Norwich, CT, who on Friday steered the '51 version Mohegan Sun casino-sponsored machine to a 6.294 second elapsed time (ET) and 223.02 mile-per-hour (MPH) speed, currently sixth in the 16-car field. Athey, a proud member of the Mohegan Tribal Nation, is grandson to a former Chief of the tribe.

"We had three months of absolutely rotten luck with our machine, and it certainly picked a good time to come back and start acting like a racecar again," observed Rocca, himself a member of the Southern Band Tuscarora Tribe.

"After a wheels-up launch which saw the car drift toward the retaining wall, (driver) Athey did a marvelous job and kept it right where it belonged," he continued.

Rocca's voice remained one of confidence, as the former IHRA record-holding car owner tried to further explain his good fortunes at Epping. "I don't know, this racetrack just seems to like us," he began. "It has a good surface, and it has great air, which is conducive to blower cars.

"Maybe," he added with a pause, "it's because the spirits are right here."

There's certainly a lot of truth to his statement, as the team's primary sponsor in casino kingpin, Mohegan Sun, of nearby Uncasville, CT, is keeping a major presence in the USA Racing pit area throughout the weekend. Utilizing tour buses and a large hospitality area, the company is using the Mohegan Sun "Ironhorse" enclave as a focal point for corporate guests, and as a must-see "go-between" for hordes of interested casino goers.

"This is great exposure for our team and the IHRA - and a fun-filled time for Mohegan Sun's dignitaries and special guests," observed Rocca. "This is what a great program is all about, and one which we certainly have here, with an involved sponsor that is pro-active in utilizing all of the exciting and far-reaching marketing and publicity tools that the team and its televised IHRA Summit Drag Racing infrastructure provides.

"I just hope the chips fall as favorably for Athey and `Ironhorse' when we roll onto the track here at Epping during eliminations on Sunday," he continued.

Two additional qualifying attempts will take place on Saturday, at 1 pm and 6:30 pm. Final eliminations for the Amalie Oil North American Nationals are slated for 12 Noon on Sunday.

While Rocca continues to solidify a top-eight point finish trackside in Epping, behind the scenes he is also diligently working on next year's program. Already, a new Cannon-Pittman "Ironhorse" has been built, and will possibly utilize a Brad Anderson supercharged engine between the frame rails.

In fact, the new car was a centerpiece throughout the weekend in Atlanta, GA, on display in the dining room of a corporate gathering for Clear Channel, whose SFX division owns the IHRA.

Three races remain on the IHRA 2001schedule, including Rockingham, NC (Sept. 21-23), Budds Creek, MD (Sept 28-30), and Shreveport, LA (October 18-21).

Owned by Mohegan Tribal Nation, Mohegan Sun is one of the most unique and dynamic casinos in the United States. It features an extraordinary Mohegan-themed design unlike any other in the industry, and is situated in scenic southeastern Connecticut, on 240 acres along the Thames River in Uncasville.

A financial pillar of strength, results from the casino's fiscal year in 2000 showed net revenues of $714-million. Currently, the casino boasts 5,900 employees.

For further USA Racing Team news and information, please visit their official website at www.usaracing.com, or phone 703-777-5901.

-USA Racing-

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Series Drag
Drivers Johnny Rocca