LEESBURG, Va. (November 1, 2000) - The trials and tribulations of Johnny Rocca's USA Racing Team, throughout the 2000 drag racing season, have apparently not gone unnoticed by the readers of Competitionplus.com, who voted the "Ironhorse" Pro Modified car owner the "Ironman Award", through the Internet-based magazine's annual "Dot Com" Awards.
Currently in its second season under the guidance of website founder and editor, Bobby Bennett, Jr., the "Dot Com" Awards recognizes numerous individuals on their respective accomplishments, in a variety of categories. The voting pool was substantial, boasting a 100,000-plus electronic viewership, from which ballots were cast.
"I'm very pleased to have been voted this award," said Rocca, a 40-plus year drag racing veteran driver and current crew chief of his former record-holding Prolong Super Lubricants/Somerset Refinery, Inc.-sponsored '49 Mercury, who was one of 60 nominees in the category.
"If nothing else, it certainly shows that I was not alone in the ongoing struggles and accomplishments, which my championship contending team faced during this season.
"In fact, you can make the argument that 100,000-plus potential voters is a rather strong voice, which has been allowed to be heard by virtue of these awards," he continued.
Rocca was also recognized by this year's "Dot Com" Awards for his USA Racing Team's website (www.usaracing.com), created and maintained by Allen Cook's Medina, NY-based 1320 Web Services, which placed second runner-up in the voting.
Additional winners of note included; Bryan Epps (Photographer of the Year), Geoff Stunkard (Journalist of the Year), Virginia Motorsports Park (News Story of the Year), Friends of Chris Holbrook (Sportsmanship Award), Clay Millican (Rookie of the Year), Laurie Cannister (Female of the Year) and Summit Racing Equipment (Sponsor of the Year), among others.
Indeed, Rocca and his crew faced adversity early and in mid-season, while emerging relatively intact at year's end, considering what they went through.
After pre-season testing in Darlington, SC, which netted some of the premier "doorslammer" division's best-ever numbers, the team failed to qualifying at the first two major events on the International Hot Rod Association (IHRA) Summit Drag Racing Series trail, at both Darlington and Rockingham, NC.
They rebounded in a big way at the tour's third stop in Grand Bend, Ontario, Canada, with Australian-born driver, Troy Critchley, reaching the finals for the first time in former-driver and owner/crew chief Rocca's career. Then, at Cordova, Ill., a number two qualifying effort and second round exit gave the team promise in their quest for the season-ending title.
Immediately following the event, however, the jubilation was short-lived, as the Norwalk, Oh-based IHRA instituted a series of rule changes, aimed at reducing the advantages of the supercharged contingent, versus their nitrous oxide-using counterparts, thereby leveling the playing field for all competitors, according to IHRA officials.
That ignited a literal firestorm within the popular division, with the changes more than apparent at the next couple of stops. In fact, so incensed was Rocca that he threatened to quit the sport following his team's non-qualifying effort at Michigan, if counter moves were not made by IHRA, despite a luck-filled and runner-up finish at the previous race in New York. At that point, only his love for the sport, and the urging by his team's many fans and supporters kept the "Ironhorse" in the battle.
A short time later, when the IHRA recognized the imbalance and countered with changes aimed at giving the supercharged machines back some performance, Rocca was revived. In fact, he masterfully used time-honored racing prowess and mechanical savvy to further plant "Ironhorse" firmly in the Summit Drag Racing Series hunt.
At consecutive races, utilizing a unique and prototype transmission and supercharger, the team raced toward the front, sweeping both qualifying and elimination rounds on their way to a career first win in Epping, NH. Weeks later, a second quick qualifying effort followed at Budds Creek, MD. All told, the USA Racing Team went from seventh place to third in a tough point battle, within the span of a few races.
In the midst of the hunt for IHRA gold, Rocca also directed his team, across the U.S. border, to strong finishes - and wins, resulting in a tie for the overall point championship in the five-race Canadian Drag Racing Series (CDRS).
Unfortunately, mechanical gremlins kept the team from a repeat showing as defending champions at the Shreveport, La.-based Mopar Pro Mod Shootout, plus the actual event finals. But, so too did one of his closest competitors. The result is that Rocca's driver, Critchley, can still secure second place in the final IHRA point standings, with a decent finish this weekend, during the CARQUEST Autumn Nationals, in Rockingham, NC. rescheduled for Friday and Saturday, November 3-4.