GILLIAM, La. (October 15, 2000) - Johnny Rocca and his Leesburg, Va.-based USA Racing Team's '49 Mercury "Ironhorse" hit full stride in Pro Modified qualifying, but failed to get past a pair of strategic elimination rounds during the Mopar Parts World Finals, held at Red River Raceway, near Shreveport. La.
The race, originally scheduled as the season finale for the Norwalk, Oh-based International Hot Rod Association, was instead the 10th of 11 IHRA national events. A previous date in Rockingham, NC had to be postponed due to weather, and will now close the IHRA's Summit Drag Racing tour the weekend of November 3-5.
After claiming the sixth qualifying position at a 6.337-second elapsed time and speed of 222.22 mph, Australian-born driver, Troy Critchley, then took aim at defending his title in the prestigious and eight-car Mopar Performance Parts Pro Modified Shootout on Friday night.
Round one went as planned, with the supercharged entry taking the win over Mitch Stott, 6.378, 206.07 to the nitrous racer's shutoff time of 11-plus seconds. The semi-finals featured the 29 year-old Critchley getting the initial jump on New York racer, Fred Hahn, but the high-horsepower machine got out of the groove, and was forced off the throttle momentarily, ending his changes for the $20,000 first place prize, which Hahn eventually claimed.
Saturday's elimination rounds during the Mopar Parts World Finals carried additional meaning, as veteran and respected car-owner Rocca's tuning, coupled with Critchley's excellent driving, had brought the crowd-pleasing and former world record-holding entry to third in the world championship point chase leading into the event. Just three races ago, they were seventh, but moved forward with steady performance gains, including the team's first-ever and win in Epping, NH.
Things went according to plan in round one, as Critchley steered the Prolong Super Lubricants/Somerset Refinery, Inc. "Ironhorse" to a straight-and-true win with a consistent 6.333 at 222.80 mph, over Ronnie Hood's slowing time of 10-plus seconds. The point chase tightened even further during the round, when current leader, Quain Stott, was defeated in the opening set by his brother, Mitch, both from Inman, SC.
Unfortunately, the "Ironhorse" powerplant failed to start during a pivotal round two meeting against Steve Vick, despite the efforts of the team to push start the car. The race title was eventually claimed by Mitch Stott, over Hahn.
As a result, the team gained slightly in points toward second place-holder, Quain Stott. But, the title may now be out of reach as a result of Hahn, who finished runner-up to Mitch Stott.