LEESBURG, Va. - Johnny Rocca's USA Racing Team captured their first-ever Pro Modified season championship on Monday, as hired driver, Troy Critchley, steered the crowd-pleasing '49 Mercury "Ironhorse" to victory in one of two Canadian Drag Racing...
LEESBURG, Va. - Johnny Rocca's USA Racing Team captured their first-ever Pro Modified season championship on Monday, as hired driver, Troy Critchley, steered the crowd-pleasing '49 Mercury "Ironhorse" to victory in one of two Canadian Drag Racing Series (CDRS) season-ending events, held over the holiday weekend at Cayuga International Raceway Park.
Unfortunately, the fruits of victory from the season-long point race are not all theirs.
What should have been a convincing and dual weekend triumph - and clear-cut championship, began with a surprising first round loss on Sunday for 28 year-old Critchley. After setting low elapsed time in qualifying at 6.45 seconds, he figuratively shot his team's overall chances in the foot with a miserable starting line reaction against a much slower competitor. That event was eventually won by the their closest point rival, Casey Jansen.
Thankfully, a second and separate eliminator from a previously rained out race gave the team a second chance on Monday. Proving that his throttle foot was indeed fully operational, Critchley roared through eliminations, beginning with a first round defeat against Jansen. Two rounds later, the Australian-born hired gun repeated the previous day's 6.45, scoring a much-needed win in the process.
When the points were tallied, however, it was announced that both Critchley and Jansen had tied, resulting in a "co-championship" title for USA Racing.
"At least we're not second," said car-owner and former driving standout, Rocca.
"As we all know in drag racing, second place is considered first loser. So, a tie keeps us at the front of the pack."
Adding to Rocca's disappointment, is the fact that his team was forced to miss one of five events scheduled on the all-Canadian CDRS circuit.
"The International Hot Rod Association (IHRA) had a national event in Michigan the same weekend as one of the Canadian races," Rocca began. "Looking back, I sure wish I had skipped that race, because we would have emerged as the clear winner of the Canadian championship."
At the Michigan race, Rocca's machine suffered a debilitating, non-qualified effort, the result of the team's struggle to find a viable combination after a trio rule restrictions had been recently implemented by IHRA. The changes were aimed at slowing down "Ironhorse" and fellow supercharged racers, while providing more parity to the division's rival nitrous oxide competitors.
The 2000 season has truly been an up-and-down year for the 40-plus year drag racing veteran. After posting potential record-setting numbers during pre-season testing at the track he co-owns in Darlington, SC, Rocca's car failed to qualify for the first two IHRA national events of the season.
Shortly thereafter, the IHRA informed Rocca that it would not return to Darlington International Dragway, which had been a longtime host of the Norwalk, OH-based drag racing sanctioning body's series season-opener. At about the same time came the final blow, the aforementioned supercharged vehicle rule restrictions, which added weight, restricted rearend gearing, and eliminated the used of four-speed transmissions in the class, thus affecting Rocca and his team's chances at winning the IHRA championship.
It also could determine whether they are able to secure one of eight berths available in the season-ending and high-dollar Mopar Parts Pro Mod Shootout, scheduled for Oct. 13 in Shreveport, La., of which they are it's defending champion.
Nevertheless, the team continues to rally in the point chase, and made its first-ever IHRA national event finals, during the recent Mopar Parts Canadian Nationals, held in Grand Bend, Ontario. Despite the rule restrictions, which were made while the team was fourth in IHRA/Summit Drag Racing Series points, the former record-holding (6.227-seconds) team currently holds on in the seventh position.
"We've had some great luck in Canada this year," said Rocca, a proud Native American member of the Tuscarora Indian Tribe.
"Unfortunately, that's the last scheduled race we'll have North of the border this season.
"But, we've had some great fun, and met a lot of wonderful racers and fans," he went on to explain.
"I've been especially humbled through meeting a large number of Native American Indians, whom have proven to be spiritually and emotionally supportive of me, our team - and it's racing efforts throughout our trips this year to Canada."
A definitive man of his word, Rocca would probably not appreciate any reference or insinuation to being an "Indian-giver", which is perhaps one reason why he has little trouble sharing the Canadian Drag Racing Series title with fellow competitor, Jansen.
"I'm just not sure how we're supposed to divide up the championship trophy," he chuckled.
"I'll tell you one thing," he continued, "if the trophy includes a little man at the top, when we get around to sawing it in half, I'll make sure Troy gets his rightful piece of it.
"No doubt, it will be the right foot."
The next event for the USA Racing Team will be this weekend, Sept. 8-10, when the IHRA hosts the Parts Pro North American Nationals, at New England Dragway, in Epping, NH.
Each of the IHRA's 12 Summit Drag Racing Series national events can be seen nationally in one-hour shows on TNN (The Nashville Network), airing on Sunday nights at 10:30 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time).