Epping: Critchley steers Rocca to first win

EPPING, NH (Sept. 10, 2000) - In one of recent drag racing's more commanding efforts, Australian-born Troy Critchley, driver of Johnny Rocca's USA Racing-owned '49 Mercury, "Ironhorse", steered the team to its first-ever national event victory,...

EPPING, NH (Sept. 10, 2000) - In one of recent drag racing's more commanding efforts, Australian-born Troy Critchley, driver of Johnny Rocca's USA Racing-owned '49 Mercury, "Ironhorse", steered the team to its first-ever national event victory, during the Amalie Oil North American Nationals, in Epping, NH.

The race, held at historic New England Dragway, was the eighth of 12 Summit Drag Racing events sanctioned by the Norwalk, Oh-based International Hot Rod Association (IHRA).

It was perhaps a textbook example of domination - between literal bookend runs, which began on Friday with Critchley among the first pair of Pro Modified cars to attempt to qualify. His initial pass at 6.283-seconds stood throughout three sessions, over a two-day period, as the category's best, and gave the team the proverbial pole position heading into eliminations.

Critchley was also among the last pair to race on Sunday, but not before logging any less than seven passes, with an incredible elapsed time average of 6.284-seconds. A 6.247, clocked during a second round defeat of Alan Pittman, proved the event's best.

Ironically, one of the slowest runs of the weekend came in the finals, when he defeated Mitch Stott, of Inman, SC, brother of current division point leader, Quain Stott, in a rival, nitrous oxide-fed '63 Corvette entry. Critchley's winning time was 6.301 and 224.28 mph, versus Stott's losing bid was at 6.334, 224. 06. The margin of victory was just 0.019 seconds, a difference of only six feet at the finish line.

"It was hard, and my team earned every round," said elated car-owner, Rocca, a veteran campaigner with 40-plus seasons in the straight-line sport.

"Troy (Critchley) drove his heart out, and hit his numbers exactly like he's supposed to," he continued. "He did the best he's ever done.

"We waded through a tough field of competition, too. All of these guys are experienced, and have been in the winner circle before.

"But, this is the first time for Johnny Rocca to ever win a national event in the IHRA, or NHRA," he further explained, his voice changing from serious to a more reflective tone.

"I've been a bride's maid. But, I've never been a winner."

Critchley had an equal right to be jubilant, as the 28 year-old hired gun etched his name further into the record books.

"(Australian Pro Mod champion) Victory Bray told me I'm the first driver to win a national event in America - and Australia," beamed Critchley, in reference to an additional 1996 Winter Nationals victory.

He then extended his gratitude to a stateside national champion for his recent winning efforts.

"I've got to thank (2-time, NHRA Top Fuel champion) Gary Scelzi for his coaching over the phone," he continued, with reference to his ongoing help after a recent and multi-race reaction time slump.

"It's been a real up and down year, mate," he continued. "It (drag racing) is so difficult to do, anyway. The rule makers are making it hard for the blower (supercharged) cars. The blown doorslammer seems to be the most punished class on the planet.

"But, I'm on top of the world at the moment. All of those bad nights and dreadful days have gone away, for now," continued Critchley, who steered the '49 Mercury to a 6.227-second IHRA world record elapsed time last season.

"Last year my aim was to finish in the top-10, and we finished number nine," he said. "This year my aim is to finish in the top-five, so hopefully I can fulfill that - and be a happy camper."

It was the second win on consecutive weekends for the USA Racing Team, with a victory scored last week, while tying for the overall point championship, in the Canadian Drag Racing Series (CDRS) in Cayuga, Canada.

The hard-fought victory in Epping was in stark contrast to the team's plight several months ago, when owner/crew chief Rocca and Critchley were figuratively written out of national event contention. This was the result of a trio of rule changes in mid-June by the IHRA, which dramatically slowed their supercharged entry, while sliding from fourth to seventh in the Summit Drag Racing point chase.

But this past weekend, the mechanical prowess of Rocca surfaced through the utilization of a unique blower unit created by oft-used "Ironhorse" tuning assistant, Darren Maier, in cooperation with Elkhart, Ind.-based Kobelco Superchargers, Inc. IHRA tech officials later pronounced the prototype unit, which came under early race scrutiny, "legal".

A proud Native American member of the Tuscarora Indian Tribe, Rocca concluded his team's victory by giving thanks to numerous heartfelt and deeply appreciated ancestral supporters.

"I think the spirit of my people, and my grandfather, have carried me to this victory. I really believe that," said an emotion-charged Rocca, who also credits his deceased grandfather with giving his racecar its "Ironhorse" name.

"It's one of those things that just sends a cold chill up and down my spine."

The USA Racing Team's victory at the Amalie Oil North American Nationals can be seen in an upcoming one-hour television show on cable entity TNN (The Nashville Network), airing on Sept. 24 at 10:30 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time).

The next event on the Summit Drag Racing tour is the CARQUEST Autumn Nationals, at Rockingham Dragway, Rockingham, NC, the weekend of Sept. 21-23.

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Series Drag
Drivers Johnny Rocca , Alan Pittman , Gary Scelzi , Quain Stott , Troy Critchley